Preseason finale last shot for some Steelers
There were nights when the anxiety over his chances of making the Pittsburgh Steelers would consume wide receiver Tyler Grisham.
Two years into an NFL career spent entirely on the bubble, he's used to the churning in his stomach when the end of training camp nears. Rather than run from the prospect of being cut, he's learned to embrace it.
''You come face to face with it and say, `What's the need? What is fear going to accomplish for me?''' Grisham said. ''I've allowed fear and anxiety to take its course a little too much in the past and so now this year I feel like ... I've done a better job of shielding it a little bit and going out and playing.''
Even so, Grisham knows his chances of still being on the team when the roster is trimmed to 53 this weekend are long, which makes the final preseason game on Thursday against Carolina his last best shot to turn the heads of the right people.
The starters will likely be in baseball caps by the start of the second quarter. Then the real drama begins as players like Grisham try to avoid the waiver wire.
It's only their livelihood. No pressure.
''If I continue to block well in the game, do better on special teams than I have in the past and if I do, I think I have a shot,'' Grisham said. ''But I'm trying not to think about the shot. The anxiety will come up and I'll start head counting.''
Doing the math is never a good idea, even for a player who believes he's had the best camp of his career. Grisham has frequently drawn praise from coach Mike Tomlin, who shouted ''I see you 19'' more than once during the team's open practices at Saint Vincent College earlier in the month.
Still, it wasn't enough to keep Pittsburgh from going out and signing free agent Jerricho Cotchery, meaning the top five receiver spots are locked up. A sixth spot - if it even exists - will likely come down to Grisham and Arnaz Battle and Battle is considered a special teams ace.
Can he make the team? He wouldn't be here if he didn't think he could. Will he? That's another story.
''It is tough,'' Grisham said. ''It's a daily struggle, a daily test.''
Running back Jonathan Dwyer has another phrase for what it's like to feel like your job is constantly on the line.
''Every day is an interview, not just the game,'' Dwyer said. ''Even today in practice, you've got to make an impression on these coaches that they can trust you so they can depend on you when the game is on the line.''
Dwyer leads the team in rushing during the preseason, though he's needed 24 carries to gain 82 yards. He's trying not to read too much into the workload, even if his main competition for the fourth running back spot, former Wisconsin star John Clay, has carried it just eight times.
''It's not how many reps they get,'' Dwyer said, ''it's about what you do with those reps, how you execute.''
Clay is hoping the opportunities even out a little bit on Thursday. The last month has been a strange one for the former All Big Ten selection, who went undrafted after leaving the Badgers a year early. The last time he was healthy, but not playing, was during his freshman year with the Badgers.
Back then, however, he knew the team had a vested interest in his development after signing him to a scholarship. There are no such promises in the NFL, and Clay knows Thursday's game could be the last time he's on a football field for awhile.
''I'm just climbing up the ladder, proving myself to everybody,'' Clay said. ''The coaches have to know they can count on me.''
What would put Clay or any of the other players fighting for the last handful of spots over the top? Nobody knows. Is Clay one 50-yard burst away from leapfrogging Dwyer? Is Grisham one big third-down grab from making the final 53? Nobody knows.
''They don't really give you too much,'' said defensive back Donovan Warren, who is third on the team with 13 tackles during the preseason. ''You kind of know, but at the same time you have to come in each and every day and treat it like a job.''
Even if the numbers are stacked against you. Warren has enjoyed extended playing time during preseason thanks to injuries to starters Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden, both of whom will be ready when the regular season begins in Baltimore on Sept. 11.
Has he done enough to stick around? Probably not, so instead he's tried to glean as much as he can from watching All-Pros like safety Troy Polamalu, hoping to pick up some habits that will help him out down the road.
Grisham does the same. He did enough to land a spot on the practice squad each of the last two years. He's got one more year of eligibility on the practice squad if he needs it. He's hoping he doesn't. Besides, he's beaten the odds before.
''Coming into college (at Clemson) I was a two-star guy and had all these studs come in,'' he said. ''But I was the one that started to make plays. Now I'm the only wide receiver besides (Oakland's) Jacoby Ford playing in the NFL now. I think it's a testament to my effort, my work ethic and also there's some talent there I think.''
And, Grisham hopes, a roster spot.