Long shots to make an NFL roster, they haven't given up on their dream to play football at the highest level. Yet, every single time they are released they are closer to having that probable childhood wish extinguished.
The Arizona Cardinals free agent wide receiver and guard/center are nomads: drudging through annual camps and leagues trying to make a name for themselves -- trying to find a place they can call home. Trying to hold on to that belief that they do belong.
For Dillard coming out of college, it was a no-brainer - a NFL job was his for the taking. An All-American wideout from Rice, he holds the NCAA record with 59 receiving touchdowns. A fifth round draft choice of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009, he only caught 6 passes as a rookie before breaking his ankle. The next season was a toe injury causing him to miss the 2010 campaign. In 2011 he was anointed as the Jags number two guy and put up pedestrian numbers - 29 catches for 292 yards a solo TD. The following year Justin Blackmon was drafted and Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans was signed. Dillard was released. Strike one.
The Detroit Lions saw something and signed the smallish, 5-10 190 player to a one-year contract last season. They liked his route running and 43-inch vertical leap. A slot guy with good hands could take heat away from all-world Calvin Johnson. But come the end of training camp, it proved wrong. Dillard, behind Megatron, Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles and Titus Young (well, that was a mistake), he was cut. Strike two.
Dillard was penned as unsigned free agent by the Cardinals after sitting out last season and will have to make strides during training camp to not swing and miss at his football career.
Mike Gibson knows about second chances also. And third and fourth....(Stop me when we get to cat life quantity.)
The former JUCO All American played tackle at California where he merited honorable mention. A sixth round selection of the Philadelphia Eagles, he made the team as a practice squad player in 2008. Shortly thereafter, Gibson suffered a shoulder injury ending his rookie campaign. Strike one.
The Seattle Seahawks swiped him off the PS and he garnished game time in 3 contests, mostly at guard. Perhapsa beginning to a football job, he probably thought. But as keeping in the theme of the story, he was kicked in the teeth figuratively and released. "Strike Two" screams the Turk.
But an injury to tackle Chester Pitts reveals a quick re-sign and playing time. In 2010, he started 8 games and saw action in 14. In some circles, that could be parlayed into a "ball one" metaphor.
Waived again before the 2012 season, Gibson went back to Philly where he dallied around with not only the guard position, but center as well. (Scoreboard shows a 2 balls- 2 strikes count with the last pitch jusssst a bit outside.) A cut, like Dillard's in camp, led him to the Cardinals -- where he was signed, released and re-signed again.
And this is where we come back to the number of cat lives/strikes allowed that are afforded to NFL players on the fringe. (You think Fitzgerald is going to have this worry a few years from now?)
For most, it's a fastball down the middle that has the guy should have seen, over-matched at the start. But, for a few, their NFL career usually end up on the corner black of the plate - not quite a strike, just close enough for ringing the player up.