Great players like James Harrison have emerged from NFL Practice Squads.
For the average American making nearly six figures for just six months of work, there should be much to be appreciative of. But just as all things in life seem to be relative, so too is the level of appreciation felt by the quintessential practice squad player.
Typically as a member of the practice squad, you’re expected to be the first players to walk through the door every morning. This almost certainly is well before 7 a.m. From there your day plays itself out in a similar fashion to the rest of the members on the team, complete with the added bonus of being treated like an office temp by nearly everyone in the entire facility.
Even the guy in the equipment room washing the dirty laundry in-between practices has a higher sense of worth and permanence than you; those guys can hang around the organization comfortably for decades. They’ve seen hundreds of faces come and go, from players to even coaches as they themselves remain one of the few constants. From the perspective of the equipment staff, the true identity of the franchise can be found not in the temporary status of players and coaches, but in their own relative permanence.
This perspective can lead to an interesting dynamic between lower level players such as those on the practice squad and the guys whose job it is to supply them with everything needed to be fully equipped for practice. It isn’t uncommon for these players’ needs to be more-or-less disregarded by staff members. It isn’t until everyone else’s needs on the team are fully met that they make time to tend to whatever you may have requested—new gloves, a pair of cleats perhaps, or maybe some black tights during those cold winter practices.
This type of second-class citizen treatment also bleeds into the training room dynamics where guys routinely slide ahead of you in line for treatment, tapings, and anything else. Once you finally get the opportunity to get looked at or treated, the smart guys will do their best to spark up friendly conversation or gain the favor of the trainers through kindness. Making a habit of doing this can pay dividends toward the efficiency of a day in the life on an NFL practice squad.
But don’t get me wrong. The players do appreciate and interact with guys on practice squads, and the perks are numerous. By all accounts, this job ain't half bad, that’s for sure. But like I pointed out earlier, when you’re surrounded by a certain lifestyle and income level, it can be appreciated how difficult a position you're in. Especially when you consider how close you are to seeing a dream realized. A dream so close you can almost taste it, as if someone is dangling your dream by a string just out of reach as some cruel joke.
That is perhaps the darkest side of this life.
On the field during practice, there really is no telling what will be asked of you, one minute you could be running around the pocket simulating Mike Vick for the starting defense, the next you could be playing rush end, screaming off the edge to give the left tackle a feel for the speed he’ll be up against on Sundays.
No two skills are more appreciated of a practice squad member than (1) their ability to work hard and (2) demonstrating a high level of versatility.
As you spend your days in service to your team, trying to prove your worth and impress the coaches, the desire to become an official member of the roster is vigorously eating at you like a cancer. Every morning as you wake up, the day begins full of uncertainty; what position will you be thrown in at? Will you be picked up by another team and asked to pack your suitcase and fly half-way across the country to call an unfamiliar city home, at least for the moment?
Ultimately, the main hope and goal of every player relegated to an NFL practice squad is to be signed to the team they’re currently working so hard for, finally becoming an official member of the organization and seeing a lifelong dream realized by donning that uniform with pride on Sundays. Last but not least, to be able to make real NFL money is always a big incentive as well.
A day in the life of a practice squad player is generally a lot like that of a guy on the 53-man roster. But there are two days every week of the season when the difference is profound. One of those days is on Sunday, when you’re forced to watch your teammates go to battle in enemy territory from a television in your apartment, or in the stands like every other fan during home games.
The other dramatically different day comes every Tuesday when the guy in the locker next to you opens up a check that is likely worth more than 10 times your check. If game-days and paydays aren’t motivation to work hard, I don’t know what is.
For more on a what it’s like to be on the practice squad, I suggest you read about it from a person who has done it for three years.