EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Ernest Owusu keeps his apartment in the Twin Cities as he waits for a call from the Minnesota Vikings despite being waived on Monday.
The rookie defensive end from California has become used to this. It’s not the way Owusu dreamt of starting his career, but it’s a way of keeping his NFL fire from burning out too soon.
While Owusu waits, rookie offensive lineman Tyler Holmes, currently on Minnesota’s practice squad, holds on to the same hope. That practice squad is the link that has separated the two players and brought them together this season.
A friendship has grown from unexpected circumstances as Owusu and Holmes have swapped spots on the practice squad each of the past five weeks. This week, it’s Holmes’ turn with the team. Owusu sits in that apartment, waiting to hear if he’ll get yet another call.
“It is kind of crazy,” Owusu said last week, during his time on the practice squad. “It’s a trip getting cut week in and week out, consistently. It’s kind of interesting.”
Holmes is this week’s anointed one. He quietly goes about his business in the team’s facilities, working late after practice trying to prove he’s worthy of sticking around and maybe one day making the active 53-man roster.
“When you’re on, you just try and contribute to the team as much as you can,” Holmes said. “When you’re off, you just stay in shape and stay prepared for them to give you a call.”
Both are trying to make the best of the situation.
Practice squad comings and goings usually register little more than a blip on the NFL radar; these players are simply trying to prove they have what it takes to make it in the league and hoping a roster spot will open up. One week it’s Holmes’ turn to work, while Owusu waits to see if he’ll be brought back. The next week, Holmes is the one left wondering about the next step in his career. The player on the practice squad gets his weekly $5,700 salary. The other gets nothing.
Coach Leslie Frazier said the weekly switch sometimes is the result of injuries or team need and that both players have handled the situation well. Owusu is a tall, athletic defensive end who had 55 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 42 games for Cal. Holmes was a four-year starter at Tulsa, an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection the past two years.
“It gives me an opportunity to stay in the system and keep working at my craft and on my technique and things like that,” Holmes said of the revolving spot on the practice squad. “So, I’m just trying to contribute any way I can.”
The two remain good natured about the circumstances and often keep tabs on the other through text messages.
“It’s funny, too, because we almost never see each other,” Owusu said. “Whenever there’s the situation he’s here, I’m not. If we’re both here, it’s like, ‘Wait, what are you doing here? What are you doing?’ It’s kind of like we see who’s going to get cut and who’s going to stay.”
Both players understand the tenuous nature of their situation. Owusu’s competition is eight active defensive linemen and one other on the practice squad. There are eight offensive linemen on the active roster, and Holmes is the third on the practice squad.
So Owusu and Holmes stay prepared, on or off the roster. Neither is ready to let the perplexing weekly shifts change his attitude or desire to stay with the Vikings.
“I didn’t know that teams did this, so that’s kind of crazy,” Owusu said. “It’s the way it’s going, just got to keep going.”