Undrafted rookies face an uphill battle for a roster spot each day of training camp, making every single practice a fight for their football lives.
So when an undrafted rookie goes down with an injury and misses significant practice time, it's easy for him to fall off the coaching staff's radar, and easier yet to get cut come decision time.
Running back Arliss Beach was afraid he might be one of those easy decisions. Signed by the Packers in May as a rookie free agent out of Kentucky, Beach sustained a concussion on the third day of training camp in a violent collision with rookie linebacker Abdul Hodge in a blitz pickup drill.
He missed seven days of practice, including the Family Night scrimmage, and wasn't much of a thought while veteran backs like Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport were returning from injuries. At one of the most competitive positions on the roster, Beach knew he had to get out of the training room and back onto the field, pronto.
"From all the players I talked to, they say, 'You can't make the club in the tub,'" Beach said. "I was really nervous about that because you don't get to show what you've got. It puts you in a tough position."
But remarkably, Beach has beaten the odds just to get himself back in the running for a roster spot. He capped off a strong week of practice last week by rushing nine times for 50 yards against Atlanta last Saturday. He just missed a fourth-quarter touchdown, getting stopped for no gain when he tried to leap over the pile at the goal line.
"We like his attitude and his mental tougnenss and he's just naturally a tough guy," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "Without a doubt he has come on strong the last few weeks of practice, and we hope he can continue to play at that level."
Beach was particularly effective in getting the Packers out of a field-position hole late in the Falcons game. With Green Bay backed up to its 2-yard line, Beach carried five straight times for 41 yards, including his game-best 19-yard run in which he showed a higher gear that complements the power in his 5-foot-10, 219-pound frame.
But it wasn't the physical tools that allowed Beach to make up for the time lost to the concussion. It was his approach to the mental side, studying the playbook and displaying mistake-free execution once he was back on the practice field.
"They're big on not making mistakes, and that's where I try my best," Beach said. "Knowing what I'm doing, knowing what the people around me are doing, showing that I'm going to run hard, I'm going to stick my face in there to block somebody, doing anything I can, ... work hard on special teams, anything I can to get on the field."
Beach is expected to get a look as a kickoff returner on Monday night in Cincinnati, and he's been working on special teams coverage units regularly as well.
It's virtually a requirement in the NFL to show contributions on special teams in order to make the roster as a backup, and that's especially true for a player third or fourth on the depth chart at a position that generally features one guy on gameday.
"If you're going to play running back here, and you're not the guy, you have to be a core member of special teams, and a core member as far as productive, being there day in and day out, making plays on special teams and helping us win football games," Bennett said. "He's definitely a guy who can step up and be a big part of that."
Beach planned on being a big part of Kentucky's offense in college, but after a promising start to his career there, some injuries and a new coaching staff that brought in a new system limited Beach's opportunities.
He had a backup plan to finish school and look for a coaching job if nothing worked out in football, but he trained hard for Kentucky's pro day and had a strong workout that helped him get the attention of some scouts, including the Packers'.
Beach doesn't have much to show statistically for his college career (226 rushes, 951 yards, 14 TD; 25 receptions, 194 yards), but one noticeable number is his zero fumbles in 251 total touches at Kentucky.
"My coach in college said, 'Ball security is job security,'" he said. "If you can hold onto the ball, that's one step up. Who can you rely on if you're fumbling? I really take pride in that."
He'll have plenty to be proud of should he earn a roster spot after the final two preseason games. Beach admits he looked at himself as an NFL longshot when he left Kentucky, and he became an even longer-shot when he got hurt.
This week in practice he has worn a red no-contact jersey because of shoulder tendinitis, but he says he'll be fine. His backup plan is still in place, but at least now he's clearly not the easy decision many in his circumstances become.
"He was fortunate when he was able to get back in there he made the most of his opportunity, and it's starting to show up on the field," Bennett said. "The kid is coming on pretty strong. He's a hard-nosed downhill runner with quick feet. He can do some things for us."