SAN DIEGO -- There's no better time for Gary Banks to make the San Diego Chargers' 53-man roster. In truth, there's really no other time.
While Banks technically has a third and final year of practice-squad eligibility remaining, those eight spots usually are reserved for developmental players, not a 28-year old receiver already on his second career.
"I'm 28; for a lot of guys that's already six, seven years in the league," Banks said. "I'm just sitting here going into my third year. So, yeah, I feel that sense of urgency that this window of opportunity is right here. It's right here for me to take it, and that's the way I approach it every day."
The sliver of a crack in that window has been provided by the departure of receiver/special teams ace Kassim Osgood, who signed with Jacksonville in free agency this offseason. Banks also is getting a heavy dose of work with the first- and second-team offense with Pro Bowl wideout Vincent Jackson staying away -- possibly deep into the regular season -- in a contract dispute.
"For me, with Gary it's his great desire," coach Norv Turner said. "I mean, he wants to be a part of this thing. He's creating a spot for himself in terms of us giving him a chance."
That Banks is in this position not only speaks to his desire to make the final roster but maybe, just maybe, more to his work ethic to be a football player -- again.
A football and baseball star in high school in Alabama, Banks took a swing at the major leagues after being drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago Cubs. He struck out. Banks was deft in the outfield but couldn't quite figure out that switch-hitting thing in three years of Class A ball.
Instead of spending more time with baseball, watching other players pass him by, he went back to school -- at Troy University, an education paid for by the Cubs. Banks also went out for the football team, and the converted quarterback transformed himself into a very good receiver.
With his age and somewhat unrefined game working against him, Banks went undrafted in 2008. San Diego, which seemingly can't ever have enough receivers, gave him a shot as an undrafted free agent. At 6-feet, 198 pounds, he fits the mold of the bigger wideout the Chargers prefer -- and he's actually small by their standards.
The past two seasons, Banks has done well. He simply hasn't been able to crack an ultra-deep, ultra-talented receiving group that included Jackson, Osgood, Malcom Floyd, Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee. He was good enough to be stashed on the practice squad, an accomplishment for the humble Banks.
That isn't enough now, though. Banks is hungry, and opportunity is knocking. Plus, as a married father of two, he's beginning to wonder if football ultimately will enable him to provide for his family.
"I've done the practice squad thing, and I feel like I'm up to speed with the NFL game, and I feel like I can really contribute to this team," Banks said. "It's at that point right now in my life I feel like it's make it or break it. My family, going back and forth, we're moving out of this apartment and then we move back in this apartment. It's getting to that point where as your kids get older, you start thinking we need to be more stable so they're (not) going to have to be going back and forth all the time."
Working in Banks' favor, Turner and his staff want him on the team. His want-to is like no other. This offseason, Banks won the team award for being the most diligent player at meetings and in the weight room, prompting Turner to say Banks' leadership is "contagious," even though he has yet to set foot on the field in the regular season.
However, nothing is guaranteed. In early June, San Diego signed free-agent wideout Josh Reed, a longtime player with Buffalo who stands a decent chance of making the team. There is an opportunity for Banks, but the numbers still have him firmly on the fringe.
"I control what I do between those white lines, you know, go out here and bust my butt every day, do everything they ask me to do, and in the end, you know, if it don't work out, at least I can say it wasn't on my part," Banks said. "Maybe I can go somewhere else and fit on another team. I can't sit at home and think, 'Wow, somebody else is here.' I can't worry about that, because I can't do anything about it. The decision has been made. Only thing I can do is go out here and, like I said, just work hard every day."
Turner said of Banks: "He's just gotten so much better as we've gone through everything. He's a guy that can do everything. He goes and plays defense during practice during the week; he'll be a free safety; he does all the wide receiver stuff; he does our wildcat, opponent team wildcat; so he's a very versatile player, and guys like that you find a way to keep."
What's intriguing is that San Diego, while it covets a lot of things about Banks, actually is trying to find other players just like him. The Chargers signed a bevy of undrafted receivers in the hope that some can develop into the type of player they prefer. Banks must focus not only on the players ahead of him on the depth chart but also on the competition coming up behind.
Banks will get every chance to prove himself this preseason. The past two years, he's seen spot duty in the four-game stretch. In 2010, he's going to play a lot and in pressure situations to see if he can handle himself. Banks has been great in practice but sometimes certain players don't graduate from that level.
His play on special teams will be even more vital than how many catches he makes -- or doesn't. Banks will be on almost every unit of the kicking game, and if he shows he can compensate for some of the precision and reliability the Chargers had in Osgood, Banks might finally hit a home run.
"I'm just going for it right now, whether it's kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, whatever it is; I feel like that's going to be my way to make it in the 53," Banks said. "I feel like I have the talent to play in the NFL, but it's all about being in that right situation, where you fit, and with some certain positions open right now, I feel like the time is now."