Texans' UFAs overcome odds

2468.jpg


The Texans' recently signed rookie free agents will report to organized team activities (OTAs) on Monday and begin their battle against the odds to make the team. A handful will earn spots on the practice squad come September and perhaps one lucky player will be signed to the active roster.

With such ominous beginnings, it is hard to imagine how rookie free agents find succeess in the NFL. But they can, and Texans Nick Ferguson, DelJuan Robinson, Matt Turk and Mike Brisiel have proven so much.

Ferguson's pro journey began when he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals after the 1996 draft, only to be released several months later. The safety had stints on various teams' practice squads, but no coach was willing to take a chance on him until Jets coach Bill Parcells plucked him away from the Buffalo Bills' practice squad and signed him to New York's active roster in 2000.

"A guy known for finding diamonds in the rough, Bill Parcells, he really gave me my first chance," Ferguson said. "He actually put me out on the field and I had the first interception of my NFL career against Peyton Manning. That pretty much jump-started everything, and it all fell into place after that."

{QUOTE}Ferguson spent three years with the Jets, earning his place on the roster with hard-nosed special teams play. After the Jets released him in 2002, Ferguson decided to coach in NFL Europe, but his coaching stint didn't last for long. Texans general manager Rick Smith, then a member the Broncos' pro personnel department, flew Ferguson back to the U.S. for a workout and he once again fought his way back into the league.

"Rick saw what I could do on the field," Ferguson said. "He said, 'Let's get him to Denver. Let's give him another chance.' I don't think at that particular time they expected me to make the team, but I just kept making plays after plays after plays.

"Denver was a great situation for me because I got to show what I could do as a player. I have been blessed to have some great guys that I played with and great coaching staffs that believed in me."

After five seasons in Denver, Ferguson signed with the Texans and earned starting duties at free safety in 2008. It's hard for Ferguson to say that he's made it because he continues to fight for a roster spot every time he enters the stadium, but his sustained determination has made him the player he is today.

"When you look at who has panned out, it's a lot of hard work and it's a lot of luck because you have to go into a system that fits your needs and fits whatever you are able to do," Ferguson said. "You can make it and you can persevere, but the main thing is that you have to be able to believe in yourself because you are going to be far down in the depth chart and you can't let that bother you.

"The only thing you are asking for is, 'Give me an opportunity to show you what I can do.' But when you get out there, that opportunity may only come once, so you have to make the best of that opportunity. But to me, that sums up what the NFL is."

Turk, who enters his 14th NFL season, couldn't agree more. The punter spent his first three years out of college working odd jobs while writing letters to coaches, imploring them for a tryout.

"I went to a Division III school, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and being a punter you have to wait for that opportunity," Turk said. "It took me three years after college to finally get my foot in the door. It took a lot of patience and determination.

"You have to expect people saying that this isn't the place for you, and I had to hear that three or four times from three or four different teams. I really just made up my mind that God willing if I stuck with it, that I was going to make it."

Turk's big break came when the Green Bay Packers signed him to their practice squad in 1993. He bounced between practice squads before the Washington Redskins signed him in 1995. The following year, Turk earned the first of three trips to the Pro Bowl.

"It definitely has to be a different feeling than being drafted," Turk said. "That would have been exciting, but I knew I wasn't going to be drafted. I definitely feel blessed that I had to put the work in and had to put the time in the weight room, working at my brother's bar, working at a roofing company and doing all kinds of weird jobs, just waiting to get that opportunity."

For Robinson and Brisiel, the sting of not being drafted remains fresh.

Brisiel joined the Texans in 2006 and was signed and released by Houston several times before he found his way on the active roster at the end of the 2007 season. He proved himself in training camp last year and secured a starting spot for all 16 regular season games at right guard.

Robinson followed a similar path, signing with the Texans in 2006 and moving to the active roster at the end of the following season. Last year, his hard work and determination paid off. The defensive tackle started three games for an injured Amobi Okoye and registered 28 tackles and a forced fumble. In the Texans' 13-12 win over the Titans, Robinson played only 18 snaps but recorded three tackles for loss.

"All my life I have been playing through hard trials and tribulations," Robinson said. "I take the same approach when I am out on the field. I have to beat the next man out, and if not, just make him better. I want him to know that I am right there, waiting on my opportunity and waiting on my chance.

"Right now, they just signed a lot of drafted guys and other free agents. So what am I going to do? I am going to hold it down and show them my worth. I know they are going to sign other people, but I am going to always show them how hard I work and what I can do on the field."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content

Advertising