Time On Practice Squad Pays Off For Many Players


Defensive tackle Alfred Malone walked into the Packers locker room at Lambeau Field on Thursday after practice and veered off to his left to a smaller locker room where the team's practice squad players dress. He caught himself and smiled, realizing that he was now part of Green Bay's 53-man roster, and walked over to his locker alongside the team's other defensive linemen.

After having spent the first 12 games of the season on the Packers' eight-man practice squad, Malone joined cornerback Joe Porter on Monday as both were signed to the team's active roster, filling spots that were created with defensive end Kenny Pettway and linebacker Nick Barnett heading to injured reserve.

Porter got the news after a voice mail popped up on his cell phone from a familiar number that caused some anxiety.

"I saw that I had a missed call from upstairs and I was a little nervous being on practice squad and I know that it is cut day too," Porter said. "It was Reggie McKenzie (director-football operations), and he took forever to tell me what was going on so my heart was pounding. He finally said they wanted to get me signed, and I think I ran upstairs in about 3.2 seconds."

After going to training camp with New Orleans in 2007 and spending part of '07 and all of this season on Green Bay's practice squad, Porter said it was hard to contain his excitement.

"I called my mother, my brothers, my fiancée, and my phone was going off the next few days from everyone in my phone book," Porter said. "It was like a dream come true. Being on the practice squad, that's all you want to achieve."

Malone and Porter became the third and fourth players to be signed from Green Bay's practice squad this season, joining second-year running back DeShawn Wynn and rookie linebacker Danny Lansanah, who were both moved up to the active roster in October.

"It feels good to bring up guys from your practice squad," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "You see Danny Lansanah and Joe Porter and Alfred now and DeShawn Wynn earlier. I think it says a lot about our program and it says a lot about them as players and now we are giving them an opportunity."

Including those four, the Packers' 53-man roster now includes 13 players, just under a quarter of the team, that at one time in their career spent time on a team's practice squad. The group includes starting cornerback Al Harris (Tampa Bay, 1997), center Scott Wells (Packers, 2004), cornerback Tramon Williams (Packers, 2006) and running back Ryan Grant (New York Giants, 2005).

"You never forget it (being on the practice squad)," Grant said. "When guys get moved up I am always happy for them because I know how hard guys work. Sometimes people say they are only practicing, but they are practicing hard and a lot of times guys are playing both ways. They are trying to impress and trying to get better throughout the season.

"For guys who say that practice squad is not a part of the team, they are in the NFL. They are in the league and they are definitely a part of whatever team they are on."

The players on the practice squad participate in everything during a normal game week except for the actual game itself. As the name would suggest, they practice, usually serving on the scout team as they simulate what schemes and plays the Packers' opponent will be running in the upcoming game.

The practice-squad players attend meetings, work out, and eat meals with their teammates, but come game day, they head up to their seats in a private box at Lambeau Field to watch the game. They make a fraction of an active player's salary and do not travel to road games, and often times get moved to the active roster only when another player gets injured.

"You're on the team but you're not on the team, so it's frustrating in that aspect," said defensive tackle Colin Cole, the only player on Green Bay's roster to have spent time on three different teams' practice squads during his career. "Going up to that box and watching and seeing plays, you feel like, man, I could be out there.

"You go against these guys on a daily basis, and it's not that their talent level is so much higher than yours that you can't play the game. It just comes down to a numbers situation sometimes."

The primary opportunity to impress the team's coaches comes in practice, as the players get a chance to compete against those players whom they hope to play in a game with at some point.

"Sometimes you are out at practice working really hard and it doesn't seem like anyone is noticing, but they really are," Porter said. "I always try and work on my craft, and I always look at as an opportunity that I get to go up against some of the premier receivers in the league here. I really enjoy it every day I go out there."

{sportsad300}Porter and Malone both said that being on a team like the Packers that includes so many former practice-squad players helped to motivate them when doubt would creep in about that opportunity ever coming along.

"It's a big inspiration to see guys that come through here that were in the same situation I was and now they are doing well for themselves," said Malone, who played in four games with Houston from 2005-06. "That's what I like about Green Bay; they really give you an opportunity a lot more than some other teams do."

For Cole, who went undrafted out of the University of Iowa and waited two years before getting a chance to contribute as a full-time player with Green Bay in '05, the challenging path is one that he said probably benefited him.

"You can't really say one way or another, but I don't know if I had been drafted that I would have had the same hunger that I have," Cole said. "At one time I was projected to be a third- or fourth-round pick and it didn't happen for me because my work ethic at the time wasn't up to par and I suffered for that."

McCarthy has said if the players brought up from the practice squad are to play in a game, their best chance to contribute will come through special teams. With teams having to deactivate eight players for each game, it is unknown whether Porter or Malone will make their Packer debuts this Sunday against Houston, but whenever that chance arrives, Porter said it will not be taken for granted.

"It humbles you and makes you that much more appreciative," Porter said. "Once you finally get here, you don't take it lightly and you want to stay here so you work that much harder. I think guys that are undrafted or on a practice squad, there is probably some statistic out there that they stay in the league longer because they have that work ethic."

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