Wide receiver Isaiah Williams is one of the players fighting for a spot on the 2011 roster.
Isaiah Williams has been through this before, first with Baltimore in 2009 and then again with the Steelers in 2010.
The wide receiver – fighting to be one of the probable six wideouts the Cards keep, and probably the seventh on the depth chart heading into Thursday night's preseason finale against Denver – went through training camp with those teams only to be released by the end of the preseason. He was out of football in 2009 after that, and became a member of the Cards' practice squad last season.
Williams will learn of his 2011 fate Friday, hours after the Broncos' game, just like 79 others will. The Cardinals need to trim 27 from the roster to reach the league-mandated 53, and while some will come back to the practice squad – Williams could land there – the business dictates that some dreams will die.
"Everyone says, 'It's a business' and I understood (coming into the league) decisions that had to be made," Williams said. "But I didn't understand the emotions that come along with, 'It's a business.'
"By now, I really understand 53 guys have to play. For some guys it's better than others, but everyone has a job. We're only guaranteed the practices that we come to, so do whatever you can when you are out there. Certain guys have to play, have to stay. You put what you can on film to help prolong your career, for guys like me to hopefully end up in the right spot and maybe something breaks and you can make a career for yourself."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this year is different than, for instance, his first season, when the coaching staff basically knew the roster going into the last preseason game. He acknowledged there "will be some surprises" for those on the outside looking in, but things could change in the final game.
Players have flashed enough in the last game to secure a place, Whisenhunt said, and could again Thursday against the Broncos. At the same time, "it's not one game, it's not one play," Whisenhunt said. "It's the body of work."
The Cards have to consider their fullbacks, for instance. Rookie Anthony Sherman has potential, but holdover Reagan Maui'a has had a good camp too. It's unlikely the Cards would devote two roster spots to a little-used position, however.
At inside linebacker, do the Cards stick with veteran backup Reggie Walker, or try to grow sixth-round pick Quan Sturdivant? Do the injuries safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback Michael Adams are recovering from force the Cards to keep an extra defensive back? Any place where the Cards choose to keep an extra player means taking from somewhere else.
"A lot of time, there are surprises," said outside linebacker Cyril Obiozor, who is hoping to stick around after being on and off the roster multiple times last season. "People always think they know what is going to happen and then something different happens. It's best not to even speculate. Instead of spending the energy on what could be and what might be and what might not be, it's better to execute."
The "final" roster never is final anyway. Players get cut and are brought back. Maui'a is a great example, getting released on final cutdown day in 2010. The Cards brought in Jerome Johnson on waivers to start the opener. When he didn't pan out, Maui'a was back the second week and stuck around all season.
"Whatever decision has to be made has to be made, and I have to pick up from whatever the coaches decide to do," Williams said. "That's just the nature of the game at this point.
"I try to remind myself to have fun. It's football, and you want to enjoy the experience no matter how long it lasts."