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Long-Shot Success Stories? They Happen

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The last cut is the deepest.

Twenty-two players must leave the Washington Redskins' roster by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Redskins go to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars on Thursday night with 75 but when they return to begin preparations next week for the regular season, they will be 53 (with perhaps several more recalled to the practice squad).

If the coaching staff needed to make decisions today, a cut to 60 probably wouldn't be overwhelming. A month of practices and three preseason games leave a series of impressions. Some decisions are made incrementally as a player works and performs and earns his way into the coach's heart and then onto the roster.

The final seven? Daunting. How to balance offense and defense? Keep 25 on each side of the ball and three specialists? Go a little heavier on the offensive line, where depth may be an issue? Retain more of the guys who can help on special teams, whether or not they're the next best hope at their respective positions?

"I'm working on this and it's hard. To get to 53 is very, very difficult," head coach Jim Zorn says. "It's not going to be easy. The formula is not there yet."

There's not much time left for a player to change minds and sway the decision makers but Zorn well remembers how one, a long time ago, not only made the team but reinvented himself completely in the process.

Zorn will shake his hand on Thursday night before the game because Mike Tice, the Jaguars' assistant head coach, is that person.

Tice, all 6-7 of him, was the starting quarterback at Maryland for two years and signed with the Seattle Seahawks in 1981 as an undrafted free agent. Zorn was the Seahawks' quarterback. In addition to his great height and less-than-NFL caliber arm, Tice had run the option at Maryland. Not exactly stellar attributes for a job seeker.

"Mike came in and it looked like he wasn't going to be part of the team as a quarterback early in training camp," Zorn remembers. "Mike's a savvy guy, he's really a pretty intelligent guy. And he went to the coaches and said, 'Just give me one more week. Let me try tight end. It'll cost you $400.'

"He had the whole thing worked out, what it would the club--a few meals and 400 bucks, and he got it granted to him."

Maryland turned out a number of NFL quarterbacks over the years, from (alphabetically) Bob Avellini to Scott Zolak but Tice would find success at another position. Not that it would be easy.

"From the very first day he just made a statement that he was either going to fight everybody that was going to keep him from being a part of this club or he was going to do the right thing. It was a dogfight all week," Zorn says. "He just made himself into a tight end. His blocking came very quickly because he is a very physical player. His pass receiving is the thing he worked all of his career on to get better."

The operative words here are "all of his career." Because the quarterback-turned-tight end played 14 NFL seasons for Seattle, Washington and the Minnesota Vikings. Then he joined Minnesota's coaching staff, eventually becoming the head guy for four seasons. He's now in his fourth season with the Jaguars, who are coached by one of his former Vikings teammates, Jack Del Rio.

Tice, 50, caught 107 passes, 11 for touchdowns, building his reputation primarily as a nasty blocker. One of his duties with the Jags is coaching tight ends. His brother John, 49, played tight end at Maryland and was a third-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. John Tice played 10 seasons and caught 158 passes, 15 for touchdowns. He coached with his brother on the Vikings' staff and at the United States Military Academy.

It isn't likely the Redskins can come up with such an exotic story as Tice's as cut-down day approaches. They don't have to. It's enough to know that the unexpected can happen, sometimes does, and can allow a man to build a life's work after rebuilding himself.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on Redskins Nation, airing nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, both in the Washington, D.C. area.

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