During any given NFL training camp season, 32 team rosters of 90 mean each are given an opportunity to compete for just 53 roster spots per team (plus a few additional slots on the practice squad). Looking at things from that perspective, and including the practice squad positions, the chances would seem like each man has two chances in three of finding himself on an NFL roster.
Reality is much different. Anywhere from forty five to fifty of those slots are already ‘reserved’ for certain players. For the sake of discussion let’s make an assumption that 48 players are safely entrenched in Dallas. That leaves just five roster slots open and 42 men competing for those roles. The players whose future is not certain now face a one in eight chance of making the club.
That puts things into a different perspective.
Each of those 42 individuals is going to have to do something to catch the eye of the coaching staff, and then they are going to have to maintain that throughout the remainder of training camp. For guys who are on the bubble, or who are outside looking in, every opportunity is important.
Getting that one extra opportunity can mean the difference between selling insurance this fall and putting off finding a real job for one more season.
That is why the Hall of Fame game is a godsend for those guys who are a long shot to make the Dallas Cowboys this year. You can bet that every undrafted free agent in Oxnard knows the story of Jeff Heath and how he battled himself into a position where he could make a career for himself.
In the 2013 game Heath got an opportunity to prove that he could contribute something to the future of the Dallas Cowboys. He was short on high-level coaching and had not been given the opportunity to test himself against the best competition, but one thing that Heath did have was heart.
He also had a tendency to show up on film when given an opportunity.
The game was not meaningless for a guy who few had heard of and whom the coaches did not expect to make the squad, at least not right away. He was given a sliver of an opportunity and Heath took advantage when he got on the gridiron.
“One of my real memories of [Heath] is watching the tape the next day, the kickoff reel and he literally is 10 yards ahead of everybody on the kickoff. [Coaches] are looking at each other like, ‘Who is that?’ He really showed up in that game. He’s a great example to the rest of our team. It really doesn’t matter where you came from, when you were drafted, what school you went to. You’re going to get an opportunity here, and if you take advantage of it, you’re going to get more of them.” - Jason Garrett
Heath made himself into the guy that people were forced to pay attention to. His performance was more than enough for Garrett and the rest of the coaches to see if he could continue to deliver on a weekly basis. Each time Heath responded and he earned more time on the field. He was working to make himself into the indispensable man that every NFL team needs on its roster, the guy who may not be one of the 53 most talented men in camp, but the guy the staff wants around because he will do anything to earn another opportunity.
Things have changed dramatically for Heath. He has the inside track to being the other starting safety alongside Byron Jones this season. He has grown and developed quite a lot since his initial season. That does not mean that Heath has forgotten where he came from and the additional opportunity that having the Hall of Fame contest on the schedule gave him.
“I was really lucky that we got that game my rookie year because the starters didn’t play at all. I really wanted to make a good first impression in live action like that and I think I made the biggest impact on special teams in that game just because I was trying to show my speed and my instincts and being around the ball.” - Jeff Heath
Without the opportunity that the game gave him, Heath might well have seen his dreams come to a close when the Cowboys made their roster cutdowns back in 2013.
He is one guy that you will never convince that the Hall of Fame game is meaningless; to him it was the start of everything in his professional career.