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Chasing The Dream

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Defensive end Jason Banks takes part in some of the team's voluntary workouts.

Rodney Leisle was just about done.

It wasn't his choice, mind you. The decision had all but been made for him, after two years without making a roster. The defensive tackle was 28, having been cut after training camp in both 2007 and 2008 by the Saints and Giants, respectively. He had played in 14 games with New Orleans in 2006 and believed it was the beginning of a career. Instead, it was playing out like the beginning of the end.

Then the Cardinals called, and Leisle's job in a company selling mobile shelving was, well, shelved. The NFL dream wasn't dead.

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"You just want to keep hope alive," Leisle said.

Jason Banks was part of the Cardinals' Super Bowl team, at least for a brief time. He was brought back to the practice squad after being cut in training camp. That lasted two glorious weeks, until the Cards needed a running back, picked up Ryan Moats, and let Banks go.

The defensive end was brought back this offseason. He may just be filling out the roster but, like Leisle, he isn't thinking that way quite yet.

"I may have to do something else (for a career)," Banks said. "But this is a dream, playing football on the big stage."

The Cardinals and the rest of the NFL will conduct its draft in two weeks, with a new crop of rookies coming in to vie for roster spots. For key players, they know their future. Ultimately, of the 53 men who make the final roster, anyone paying attention could dole out at least 45 of the spots in May, including most of the draft picks.

That leaves precious little space for the rest of the approximately 82 or 83 players that will show up to minicamp. So guys like Banks and Leisle show up to almost all the voluntary work in the offseason, getting paid about $450 a week after taxes, hoping the work they put in eventually makes a difference.

Banks even said he is working with a negative cash flow in the summer, a sacrifice in the hope he can pull in at least one or two paychecks "that is more money than some people make in a whole year."

"You have to make a lot of life decisions as far as financial situations," Leisle said.

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The payoff could be great. But Leisle also said football was really all he knew given that he has played the game for so long. It's not something he really wants to surrender. "I like being around these dudes, hanging out and the camaraderie," he said. "You think, 'How long am I going to be able to do this?' "

Unlike Leisle, Banks could play on the practice squad -- assuming the Cards wanted him. His stint there last season was fun while it lasted, until Moats was needed. Moats only lasted two weeks, and then wide receiver Onrea Jones – who had been on the practice squad but abruptly released after a day of sightseeing in Washington D.C. during the team's week back East – returned.

Because of such scenarios, Banks said a player can't even count on monitoring his own position. At the end of the roster – or on the practice squad – flipping a defensive lineman for a running back, or a wide receiver for a linebacker, isn't uncommon.

Banks is only 23. He doesn't know how long he'll try to stay in the NFL or fall back on his Grambling education. Banks went to the Super Bowl, thinking it "bittersweet" that buddies of his were part of the ride while he sat at home. He talked to former teammate Ali Highsmith; he texted former teammate Brandon Keith.

Then they became current teammates again.

That call came earlier this offseason, when Banks answered his phone at home in Baton Rouge and found himself talking to football operations assistant Justin Casey. Banks was about to leave for New Orleans and enjoy a couple of days of Mardi Gras. Casey asked if Banks could instead fly out the next day and sign with the Cards.

Mardi Gras comes around much more often than the chance – however slim it may be – to chase the NFL dream.

"I thought about it," Banks said, chuckling. "But I said 'OK.' "


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 4/13/09.

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