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A house is not a home

National Football Post

The first few days day after the final cut down are a strange time. The players who remain in the locker room have made the official roster. But some of them are trepidatious, even tense, maybe even a little melancholy. Beginning in March, when teams begin signing veteran free agents, and all the way through the spring when they add draft picks and rookie free agents, there’s the assembling of a community.

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Brian Price
US PRESSWIREFormer second-round pick Brian Price was traded to Chicago this summer and eventually cut.

Guys get to know one another, get used to seeing one another, laughing at one another’s habits.  It’s a given that most guys will eventually get cut but it’s such a long way off that it seems unfathomable. Then, come training camp, when everyone is thrown into a shared living space, and the more heedless coaches start dropping words like “family,” into conversation, a careless sensibility takes over.

Invariably, when 90 becomes 53, there’s joy for the 53. But on that first day it’s a muted joy. The locker room is quiet and the loss of numbers leaves parts of the room uninhabited. There’s a revelation that’s also a reminder: It never was a family.  But it is a team. And in that first week, a team is still evolving. It’s not really “official” at all. There are still moves to be made.

Brian Price is looking for a team. It’s still early, so there’s still time to find one. A team would be good for him right about now. He was part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team for a while, two years in fact. Last May, during the early stages of the community building, Price was on his way to Tampa to join his team for organized team activities. He was in the airport when he received a call.

His father told him that his sister Bridget had been killed in a car accident. It wasn’t the first time he’d received such a call. It had happened before. The first time was in 1998 when Price’s brother, Eddie, then 18, was shot and killed while assisting a young woman in distress. Then five years later, another brother, Damon, just released from prison, was also shot and killed.

Since ’98, Price has been visited by a Job-like plague of misery. It wasn’t just his family, it was his health too. One of his blessings had become a curse. Price was known for his quickness. At 6 foot 1 and 300 pounds he moved from gap to gap with ease. That quickness is what allowed Price to routinely get into other teams’ backfield, it’s what made him the 2009 Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year, and what led to Tampa Bay making him the 35th pick in the 2010 draft.

It’s the peculiar arrangement of a man’s hamstrings that makes him quick. Price’s hamstrings were coiled tight, like a sprinter’s. But, like a sprinter, there’s a balance that must be met. If the hamstrings are sufficiently taut, they give you the ability to spring, but if they’re too tight, then you have problems. At his first minicamp in Tampa, Price had a problem.

During a drill, Price broke his pelvis. It turns out he was born with a degenerative condition whereby his hamstrings weren’t properly attached to his pelvis. In healthy adults, the two halves of the pelvis will fuse into a single bone. But the two halves of Price’s pelvis were fused into a flimsy piece of cartilage. His hamstrings had been steadily pulling at his pelvis, until it finally gave way.

Price had a radical surgery. Two metal screws were inserted to anchor a large piece of bone onto his pelvis. Then his hamstrings were reattached to either side of the bone.

After several months Price was to run and eventually to play.  When he played, he played well. But his team was slowly crumbling. Then last December, in a game against Carolina, it all came apart.

On the final play of the third quarter, the Bucs forced Cam Newton out of bounds. In pursuit of the quarterback, Price trailed Newton to the sideline along with a Carolina offensive lineman. There was some pushing which led to Price getting a fifteen yard penalty. This drew the ire of Bucs coach Raheem Morris.

Morris ordered Price to leave the building. He didn’t finish the game, didn’t shower with his teammates. He was banished from the house. So much for family. Things weren’t the same after that. Morris was fired a few weeks later and last month Price was traded to Chicago.

He has happy about it. Everyone was. Lovie Smith, Bears GM Phil Emery, and Price himself all said the same thing about him needing a “change of scenery.” But once there Price never played. Then right before the final roster was announced, he was released.

Chicago may have been the best fit for him. They play in a division where people run the ball and where big, run-stuffing tackles are a premium. But in today’s game, there’s always room for another defensive lineman, especially one with Price’s quickness.

It’s hard not to root for Brian Price. Hopefully some team will give him a place to grow as a player and heal as a man. While he looks for a new team, the nature of Price’s position works in his favor. The dual tasks of rushing the passer and stopping the run are quite taxing. Defensive linemen substitute more than any other position. An effective defensive line functions as a rotation, as a unit.

When the defense huddles before a play, a lot of folks like to call it “building a house.”

It really is a cool expression.

Alan Grant was a four-year starter and all-conference player for Stanford University. He played five years in the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco Forty Niners, Cincinnati Bengals, and Washington Redskins. He has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Postgame, and appears frequently on radio and television.

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