Letting [Players] Go Is Never Easy

In the movie Bull Durham, the Bulls manager has to tell Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner) that he’s being cut. The skipper says, “This is the toughest job a manager has…” right before he breaks the news to Davis. It’s an emotional exchange between player and coach. Yes, Bull Durham is only a film, but this same exact situation happens in real life every season in the National Football League.

At the start of camp, the Seattle Seahawks had 90 players on their roster. By the time the regular season comes around in September, the Hawks can only carry 53 guys (a league-wide rule). That means general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have to release 37 players along the way.

John Schneider Pete Carroll Seattle Seahawks

John Schneider and Pete Carroll
Courtesy: Seahawks.com

“I don’t know how it is at other places, but it’s very meaningful when we cut guys here,” Carroll told me. “Knowing how much of their lives are wrapped around this and how much this means to them, I take something like this very seriously.”

Carroll says he is connected to every single player on the roster. He told me that he gets to know all of his guys – who they are and what they’re all about — so he can help them be their best. Something that benefits not only the player, but also the team.

“You invest in that relationship to get that done, so it means something,” Carroll said.

Carroll already had to make 15 cuts to get to the league-mandated 75 earlier this week, and the roster moves aren’t nearly done. The Seahawks only have one more preseason game remaining, and then the team needs to cut 22 more players by the NFL’s Friday deadline. Nothing about the process is easy for Carroll. He calls it “a very emotional time.”

“I take into account as many aspects of it as I can,” Carroll told me. “They love this game and they’re doing everything they can to make it. It’s a part of their life and it’s a big deal when that’s taken away.”

Deon Butler Seattle Seahawks Wide Receiver

Deon Butler
Courtesy: Seahawks.com

Wide receiver Deon Butler is battling ten other wide receivers for what’s believed to be six spots on the Seahawks active roster. Butler isn’t a star, but he isn’t a slouch either. The Penn State University product has reeled in 57 passes for 611 yards and four touchdowns in his first three seasons in the NFL.

“It’s nothing new for me to be the underdog,” Butler said. “I just feel like there’s a place for me in the league. Whether it’s here — hopefully it’s here — but if not, I’m confident I put out good tape.”

Listed at just 5’10″ and 182 pounds, Butler is the smallest receiver on Seattle’s roster right now. You’d think his experience in the pros would outweigh any knock on his size at this point, but that’s not how the NFL works. If Butler makes the team, it’s someone else that has to go. The Seahawks are likely going to cut five wide receivers by the end of the week.

“We know that in the back of our minds,” Butler said. “You can’t worry about it, because the more you start thinking about that is when you’ll start to fall apart. You’ll start messing up. It does you no good.”

There are players like Butler scattered all over the Seahawks roster (and the entire NFL for that matter), sitting on the edge of their seat as the final cuts approach. But, for every player who is released, there’s someone else who makes the squad — officially living their NFL dream.

“We’re ecstatic for the guys who make the team,” Carroll told me. “The exhilaration they feel — they deserve it. They earned it.”

Pete Carroll Seahawks Head Coach

Pete Carroll
Courtesy: Seahawks.com

In a world where superstars get all the attention, it’s hard to remember that life isn’t always easy for professional athletes. Sure, most of these guys make salaries that we can only dream about, but many of them don’t. If they’re cut, that pay check disappears completely. A football player is let go from his job like any other Joe Blow around the country.

“I know guys around here like this team, and they want to be a part of it,” said Carroll. ”It’s a big deal when it works for them and a big deal when it doesn’t. It’s the same for us.”

The Seahawks open the regular season September 9th against Arizona. They will only have 53 players in uniform that day. Who those players will be is still up in the air — that’s up to Pete Carroll to decide by Friday. Let’s just say I’m happy to not be walking in his shoes this week.

I would love to hear from you about all of this! Please leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and/or Google+. Don’t forget you can also find more sports coverage right now on http://allroundtim.com.

Training Camp | The Life Of An NFL Rookie

Training camps are underway all over the National Football League. That means roster spots and playing time are up for grabs around the country. While camp is old news for the veterans (some even try to avoid it like the plague), this is a brand new world for the rookies. These guys were just college students a few months ago, and now they’re professional football players. They’re forced to grow up fast — and if they don’t — they get left in the dust.

Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson

There are major differences between college football and the NFL. The adjustments are different for every rookie. Seahawks fifth round pick Korey Toomer (a linebacker out of Idaho) says the mental part of the NFL game is the toughest, especially understanding the playbook and learning from the veterans. Third rounder Russell Wilson (a quarterback from Wisconsin) echoed that sentiment, saying he spends nine hours a day studying the playbook. He also said that he tries to learn at least three new things at practice every single day. So, instead of learning math or history like they were a few months ago — rookies are now students of the game.

“I put my best foot forward every time” Wilson explained to me. “I’m going to compete, because that’s the way I was raised my entire life.”

First round draft pick Bruce Irvin (a linebacker out of West Virginia) isn’t concerned with the mental aspect; he just has a hard time with the six o’clock wake-up call every morning. He says all the rookies are up early, and then they have to spend extra hours (that the veterans don’t) at the training facility every day, so that makes for really long days. Aside from all that, Irvin says the speed of the NFL is the biggest difference for him.

“Everybody is fast,” he said. “Tackles are big, athletic dudes that move like power forwards in the [NBA].”

We often focus on the glitz and glamor of playing in the NFL, but that’s not the lifestyle for most rookies. These guys are constantly fighting for their professional lives — one mistake can mean the end of their football careers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the rookies say, “I have to make the most of my opportunities.” From Bruce Irvin (who’s guaranteed a roster spot), to fourth round running back Robert Turbin, to seventh round defensive end Greg Scruggs — they’re all determined to make an impression at camp.

“Every time you come out to practice, someone is trying to win a spot,” said second round pick Bobby Wagner (a linebacker from Utah State). “If you come here asleep, someone will take your job.”

“I’m just trying to earn a spot on the team,” said Korey Toomer. “Whether it’s special teams or anything else the coach wants me to do, wherever they want to put me, that’s where I’ll play.”

Bruce Irvin Seattle Seahawks Linebacker

Seattle Seahawks rookie linebacker Bruce Irvin

On top of all the adjustments they have to make and the fierce competition, the rookies also have to deal with some light-hearted hazing. Toomer says he hasn’t faced anything yet, but he knows it’s coming. Irvin also says he hasn’t been “tied to any goalposts” yet, but he does have to carry a veteran’s shoulder pads and helmet out to the practice field every day. Wagner is dealing with the same chore. I saw him lugging around Leroy Hill’s gear after practice. I have a feeling the worst is yet to come for these guys. If the Seahawks are anything like the Seattle Mariners, the rookies will have to carry around ’Hello Kitty’ backpacks — a right of passage for first-year pitchers on the M’s roster.

Don’t get me wrong. This post isn’t meant to expose the plight of an NFL rookie. These guys are loving every second of this. They’ve worked their entire lives to reach this point. When I asked Korey Toomer if he was having fun at training camp he quickly replied yes, and added that “football is always fun.” Russell Wilson agrees. He repeatedly told me that it’s a blessing for him to be competing in an NFL camp. Even if they don’t earn a starting role or even a roster spot, these guys have reached a pinnacle that most of us can only dream about. They’re in the frickin’ NFL — getting paid to play football.

I’m always down to talk football, so I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment right here or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, and don’t forget you can get more great sports coverage right now on http://allaroundtim.com!