Editor's note: NFL.com is following five players who enter their respective training camps hoping to be one of their team's 53. Here are their stories as they strive to hold on to their NFL dreams.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- This is a story about seizing an opportunity that, in most circumstances, would not have presented itself. It is about facing 1-in-80 odds as an undrafted NFL training camp "body" and beating those odds to become somebody. It is why taking a chance -- and providing one -- can result in a story that would have a feel-good ending.
Except this has a feel-good beginning.
Lance Long is a small, tough kid from Detroit. Son of a Ford assembly line worker. Walk-on wide receiver at Mississippi State. Started just two games as a senior at the passing-challenged SEC doormat. Got a sniff in Arizona after a stellar pro-day workout in the winter of 2008.
This is not hype. This is not about building up some kid because he's a snapshot of blue-collar Americana. This is about a long-shot who is this close to living the dream of thousands of men who might not have tried as hard, worked as much, had the necessary genes or caught the right break.
"Much like Steve Breaston the year before, he showed up in the spring, he made plays," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said of his initial impressions of Long last year. "He gets your attention that way and when a young guy like Lance comes in and works very hard, wants to get better, always asking questions, always studying and looking at tape, you know, he gets noticed. And then when you can produce on the field, which he's done for us in practice, then it kind of gets your radar up.
"So the next stage for him is can he do it in a game? Obviously the preseason games. For him to be able to do it at that level against good competition and be successful, is the next stage in his development."
And there is the if.
As intriguing of a prospect as Long made himself last season, when he ended up on the practice squad -- he said he was happy to be in the NFL but thought he'd performed well enough to be on the 53-man roster -- he's now faced with expectations as training camp opens in Flagstaff.
Somewhere in the NFL every summer, a player like Long surfaces -- then fades when he has to take that next big step. We're about to find out if Long is up to the task. Fitzgerald and Boldin -- and even Breaston -- don't need to prove themselves in training camp and in preseason games. Long will get their reps and their playing time. He will get a chance to make it. Or not.
"I don't consider myself a long shot," Long said. "I don't mean that by any cockiness. I feel like I bring a lot to the table. I'm willing to work and do anything the coaches want me to do. I don't consider myself a long shot at all. I feel like I have a very good shot of making the team."
To see Long, and then to hear them say that can make you ask yourself, "Is this guy for real?"
His mild demeanor and placekicker-like look (5-11, 186 pounds) demand seeing to believe. Yet, he has his believers already. Long was so impressive last preseason, during practice sessions in the regular season and even more so in recent minicamps and OTAs, that there is concern among the Cardinals that if they cut him or try to stash him on the practice squad, he will be claimed by another team.
Physically, the comparisons are fair. Though he is small, he is thickly muscled like Chrebet and Welker and he can run. He is a tough cover and more than anything, he catches everything.
"I catch the ball really well," Long said. "Come in and out of my routes very well. I try to be physical when I block and I'm always going to give you 110 percent. Last year was a little different because I was learning the playbook. This year, I feel I know the system a lot better."
Arizona is expected to carry six wide receivers. Boldin, Breaston and Fitzgerald are keepers, of course. Upstarts Early Doucet and Jerheme Urban are closer to remaining with the team than not. Long is more of a receiving threat than veteran Sean Morey, but Morey is a special teams standout. There also are other camp wideouts who are trying to do what Long did last year. Nothing is certain.
While the numbers run deep, the pecking order after the top three isn't set. That's where Long can establish himself, possibly as the No. 4 wide out. That's not a bad place to be for a team that throws the ball a lot with a lot of multiple-receiver sets. Even so, Long is going to have to flash on special teams to distinguish himself.
"When you don't get drafted it's like being a walk-on," Long said. "You have to continually prove yourself. It's a dream for all of us. I am not the only one. Really, it's everyone in the NFL. But you see it more in guys like us who are kind of on the bubble. It's a dream."