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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Life in the NFL filled with uncertainty for some players, including Chicago's Matt Toeaina

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Matt Toeaina raised his arms and smiled in triumph when Seattle's fourth-down pass with seconds remaining fell incomplete, sealing the Bears' 25-19 victory Sunday at Qwest Field.

Toeaina joined in sideline celebration of high-fives, hugs and pats on the back or helmet. But unlike 46 other Bears players who were in uniform, Toeaina wore only a navy blue and orange sweatsuit.

Inactive for the game, Toeaina's excitement was tempered by a dull feeling of not having contributed on the field.

He said he especially would have enjoyed mixing it up with a former Oregon teammate, Seahawks offensive lineman Max Unger.

"At the end of the day I'm on the team and we got the victory," Toeaina said. "But you want to be out there."

Uncertainty a constant

About 480 players share Toeaina's experience each week. NFL players come in several categories: There are the starters, then the regular backups, and then there are the fringe players, whose jobs hang in the balance from week to week.

NFL teams carry 53 players on their active roster and up to eight on the practice squad. But teams may suit up 46 (only if the last player is a third quarterback) for each game. So, of the 61 players a team can carry, 15 end up as spectators on game day.

For Toeaina, in his third season out of the University of Oregon, each week is a guessing game. He has played in five games in his NFL career, which began in 2006 on Cincinnati's practice squad.

Toeaina was inactive for Chicago's season opener this year at Green Bay but played Week Two against Pittsburgh, registering a pass defended.

As a third-string defensive tackle, his status each game depends on the matchup and if the coaches believe they need more depth on the defensive line as opposed to another position.

"It can be frustrating, but you just have to stay ready," Toeaina said. "You have to prepare like you are going to go out there and play."

For now, Toeaina's roster spot at least appears to be secure, if not his playing time.

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