Philadelphia Eagles News

Life On The Bubble Unsettling For All

Marcus Mailei admits he thinks about the numbers. He admits he isn't sleeping very well. He knows that he has given the chance to play in the NFL everything he has, that he has done as well as he possibly could do and no matter what happens, no matter what the Eagles plan to do with him, he will sleep well at night.

He'll sleep better, anyway, than he slept for the first week or four as an Eagle when, Mailei says, "I was waking up almost every hour. It was the stress. I wanted to be the perfect employee for these guys."

The job interview could end on Thursday night, when the Eagles play their final preseason game against the Jets, or it could end the next day when the Eagles reduce their roster to 53 players prior to the 4 p.m. deadline on Saturday.

And for players who are on the "bubble," and who know it, Thursday night represents a chance to win a job here, or on one of the 31 other NFL teams, or it could be the end of a career.

"I've been playing this game since I was 6 years old, every year," said defensive lineman Josh Gaines. "I'd by lying if I said I didn't think about the situation. I know I've gotten a lot better and I know I can play at this level. I'm going to go out there on Thursday night and give it my all and have fun. My job is to make it hard on the coaches now.

"This could be the last time I put the pads on. This is something I've been doing it my whole life, so whatever happens, I want to go out on a good note to myself."

That is the reality. That is the harsh business underbelly of the NFL. Sundays in September begin four months of glorious anticipation and unmatched excitement for those on a 53-man roster and for those following the team. Anybody who is part of it in any way loves, loves, loves each moment.

There is another population of men who worked every day of their lives since they signed with a team in the spring to get to September and the regular season and who know that they are thismuch short of their dreams.

All of those negative thoughts are not considered right now. Not for a kid like Mailei, who was signed as a rookie free agent out of Weber State. Mailei has played well in the preseason, but he also knows that the Eagles signed Leonard Weaver in free agency and have raved about him every time they've had a chance. And he knows that Kyle Eckel is a veteran who has played both halfback and fullback and who is fighting for a roster spot, too.

And he knows he can't do anything but continue to have the best days possible in front of the coaches.

"I've been thinking about it for a long time and I'm excited to see what these guys have in store for me. I've given it everything I have and I've done my best, so you can't be mad at yourself for that," said Mailei. "I'm very glad to have this opportunity to play again and to have this film to add to my resume."

For Mailei, Thursday represents another chance, too: He scored a touchdown last week against the Jaguars and then committed the sin of handing the football back to the officials.

"I can't believe I did that," he said. "I want to score again and keep the ball this time."

Neither Mailei nor Gaines were drafted, so they understood the odds when they signed with the Eagles. Cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu was a fourth-round draft pick last April who spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve rehabbing from a knee injury suffered before the draft. Ikegwuonu is battling for a job at a crowded position where four of the expected five roster spots are pretty much locked up with Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown, Joselio Hanson and Ellis Hobbs.

Ikegwuonu wants to take that fifth position, if it is even available.

"I think it's going pretty well and that I'm progressively improving. I'm not making the mistakes I made earlier in camp," he said. "Sure, I think about what's happening at the end of the week, and anybody who says he isn't is lying to you. I try not to think about it as much, but I count the numbers. They tell you not to do that, but that is the nature of the beast. All you can do is work, keep pushing and hope that at the end they find a spot for you.

"This is my first year playing. I want to help this team any way I can. Thursday is huge for me and for a lot of us. We have a chance to go out and play a lot and put our best feet forward. This is an audition for all of us, not only for the Eagles but for every team."

Joselio Hanson has been there, done that. He has sweated out The Turk, and he has twice received the early-morning phone call from somebody in the personnel department who had to deliver the news.

Hanson is in a rare position now. He signed a long-term contract in the off-season and knows he is going to be here for Carolina on September 13. Hanson followed up the contract with a good summer and, well, safe to say he is sleeping soundly at night.

"This is like my first year not having to worry about cuts, and it's a good feeling. I've put a lot of hard work into reaching this point and it's paying off a little bit," said Hanson. "I see what the guys are feeling. I see the stress. Of course. People see it only on Sunday and think it's only a game. We all have families. We all have a lot at stake.

"When it happened to me, it was devastating. You know it's coming when the phone rings. It's a tough time to have to deal with, and my advice to some of these players who are in that situation is to control what you can control and go out there against the Jets and play your heart out. That is the only thing you can control. Everything else is out of your hands."

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