Making the most of opportunities is something that makes a player earn more time on the field. Vikings defensive end Justin Trattou is an example of a player making the most of a limited situation on defense.
Trattou has earned his spot on the roster by being a standout on special teams and his work this year during the preseason earned himself a spot on the active roster last week against Detroit.
He was involved in only six plays on defense, but made a solo tackle on one of them and registered his first career interception – rising up in a throwing lane and picking off Matthew Stafford.
Trattou was inactive for the season opener against San Francisco, because, unlike the starters who only make cameo appearances during the preseason, Trattou was among the players that were on the field for long stretches of the game. While he was willing to do what he could to help the team, being inactive for the regular season opener wasn’t seen as such a bad thing as it might later in the year.
“That was a coach’s decision,” Trattou said. “But it gave me a chance to heal up. We had five preseason games this year and I was playing a lot in all of them. You hope that you have done enough to earn your spot on the roster, but you never know. You have to give everything you have in the games and during practice. I got a little beat up during the preseason. The morning after games was never good, but it showed the coaches that I belonged here and that I could be someone who can help the team win games.”
Fans may see the preseason as meaningless, but for players like Trattou it’s a proving ground to show that they deserve to earn a roster spot and belong on the roster.
That hard work comes with a price – the toll it takes on the body when there isn’t the down time that players experience during the regular season.
“The thing about the regular season is that, after you play the game, you don’t hit again until Wednesday,” Trattou said. “In the preseason, the day after a game, you’re back in full pads hitting at camp practice. You never go through a period where you have two or three days to heal up. But that’s part of the job when you’re trying to make a team.”
Trattou is an aggressive player, but is much more soft-spoken in the locker room and the meeting rooms. He is focused on doing his job, but his work ethic has earned the respect of his teammates.
He is the polar opposite of a player like Brian Robison, who, by his own admission, does a lot of talking and joking around with his teammates. Trattou is all business when he’s at Winter Park and has earned the respect and admiration of his veteran teammates.
“I’m very happy for Justin,” Robison said. “Justin’s a guy who comes in here and works hard every single day and gives us 100 percent. He doesn’t talk a lot about anything, he just goes to work and does his job. We love him around here. He’s just a pleasure to be around.”
If injuries don’t take a toll on the Vikings defensive ends, most of Trattou’s work will come during the week of practice. But, as he looks at it, practice makes perfect and he is using those opportunities to try to end up with more field time.
He has noticed that his hard work is being noticed and it has served as motivation that, when and if the day comes that he is asked to play a bigger role in the defense, he is ready to take on a larger role.
“Practice has been really important for me,” Trattou said. “What you learn in practice, you translate to the game. I think the coaches have seen my willingness to work hard in practice and it has ended up getting me more into game action. All I’ve wanted was an opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of the chances I get. We have a very strong defensive line and I just want to hold up my end of things.”
Last Sunday, Trattou made the biggest defensive play of his career when he picked off Stafford. A lot of players wouldn’t have been able to have the ball pried from their hands coming off the field. A first interception in the NFL is a milestone moment, but it didn’t mean as much to Trattou.
In fact, he threw the ball away in Rob Gronkowski-type fashion – a monster spike on the sidelines that turned a potential memento into a high flying sideline slam that bounced the ball away forever.
“I didn’t end up with it,” Trattou said. “After I got the pick, I spiked it on the sideline and it bounced away. I never saw it again. I’ve never kept a ball from a game before, so it was worth it. I loved the spike more than keeping the ball.”
Trattou isn’t overly sentimental about NFL keepsakes – up to and including the ultimate NFL prize.
For those who aren’t aware, as a rookie in 2011, Trattou was a member of the New York Giants Super Bowl-winning team. He was on the active roster, but inactive for the playoff run. Still, as a member of the roster, he earned himself a gaudy Super Bowl ring.
For a lot of players, it would likely take a hacksaw to get them to take off their ring fingers. But, for Trattou, his time with the Giants is in the past. He doesn’t even have it in Minnesota to show off to teammates, friends and strangers alike. He knows he has it. He doesn’t need to flaunt it.
“I actually left it back in Jersey,” Trattou said. “I don’t see any good coming of wearing it around here. I want to win one with the Vikings. Then I’ll wear it every day probably.”
If there are two words to describe Trattou’s attitude toward his job, they would be “hungry” and “humble.” He will always have his Super Bowl ring and he has proved that he belongs in the NFL. He has yet to be asked to be a key contributor, but is being groomed to be the proverbial “next man up.”
“He kind of was one of those guys that grow on you the more he goes because he plays hard, he works,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He had a little bit of a back thing when we first got here so I didn’t really know much about him. But he’s a very focused guy that practices real hard. I know last year when we first put him on the practice squad he was disappointed because I talked to him. And then wondering if there was a future for him and all that kind of stuff and then he came back and just kept working and biding his time. I talked to him last offseason about those guys that are on practice squad, part of it is getting stronger in the weight room, doing the things we need to do there and I think that’s what he’s done and that’s why he keeps improving.”
At this point, Trattou is waiting in the wings for his chance to step into the spotlight. If things go as planned, that won’t happen any time soon, but, like so many other players looking to live out their NFL dreams, he’s waiting, preparing and willing to do what is needed when his call to duty comes.
“At this point, my job is to be ready when they call my name to go in and play,” Trattou said. “Whether it’s five plays or 50 plays, I’m going to be ready for whatever is asked of me.”