When Middleton is
losing hope, he need only look across the locker room at another former
teacher. Jon Kitna started his professional career in the classroom, before
joining the Seattle Seahawks' practice squad in 1996. Now he is the Lions'
starting quarterback and an 11-year NFL veteran. "I know a lot of guys
think the practice squad is a waste," Kitna says, "but it's the best
thing I could have gone through."
They've all taken
fairly circuitous routes to Detroit. For instance, Lions scouts found Noll at
the football factory known as Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.
League offensive lineman at Penn as a senior in 2003, Noll studied business and
finance at the prestigious Wharton School. While his friends moved on to
six-figure jobs as stock traders, he left Penn early to try to make it in the
NFL. During the 2004 season he played in four games at guard for the Dallas
Cowboys and started one, opening holes in a game in which Julius Jones
scampered for 149 yards.
After Noll was
waived by the Cowboys and then the Rams, he landed a job as a trader at
Northwestern Mutual. He bought suits and ties. Then last December the Lions
offered him a spot on their practice squad, and he put the finery back in the
closet. "Nothing in the world compares to playing football," Noll
He is the rare
NFL player who studies for forensic anthropology exams in the locker room. Noll
is taking Internet courses toward his bachelor's degree from Penn. Last week he
had a midterm. Next week he'll begin writing an essay on the fall of the
Romanov dynasty during the Russian revolution. "I'm just like any other
student," Noll says.
Except that his
course load includes both the Bolsheviks and the Buccaneers. Every week the
practice squad is required to learn everything about the opposing team. An
offensive player such as Noll has to know the opposing defense in case he's
suddenly activated. And he has to know the opposing offense in order to mimic
it in practice.
squad's primary role is to work on the scout team, giving the starters an
accurate representation of what they'll see from the opposition on Sunday.
Coaches call this representation the Look. Marinelli sometimes refers to the
scout team as the Look Squads.
last week Middleton and Buster Davis were supplying two of the most important
looks. Middleton was pretending to be Joey Galloway, the Bucs' No. 1 receiver.
Davis was pretending to be Derrick Brooks, Tampa Bay's Pro Bowl linebacker.
Doing this every week can cause an identity crisis.
Davis wants to be
the next Derrick Brooks, not his scout-team doppelg�nger. Like Brooks, he was a
star linebacker at Florida State. He started 37 consecutive games, earned
second-team All-America honors in 2006 and was drafted in the third round, 69th
overall, by the Arizona Cardinals last April.
training camp the Cardinals saw a player who was uninspired and overweight.
They wanted to send Davis to their practice squad, but he refused the
assignment. Arizona released him before the season began, swallowing his
$610,000 signing bonus.