The tail end of the 80-man training camp roster is not a comfortable place. The ladder that must be climbed to make the final 53-man team is often greased like a carnival pig, with little to hold on to but hope. But for athletes with NFL dreams, even a little bit of hope is better than nothing.
As all 32 NFL teams brace for the start of training camps next month, roughly a third of the 2,560 players who report won't make the cut come September. The reality is that after the core group of returning veterans and an incoming rookie draft picks, there might be five open spots per team -- maybe.
Each season there are players who unexpectedly emerge, challenging others who fail to develop and those who get outplayed. For the second consecutive summer, NFL.com will track five of these players, whose tenuous positions with their respective teams have them living On The Fringe.
We've targeted two rookies -- one with a pro football pedigree, another with a dubious history. We also will follow a former baseball player hoping to crack a roster with some of the league's best wide receivers; a Canadian Football League star trying to take his game to a new level; and a lineman whose sobriety and tough-love relationship with his head coach has led to a great opportunity.
None of these players -- 49ers tackle Alex Boone, Titans running back LeGarrette Blount, Seahawks defensive end Ricky Foley, Chargers wide receiver Gary Banks and Buccaneers safety Cody Grimm -- is assured of anything. They will have to work harder than most and do more on the field and in the meeting rooms simply to get noticed. These players are not starters. In fact, special teams might be their path to a career in the NFL.
It would be easy to say that their future is in their hands, but in reality, each could do everything right -- sit front and center in every meeting, learn every play, execute every drill -- and still not make it. At this level, talent wins, and these guys are on the fringe because, right now, their coaches think somebody is better. It won't be their first bout with adversity or rejection.
As they enter camp, they are hopeful. Each day will present a new challenge, but an injury, a new acquisition or a bad preseason game, and their dream could turn out to be a dream deferred or outright denied.
Their journeys should be compelling and inspiring. We will chronicle their lives -- on and off the field -- with frequent updates, often told in their own words. They want to share their quest to move from the fringe to the final 53, and in the end, they hope they've grown in enough ways that you will have too.