By Caleb Hanie
One of the hardest things about playing in the NFL, especially when you are a role player or backup Quarterback like me, is dealing with the ambiguity. You rarely have the job security that a star player has, and most of the time you don’t know your fate until the last day of preseason cuts. Even then, your job can be stripped of you for various reasons – injuries, poor performance, etc. Also, ninety percent of the NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed. So, you could go from one week thinking you’re earning $1,000,000 that year, to making zero.
2013 was another one of those years for me. I was with the Baltimore Ravens for the off-season and throughout the entire preseason before getting released. I found out quickly that it is hard to stay in shape and game-ready when you are working out on your own. I was on my own for 3 and a half months before getting signed by the Cleveland Browns in week 13. They had multiple injuries at the Quarterback position and brought me in on Sunday night. After arriving to the team’s facility around 9pm, I was taken straight up to Norv Turner’s office, the team’s Offensive Coordinator. I’ll never forget what he said to me when I walked in, “Well, you ready to start against the Patriots this weekend?” I responded with, “It’d be great to see the playbook first, but yeah let’s do it.” He then told me that it was looking as though that’d be the case, but Jason Campbell may come back from a concussion, so we wouldn’t know until later in the week.
To be honest, I was trying to play it cool, but I was secretly freaking out. I had to learn an entire playbook in TWO days and be ready to lead the first team through a full practice on Wednesday. At practice on Wednesday, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and all eyes on me. It was like, “Will this guy be ready to go or what?” I came out firing and just letting it go really…and I actually had an amazing practice.
Campbell got cleared that evening and came back to lead practice on Thursday and subsequently start against the Patriots in New England that Sunday. A whirlwind of a week to say the least, and it ended with a bang. After I came back into the office on Monday, I got released as one of the other Quarterbacks who was injured cleared concussion protocol.
Overall, and maybe surprising to most, this was one of the proudest moments of my career. Learning a playbook in 2 days and leading an NFL practice is no small feat. It wasn’t all for naught as well. My performance made enough of a good impression with Norv Turner for him to give a recommendation to Jason Garrett and led to me getting a tryout and making it on with the Dallas Cowboys the following spring.