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Practice Squad Players Embrace Their Role

Posted Nov 3, 2011

All week during practice these eight players go about their business no different than the active 53, only with little to no recognition. They are the practice squad.

Rookie quarterback Pat Devlin, wide receivers Julius Pruitt and Patrick Carter, running back Richard Medlin, defensive back Anderson Russell, cornerback Brandon King, guard Ray Feinga and rookie nose tackle Isako Aaitui have become like brothers in Davie. They share a unique bond that really comes to life on game days, especially when the Dolphins are on the road.

“It’s tough at times but at the same time you just try to not let that creep into your mind that you’re staying behind or watching from home,” said Pruitt, who has been on the practice squad for three years. “You understand your role and know that you’re just an injury away from being called up or signed by another team so you just always have to be prepared. And having the other guys on the squad around you definitely helps.”

Every team handles their practice squad players differently, but in Miami’s case under Head Coach Tony Sparano they are treated as equals. They sit in on all team meetings and participate in every lifting session and drill.

The reason behind that is to both keep the players focused and motivated as well as physically and mentally ready to play at a moment’s notice.

“Their games are really on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Those are the games for those guys,” Sparano said. “They practice and take an awful lot of plays. I don’t know what other people do but we treat them as if they are a part of our 53. So I really have a 61. I think we hold them accountable for their information to understand what’s going on.”

Devlin leans on Pruitt for advice when it comes to handling the ups and down of being on the practice squad. He is very aware of how important his role is running with the scout team and acting as that week’s opposing quarterback.

Now that the Dolphins are two months into the season, the entire practice squad has grown closer and that’s because of what they do during the week outside of what’s required. Devlin has definitely bought in.

“We have a lift on Tuesday that all of the practice squad guys are on and it’s fun to get in here and do all of that stuff,” said Devlin, an undrafted free agent out of Delaware. “Everyone in that group is in the same boat and we’re just trying to get better. Watching the games just serves as more motivation just to keep going out and working hard to try to get a spot on the roster.”

Devlin remains confident that he is capable of playing at the highest level and like the others on the practice squad he approaches each day as if he is going to start. With starter Chad Henne already lost for the season to a shoulder injury and Matt Moore banged up, that possibility is not entirely out of the question.

Former Dolphins practice squad wide receiver Anthony Armstrong was signed to the Washington Redskins’ practice squad midway through the 2009 season and then signed to the active roster in January of 2010. He started 11 of 15 games last season and caught 44 passes for 871 yards and three touchdowns, so there is a blueprint out there.

“He took off and it’s all about making the most of your opportunities,” Pruitt said. “I sit down and talk to Davone (Bess) sometimes and he’ll tell me about how when he came in undrafted and how he was trying to make the most of it and look what happened.”

Sparano has a lot of respect for his practice squad players and shows a sincere interest in their development. Both Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace also were undrafted free agents that made the active roster last year.

Last December, Feinga was signed to the active roster off of the practice squad just in time to be activated for Miami’s game at the New York Jets so there is precedent. This is one practice squad that does not go unnoticed by the head coach and the front office.

“We try to reward them by moving guys up periodically,” Sparano said. “At the same time we are constantly evaluating them trying to make sure we have the right people on the practice squad because eventually you’re going to need them. We’ve also given some different rewards. What we’re doing now is the practice squad player of the week each week, whoever that guy is, he’s either with us on the sideline on game day or he travels with us.”

So much for anonymity.
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