For many, training camp can be a time where key injuries are to be avoided and a glimpse of the season to come can be seen. To others, the preseason is an opportunity to prove they can succeed despite being told they aren't good enough.
They are the long shots. By my definition, they are the players who get drafted in the sixth or seventh rounds or aren't drafted at all, signed to nothing more than a chance to show up and prove they're worthy to return the next day.
To these players preseason is the season. Every practice is a job interview, every game a probationary period where if you don't perform, you likely will be asked to give back your playbook the next day. Saints fans have become almost accustomed to the yearly plight of the long shot.
Receiver Marques Colston was a seventh-round pick from Hofstra. Receiver Lance Moore was undrafted out of Toledo in 2005 where he was signed by Cleveland then waived, only to be signed by the Saints, where he spent two seasons on and off the team's practice squad. Running back Pierre Thomas was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007. His performance in the preseason forced the team to cut running back Antonio Pittman, who was a fourth-round pick. Left tackle Zach Strief was a seventh-round pick. A season ago center Brian de la Puente was preparing for an interview for an office job when the Saints called him. Stillman product defensive end Junior Galette was an undrafted free agent signing in 2010.
So what does it take and is there a long-shot story on this year's Saints squad?
Perhaps the godfather of long shots in recent Saints history is Michael "The Beer Man" Lewis, who took a tryout and turned it into a story of inspiration. Lewis was a former Budweiser truck driver who went from delivering beer to playing in the Dome. Lewis earned a roster spot as the return specialist for the Saints 2002-2006 season, playing well enough to earn selections to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams in 2002.
I asked Lewis what it takes to make it as a long shot. "You have to take every edge you can get," he said. "First, you have to be in great shape. Then you have to take advantage of every rep you receive in a game or a practice, on special teams as much as offense or defense. Finally you have to pick up the concepts and corrections in meetings and film review. Any edge you get is crucial to making the team."
This training camp, undrafted free agent running back Travaris Cadet is making a push to become yet another long shot who earns his fleur-de-lis.
"He's got a lot of talent, he was undrafted and he's showing everybody. ... I told him my side of the story and how I made it, and I don't know if he's using it to carry on," Pierre Thomas said. "He's using his own ways to get better, to show everybody that he can be a part of this team and help out."
"I think it surprised all of us a little bit or else he would've been a drafted player," said assistant head coach Joe Vitt. "I think this is a kid who's really taken full advantage of the opportunity he has right now."
Even Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been impressed. "I think what I've most impressed with is it never seems to be too much for him. Our offense can be complex and we do a lot of things and ask a lot from the running backs. ... And yet for him, he has picked it up so quickly. It never feels like it's too much for him. He is always in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, and you can count on him."
As for the long shot himself, "I just try and go out there every day and execute the play and my assignments the best way I know I can do them," Cadet said. "I have to take each play at a time, constantly ask Coach (Vitt) questions when I have questions and make the sacrifices I have to make to make this squad."
Cadet adds that players like Thomas, Galette and running back Chris Ivory have been an inspiration.
Time will tell if Cadet can be next in the line of long shots to make it onto an NFL roster. After all, who doesn't love an underdog?
— Listen to Gus Kattengell weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on WIST 690 AM's The Sports Hangover.