With the Jets' 24-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, the 2011 preseason came to an end. Roster cuts will be coming shortly, and many of the 79 players who suited up for the game will not be Jets much longer. The reality of the NFL sets in for bubble players after the final preseason game wraps up, not knowing if they will have another chance to fulfill their dreams.
"The challenge this training camp was really to the young players," said head coach Rex Ryan. "I told them how much I appreciated them — they did a great job. This game was about the individual, not necessarily the team. There are eight practice-squad spots open. That's what this game was about."
The preseason always supplies surprising performances from lesser known players. Two Jets linebackers in particular opened eyes over the last month, as former Bills first round pick Aaron Maybin and professional football journeyman Garrett McIntyre were atop the leaderboard in sacks for the Green & White. Maybin tallied 2.5 sacks to McIntyre's two. Neither is guaranteed a roster spot.
"I got a fair shot this time," said McIntyre. "Before, I never had that. Rex held his word, and I appreciate everything he has done. You get opportunities in the NFL, you've got to take advantage of them, and I think I did."
A converted down lineman, McIntyre was a former walk-on at Fresno State who parlayed that opportunity into a three-year college career. In 2004, he was ranked by ESPN.com as one of the top 100 college players of the season.
After college, McIntyre was cut by three different NFL teams, then spent two years each in the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League, before signing a reserve-future contact with the Jets in January.
In addition to his two sacks, McIntyre tallied seven total tackles on defense, in addition to one more on special teams. His three quarterback hits led the team during the preseason.
Now, McIntyre's audition is over, his future left solely to the Jets' coaching staff.
"It's been rough, nerve-wracking, stressful, but that's why it's the NFL," said McIntyre. "It's completely out of my hands. I think I left it out on the table."
While McIntyre can at least rest knowing he poured as much he possibly could into his opportunity, Maybin feels he may have shorted himself.
"I still left a lot of stuff out there," he said. "Left a lot of opportunities to get more sacks on the field. I've got to go back and watch the film and figure out what I need to work on."
A former first-round pick out of "Linebacker U," Maybin saw his draft status soar in his last year at Penn State. He was selected 11th overall in the 2009 draft by the Bills and has yet to record a regular-season sack. He was placed on and cleared waivers last month and was then signed by the Jets in the hopes he would win a spot.
On a team that prides itself on its defense, the Jets are chock full of top players, leaving few spots open to begin with. In light of this notion, Maybin feels the door remains open.
"The opportunities are there," he said. "I feel like I can definitely bring a different dimension to the pass rush, but ultimately it's up to the coaches to decide where I fit into that picture."
"I think Maybin is competing with McIntyre and [Jamaal] Westerman, and I think both those guys played well," said Ryan. "The good thing about us is that we can keep the best players. Mike and I will do what we think is in the best interest of our team."
At the end of the night, an exhausted and conflicted McIntyre accepted that his fate — like that of so many others — is no longer self-controlled.
"I've done everything I can do, and I still need to improve," said McIntyre. "But like I said, it's out of my hands. Let's see what happens."