Frank Wycheck did it. Kyle Vanden Bosch is still doing it for the Tennessee Titans. Ditto for Tony Brown and Justin Gage.
All those players came to the Titans after basically being given up on by other organizations around the NFL. They not only found a roster spot in Tennessee, but became more than just fringe contributors in the process.
Journeyman defensive end Dave Ball would like nothing more than to be the next name on that list of players who bounced from team to team and system to system before discovering that Tennessee was the right fit for them.
Ball signed with the Titans in January after being out of football in 2007, and is hoping that the same type of hard work and right-place, right-time fortune that worked for the others will work for him in a Titans uniform.
“I just want to be more than a guy who’s sitting on his couch at home,” said Ball, who has been with three other organizations prior to Tennessee. “I think about Kyle. His first three years, he was injured and people said, ‘Who is this guy?’ He was nobody. But he got healthy and he came here and got a second chance and made the most of it. Now he’s a Pro Bowler, an all-star, and everybody looks up to him. That would be great if all the hard work paid off for me just like that.”
Ball, 27, was a fifth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2004, but thanks in part to foot and back injuries — and three surgeries after his rookie season — he played in just eight games in two years.
From there, he closed out 2005 with the New York Jets, where he also spent 2006. Last year, he was in camp with the Carolina Panthers, but was released. Some of the bouncing around occurred because he has been miscast, says defensive line coach Jim Washburn.
“I watched him coming out of college and he had 15 or 16 sacks and had 11 his junior year,” Washburn said. “Anybody who has all those sacks has the propensity to rush the passer. He went to the Chargers and they put him in sort of a read deal, playing a five technique and didn’t let him go. He stayed there two years and they let him go, and the same thing with the Jets.”
Ball was a pass rushing 4-3 end at UCLA where he had 15.5 sacks as a senior in 2003 and was an All-American. But the Chargers drafted him, and he went into a 3-4 scheme, which really didn’t fit his skill set.
“I’ve been programmed for a whole different style of defense, as long as I’ve been in the NFL, a reading defense,” Ball said. “Here, it’s totally attacking and up the field. It’s just going to take me awhile to get out of that old mindset and get into this new mindset.
“That’s how I played in college. That’s how our defensive scheme was. But I kind of got out of that because that’s how the defensive schemes for my previous teams were.”
The battle for the reserve defensive end spots behind will be a tough competition, with youngsters Jacob Ford and William Hayes in the mix, along with holdovers Sean Conover and Bryce Fisher.
But Ball has one thing working in his favor. He is a high-motor guy, which is something both Washburn and Jeff Fisher like in a defensive lineman.
“This is a blue-collar team,” Ball said. “Coach Fisher and coach Washburn like guys with a lot of intensity and effort. They give guys second chances here, and that’s good, because that’s what I need.”
According to Washburn, Ball has been the hardest worker on nearly every defensive line unit he has played on, something he will obviously defer to Vanden Bosch with the Titans. But Ball said he is doing his best to keep up in that regard.
“Kyle, he’s a phenomenon. He’s something like I’ve never seen. Here, he’ll be the first guy [to finish workouts]. He’ll beat the DBs in every conditioning drills,” Ball said. “From day one, I said, ‘I’ve got to stay with this guy.’ I’m probably a step or two behind him, but a step or two behind Kyle is better than a lot of other people.”
Vanden Bosch has taken notice of Ball’s efforts this offseason as well.
“He’s not only a high-effort guy, he’s got some ability. He’s a good player. I think we were lucky to find him,” Vanden Bosch said. “He came here from the first day he got here, and he’s worked very hard himself and so far has put himself in position to make this team and make this team better.”
That would be a dream come true for Ball, who said the only benefit from sitting out last season was that his body got to rest and get completely healthy.
“It was a tough year, but also I got to see my son grow up a little bit. I went home and lifted and ran and tried to stay in shape. I ran on my old high school field. But it was tough,” Ball said. “All that matters now is that I’ve got a chance, and they like guys who are high-effort guys. It’s a pretty good situation. It’s about all I could ask for.”
Washburn knows he will get Ball’s best effort to make the final roster come training camp and preseason.
“I know he’s a desperate dude. The clock is running on him and he wants to make this football team,” Washburn said.