Every gameday, NFL teams must deactivate seven players per league rule. It's hard on the players, because they spend the entire week preparing for the game with their teammates, only to end up watching the game from the sidelines. They don't even dress in uniforms, usually staying in street clothes.
For Darnerien McCants, being inactive for eight of the first nine weeks of the season was especially hard because he felt his career was ascending after catching 27 passes for 360 yards and a team-high six touchdowns last year.
McCants had yet to catch a pass this season until last Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Inserted late in the fourth quarter, McCants hauled in two consecutive passes from Patrick Ramsey, the first for 27 yards and the second for 19 yards. The catches contributed to a touchdown drive and kept the Redskins' hopes alive of pulling out a come-from-behind win.
"I was elated," McCants said. "It was tough to watch from the sidelines. But it's the NFL. I signed up for it. I have to wait for my opportunity just like everyone else."
Head coach Joe Gibbs said that McCants could see more playing time in the coming weeks. The team has had difficulty activating McCants this season due to a numbers crunch at wide receiver.
Last Sunday, Gibbs activated McCants because, with Chad Morton sidelined for the season with a knee injury, James Thrash has taken over punt return duties and the offense needed an additional wide receiver.
"I think Darnerien is a playmaker," Gibbs said. "That's a guy who we probably need to get some opportunities down the stretch to see how he does.
"He's a big guy with real good hands. It was good to see him get in there and make some plays for us. Hopefully that's going to continue. Hopefully we'll be able to find ways to play him more in the offense. Now that he is up, we can do that."
McCants said that, to get his mind away from not playing on Sundays, he took to writing songs. He even performed one during a media session at Redskins Park this week.
But McCants has been all business when it comes to the practice field. In fact, Gibbs mentioned McCants had an especially good practice week leading up to the Bengals game.
"Darnerien has worked hard," Gibbs said. "I like his attitude out here. One of the reasons why we brought him up is that he made some plays in practice and he continues to work hard. He's had a good attitude in practice."
McCants is expected to join Ramsey in seeing more playing time in the second half of the season. Ramsey is returning to the starting lineup this Sunday against Philadelphia; he replaces Mark Brunell, who started the first nine games of the season at quarterback.
The two seemed to have developed an on-field rapport and have worked on the second-team offense most of this season on the practice fields.
"I hope I can provide Patrick a comfort zone, but he has Rod [Gardner] and L.C. [Laveranues Coles] too," McCants said. "I think Patrick understands where I like the ball. He's going to put it in that right spot. All he has to do is throw it in my direction and I'm going to catch it."
But there's catching the ball...and then there's getting back in game speed. McCants may have fresh legs, but he recognizes that he's not at the same level as those players who have been going full speed all season long.
"I just have to get my wind back," McCants said. "From summer camp, if you take two months and you're not playing, everyone else is at game speed and my speed is going to be a tad bit but slower. Once I get my wind back, I'll be fine."
Of course, the same could be said for Ramsey.
"Patrick and I should be right in tune," McCants replied.