They are little more than tune-up games for David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew, players with the security of rich, long-term contracts, but tonight's preseason opener carries all of the importance of a playoff game for Tyron Brackenridge (pictured), a player whose professional football career has reached the point of desperation.
"I'm trying to make a mark on the team. This could be my last go-round. I'm trying to put it all on the line. I'm hearing a lot of good things right now, but it's all on me to move up," Brackenridge said after completing, yet, another impressive week of practice since joining the Jaguars in the spring.
He was a spring cut by the Jets, who signed him after Brackenridge was cut twice by the Chiefs. The Jaguars claimed Brackenridge off waivers in May and no one really paid much attention to him until he started making impressive plays on the field.
Who was this guy that looked so good? Why would a team cut him so early in the practice season?
They are questions that remain to be answered and those answers will start coming tonight in Miami. The preseason is proving time for players such as Brackenridge.
"I try not to prejudge guys," Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker said. "My approach is I'm going to teach the guys who show up on the grass. Someone in our organization feels he can compete at this level. I've had guys in the past that have bounced a little bit and ended up being productive. It's my job to develop guys. Teach, motivate, develop; that's what I get paid to do."
Someone in the Jets and Chiefs organizations may have looked at Brackenridge's 40 time and decided he couldn't compete, no matter how well he performed in practice. Brackenridge ran a 4.68 40 at his scouting combine and he's never been able to erase it.
"Coming out, that was one of the main reasons I wasn't drafted. People questioned my speed. I've never been a good 40 runner but my game speed is as good as anybody's," Brackenridge said. "They say once you get marked in this league, it's going to stick with you."
Instincts are his strength. He plays on instinct and smarts. In practice at the end of the first week of training camp, he read Garrard's eyes, stepped in front of a receiver and intercepted a pass with nothing but green grass in front of him.
In the Jets' mini-camp this past spring, Brackenridge intercepted a pass and returned it 65 yards for a would-be score. In the Chiefs' regular-season opener last year, he forced a fumble that would've clinched the win, had the Chiefs offense not fumbled the ball right back.
Concerns for his lack of speed, however, have always won out.
"He's shown an ability to be productive and that's the bottom line. I haven't seen him as speed deficient," Tucker said.
"I'm a competitor. If you're going to run a 4.2, I'm going to run a 4.2 with you," Brackenridge said.
He's not the only player for whom tonight's game will have career importance. Here are a few others:
Todd Bouman and Paul Smith—Coach Jack Del Rio said both quarterbacks will play in relief of Garrard. Neither has had a strong training camp and they need to play well in the preseason to turn General Manager Gene Smith's eyes away from those quarterbacks around the league that will be cut or who might be trade bait.
Troy Williamson—The veteran has been one of the top wide receivers in training camp, but he needs to prove he can be productive in a game setting.
Reggie Nelson and Gerald Alexander—They were first and second-round picks in the 2007 draft and they are locked in a competition at the free safety position.
Steve Weatherford and Adam Podlesh—Most camp observers judge Weatherford to have taken the lead in the punting battle, but the preseason will be the litmus test.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.