For three Vikings with no guarantees on their football future, Saturday was a long, arduous process of waiting by the phone and hoping it doesn’t ring.
Wide receivers Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen and seventh-round defensive tackle Shamar Stephen all went through the process and each had his own way of dealing with it. They had done everything they could to make a strong enough impression on the coaching staff and the front office to earn their roster spots, but none of the three was convinced as Saturday went along whether they would stay or be one of the players let go.
“I just left it in God’s hands,” Smith said. “There wasn’t much more I could do and whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I played my best to the point that I had pretty much done all I could do. I just left it up to the coaches to make the final decision.”
Smith had a little nervous energy as the clock slowly ticked its way through Saturday afternoon. It was something of a powerless feeling, so he decided to go where people were to ride out the afternoon.
“I just chilled out a little bit,” Smith said. “I couldn’t just sit around so I went to the Mall of America and walked around just to relax. I wasn’t really worried about it because I knew I had done everything in my control to do my best to make the team. That was something I couldn’t control.”
The helpless feeling is one that has been shared by a lot of players who know they’re on the bubble of continuing their football careers or potentially seeing it come to an end. Smith was confident he had done enough to make the team, but the decision wasn’t his to make.
“If you do your job – go out, play fast and make plays – that’s all you can do at the end of the day,” Smith said. “Sometimes it comes down to a numbers game. Sometimes you can do everything right and get cut anyway. I just played to the best of my ability and left it up to the coaches to decide if that was enough.”
Stephen found himself in much the same boat. The day went by agonizingly slow and he wasn’t sure if he was going to get the call he dreaded or not. Seventh-round picks are a 50/50 proposition to make a roster to begin with and the belief was that one of the 53 spots on the roster was going to come down to either Stephen or veteran Fred Evans. Like Smith, Stephen believed he had given his best but didn’t know if would be enough to unseat an NFL veteran like Evans.
“It was definitely exciting,” Stephen said. “I didn’t know if I was going to make the final roster. I was hopeful, but you never know. It was kind of a long afternoon because you don’t want to see a phone number from the facility show up because that can be bad news.”
Stephen knew that the odds might be stacked against him and his goal was to make it as difficult as he could for the Vikings to release him, which meant going out and trying to make an impression every day.
“I just went out every day and tried to put my best foot forward,” Stephen said. “I was just trying to compete and make the most of every practice and every play. You never have guarantees in the NFL, so you have to really work on the fundamentals and show the coaches you can do things the right way.”
For guys like Smith and Thielen, this wasn’t their first time around. Both were on the Vikings last year. Smith ended up playing in four games, while Thielen spent the year on the practice squad. They’ve both experienced the pain of going through the cutting process and have been on the wrong end of that call. This time around, Thielen just tried to be normal on an extremely abnormal day.
“I just tried to get my mind off football for the day because worrying about it wasn’t going to change anything,” Thielen said. “I just hung out with my fiancée and her family. The phone never rang – they don’t call you if you make it, only when they’re calling you to come down to the office. When it got to be late afternoon, you got the idea that you survived for that day. They made cuts the next day and again the day after that. You never know when it might be you, so you show up for work every day ready to give all you have because it’s the nature of the NFL. You have to keep working to avoid getting that call.”
All three of them made the team, but even so, they’re acutely aware that the NFL often stands for Not For Long. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. What they did to impress the coaching staff is something they will have to continue doing, because the day could come when they will get called into the coach’s office to be informed they’re being released. Saturday was a reprieve, but they all know it’s never the end of the story.
“When you’re in the NFL, you just never know,” Thielen said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. There were a lot of cuts around the league. There were some surprises in those cuts, so you never can get too confident because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I was happy once I found out I made it, but now I have new goals heading into the first game of the regular season. It took a while to get here, but the work was definitely worth it.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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