Jacob Cutrera's football career has come to a crossroads. Will it continue or will this have been the end? The answer to that question will be determined over the next seven days.
When the Jaguars' starters repair to the bench at some point in the third quarter of Saturday's preseason game in Tampa, content that what little drama there is in the preseason has been played out and it's time to turn their attention to the regular season, Cutrera and all the other "bubble" players on the Jaguars roster will take to the field for the most important playing time of their lives. At that point in the game, the field will be littered with long-shot rookies in desperate pursuit of their dream.
"I just have to stay calm and play how I know how and leave it to the coach and general manager to decide. I know if I don't make it here I won't have any regrets. I left it all on the field and it's the best I can do," Cutrera said following Thursday's practice at the Jaguars' "Florida Blue" practice fields.
Cutrera is from Lafayette, La. A year ago, Michael Desormeaux, an undrafted rookie who was a star quarterback at Louisiana-Lafayette, was facing the same tense moments Cutrera is experiencing this year. Desormeaux was a long shot to make the team as a safety. He had played well and he was in the hunt as cutdown day loomed, but the "Turk" found him and just that quickly Desmormeaux's wonderful football career was over.
"He's selling real estate back in Lafayette," said Cutrera, whose brother played with Desormeaux at UL-LAF.
What will you do if you're cut, Cutrera was asked?
"I think about it every day. What can I do?" Cutrera said. Fortunately, he has a degree in business from LSU.
Coming out of high school, he was the number one linebacker prospect in Louisiana. He was a hot recruit. Now, he's just another desperate rookie chasing a dream. Yeah, it's the most wonderful week of his life. He'll never forget it.
What are his chances?
"I think they're pretty good. That's one of the reasons I came to Jacksonville. I saw an opportunity. I want to open the coaches' eyes and show them I can play here," Cutrera said.
Jaguars linebackers coach Mark Duffner found Cutrera at the "Competitive Edge Sports" training facility in Atlanta, where Cutrera was preparing for last February's scouting combine. Duffner asked the CES director if he had any good-looking prospects. Cutrera was recommended.
On a team that isn't real deep at linebacker and, for that reason, isn't likely to go heavy on the roster at linebacker, Cutrera has played all three linebacker positions. He'll wear the helmet communicator on Saturday, which says something about Duffner's regard for Cutrera's ability to think on his feet.
"It's important to me. I love the game. I don't want to stop now, but if it comes down to it, it's not the end of the world," Cutrera said.
That's what he's saying for the record. Does he really believe it wouldn't be the end of the world?
"It feels great," he said of being part of an NFL team. "I'm playing in the NFL. It's always been a dream of mine. The first day I got that NFL helmet with the shield on the back, it was a real good feeling. My parents came to the last game and got a whole bunch (of pictures)."
That's good. It's proof that all of this happened. That much can never be taken away from him.
"I'm going to be playing most of the second half," Cutrera said of his expected play time on Saturday.
He'll give it everything he has and then he'll wait to see if the "Turk" avoids him on Monday, when all teams must cut their rosters to 75.
"Just knowing you could be the one; it's going to be nerve-racking," he said. "It's a lot more stressful. College was more laid back. You could joke on the sideline if you wanted to. Here, you gotta be locked in on every play. Always be on your toes, always bring your 'A' game. Everything you do, you're being judged."
Cutrera, 6-3, 238, has had his moments in practice. Now he needs to have one of those moments in a game. It's what can put an undrafted dreamer over the top.