INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tyler Varga came to Indianapolis to pursue a dream.
Almost four months later, he’s on the verge of landing his first real job.
The rookie who played at one of America’s oldest and most overlooked football schools, Yale, is trying to win a spot at one of the lowest-profile positions in the league, fullback. And he’s one anxious weekend away from making an NFL roster.
“I think my effort is evident on the field,” Varga said earlier this week. “I try to hustle on special teams, and I think I’ve gotten noticed for that.”
Few thought the 5-foot-11, 225-pound undrafted rookie would still be hanging around for Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Bengals. But Varga has done well in his extended audition.
It was enough to survive this week’s first cut down from 90 to 75. Now comes the hard part: proving he deserves one of the coveted 53 roster spots.
For Varga and more than two dozen others still in the fight, it will be a critical and a nervous weekend.
Late-round draft picks such as running back Josh Robinson and offensive lineman Denzelle Good still have something to prove. Veteran running back Vick Ballard might not get another shot after injuring his hamstring again. Former CFL all-star such as receiver Duron Carter believes there’s more work to do before he locks up a spot, too.
Around NFL locker rooms, most players understand the nature of this final countdown.
Indy’s backup quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, thought he had made Green Bay’s final roster in 1998 only to learn late that the Packers signed former Notre Dame star Rick Mirer for the No. 3 job. Hasselbeck was quickly re-signed to the Packers’ practice squad.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis, a fifth-round draft pick in 2003, played in the Colts’ final preseason game three straight times before emerging as one of the most feared pass rushers in football.
His advice is simple: “Just run somewhere really fast, don’t really care about whether you make a mistake or not, just go 100 mph.”
Varga and his colleagues have followed that script throughout the offseason and over the past month, part of the reason they’re still here.
And with one more game left, there’s still some unfinished work.
Last week, Carter said he needed to make a statement at St. Louis and responded with three catches for 25 yards, his best performance in August. Now he has to show the Colts he can excel in consecutive games.
“I still need some ice cream,” Carter said when asked if a big game last weekend would be the cherry on top to a promising August. “I still need a good week to get me in there.”
Varga responded to his heaviest workload, too. He carried six times for 16 yards, including an impressive 1-yard TD run that he refused to go down on.
It still might not be enough.
But unlike the 15 players who were cut Monday, Varga, Carter and the rest still have one more chance to show the coaches they belong in the NFL.
“I think there are always some bubble guys. Every year I’ve been in the league, it seems like one guy has made a final cut based on the last game,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Again, it’s their full body of work. But if two guys are neck and neck and one guy shows out whether it’s on offense, defense, or special teams, it can make a big difference.”