The makeshift sign taped inside his locker told the story of Dave Ball’s training camp situation with the Tennessee Titans.
Written in blue magic marker on the white piece of notebook paper were the words “Time is running out.”
Those four words served as motivation and a reminder for the 27-year-old Ball, who, pardon the pun, had grown tired of bouncing around pro football.
And so Ball had made up his mind. After being out of football in 2007, going to a half dozen or so in-season tryouts with no guarantees — training camp and preseason with the Titans in 2008 would be his final chance to make it as a defensive lineman in the NFL.
No roster spot in Tennessee would mean no more wondering what if. It would be time to go into the real world, use that history degree from UCLA and get a real job once and for all.
“I was pretty much going to hang it up, if I didn’t make it,” Ball said. “I was just tired of the run-around.”
The run-around ended for Ball sure enough, but not the way many might have expected. He turned in a strong preseason with six tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss, and when final cuts came around on Saturday, Ball was not only still standing, but likely vying for a spot in the defensive end rotation with Jacob Ford behind Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse.
“My career was given a little reprieve, and I’m happy for that,” Ball said.
Ball has been trying to find a home in the league since being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the fourth round in 2004. He played in six games that year before a broken foot landed him on injured reserve.
The next year after two games on the roster, Ball was on San Diego’s practice squad, until he was signed by the New York Jets late in the year. He stayed in New York through the 2006 season, but was still being pegged incorrectly in a 3-4 scheme.
“The Chargers and the Jets, it was just the wrong scheme and didn’t fit me,” Ball said. “They wanted me to be a 3-4 end, and I wasn’t big enough and strong enough for that.”
The next year, it was off to Carolina, where Ball had a strong preseason, but wound up being let go anyway by the Panthers just before the season started.
“Carolina was a good opportunity, and I don’t know what happened with that. Honestly, I felt I played good enough to make that team last year, but unfortunately they disagreed,” Ball said.
So, Ball’s fate was then in the hands of agent Bruce Tollner, trying to get in one more shot in the league. He spent 2007 going on tryouts, but was unable to latch on anywhere.
“I got a lot of calls last year. After I got cut by the Panthers, last year I had six or seven tryouts for teams,” Ball said. “The teams all liked me, but it was like, ‘We really like you, but all our spots are filled right now. If somebody goes down, we’re gonna pick you up.’”
The Titans were even one of those teams to work Ball out, but instead signed a defensive tackle to provide depth on the roster. Given a second chance to sign Ball after the regular season, he signed a two-year futures contract with the Titans in January, the same week Tennessee was preparing for its wild-card game against the Chargers.
“We brought Dave in here because we knew he had a chance to make this team. We didn’t just bring him in to fill up a camp spot,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “…We have youth at the position. Basically Jacob and William [Hayes] are rookies so you need a veteran presence at that third end spot. So we felt like Dave gives us just what we wanted.”
His teammates on the defensive line like what Ball has brought to the unit in preseason.
“I didn’t see how they couldn’t keep him, because the way they’ve been playing, ‘Wow,’ defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. “You look at it and look at these last four games and he’s really been playing well. He’s really been showing up.”
Kyle Vanden Bosch, whom Ball says he has modeled himself after, is impressed as well.
“In our room, we’ve got a bunch of guys in the same situation. We’ve got Tony Brown. I was a free agent, and nobody really wanted me, and Dave Ball kind of fits in that mold,” Vanden Bosch said. “We’ve got a bunch of hungry players who have had to prove themselves in our room.”
The proving won’t stop for Ball just because he has made the opening-day roster.
“Everything is pretty much day-to-day in this league, so I’m not going to take anything for granted. I’m just going to try to get better,” Ball said.
Just in case he needs a reminder, the sign is still in his locker.
JACKSON UPDATE: Receiver Chad Jackson cleared waivers Monday after being let go by the New England Patriots on Sunday.
The Titans may still be in the market for receiver help, but Jackson’s agent was already finalizing a visit to Oakland for the 2006 second-round pick.
Veteran Ashley Lelie was also reported to be signing with the Raiders.