In his locker room speech following his successful debut as Miami’s interim head coach, Dan Campbell credited his practice squad players for helping propel the Dolphins to their big win at Tennessee.
“Don’t forget those guys,” he implored his team.
Those guys getting the props were the same ones quarterback Ryan Tannehill had mocked two weeks earlier, when he criticized them for being overly aggressive during a usually low-key workout and told them to enjoy their “scout team trophy” after they picked off a couple of his passes before a loss to the Jets in London.
Tannehill later apologized but not before drawing the ire of P-squad graduates across the NFL, players who got their start on scout teams where security is non-existent, paychecks are relatively paltry and the only guarantees are that come game day they’ll have plenty of time to catch up on their laundry.
“If he’s mad that a practice squad player’s picking him off, that’s his fault. Work on your accuracy then,” sneered Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, who spent time on the practice squads in Jacksonville and Denver before emerging as the anchor the league’s stingiest defense. “Peyton Manning and these guys never got mad at me for making a play in practice. They would respect it.
“So, don’t taunt them. Everybody starts from somewhere. Not everybody’s fortunate enough to be a first-round pick.”
Former Patriots wide receiver Donte Stallworth responded to Tannehill’s disparaging remarks by tweeting that Tom Brady would actually pay scout team players who picked him off in practice.
P-squaders are in the ultimate Catch 22.
They’re hired to help prepare the starters for games, to impersonate upcoming opponents but not upstage the regulars, to give their teammates a good look without making them look bad. While they shouldn’t be showing up anyone, they also want to show the coaches they’re worthy of a roster spot themselves.
One of the best P-squad graduates is Houston Texans running back Arian Foster.
“I know both sides of the coin,” Foster said before he was lost for the season with an Achilles tendon injury. “On one side, you’re trying to get a look from the defense that you want to see on Sunday. Sometimes it gets frustrating because your body is sore, you’re beat up and a practice squad player is going full-go. He has no game on Sunday. It gets frustrating, like ‘Come on, man. I’m just trying to get a look.’
“But on the other side, it’s like, practice squad is week-to-week. They’ll cut you and bring somebody in just because they look like another player,” Foster added. “I remember, I think it was Demeco Ryans, he yelled at me one time, too. He’s like ‘Man, slow down. We’re just trying to get a look.’ And I said, ‘Are you going to pay my bills?'”
Steelers linebacker James Harrison is also one of the great practice squad grads.
Each team can have up to 10 practice squad players, and they make decent money, $6,600 a week. That’s $112,200 a year if they’re on the squad for a full season. By comparison, the rookie minimum salary is $435,000.
Even a one-week promotion to the regular roster is a godsend, said Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who made $6,000 a week on the practice squad last year but got bumped to $24,705 when he was promoted to the active roster in Week 7.
“My wife and I had a pretty good budget made up but it just helped us get to that mark a little bit quicker and have some left over to do other stuff with,” said Barrett, whose wife, Jordanna, is a stay-at-home mother of three.
Barrett made the 53-man roster this year and his weekly paychecks of $30,000 are five times what he made on the practice squad.
In Miami, practice squad players are back in Tannehill’s good graces and Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry was glad to hear Campbell give a shout-out to the guys who had been called out.
“He’s right. Those are the guys who don’t get a lot of credit,” Landry said.
“Those guys work hard all week,” added Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, who went undrafted out of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and worked his way into the NFL through the scout team. “You’re not playing, but you’re here all the time. You feel part of the team.”
Rod Smith, the Broncos’ all-time leading receiver, started out on the team’s practice squad, where he’d inform tight end Shannon Sharpe of his stats.
“Dumbest thing ever but the most brilliant thing I ever did,” Smith said. “I made up my own stats: ‘Yes, Sharpe, I got seven grabs for 120 today.’ He’d look at me like, ‘Dude, what the hell are you talking about?’ And I said, ‘I’m killing them today, Sharpe. I’m killing them.’ And then Sharpe told them. So, they started hitting me. They start jamming me, slamming me to the ground. You know what, I’d get back up and do it again. Do it again. They’re just preparing me for the game. And then they let me start and I never looked back.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.