Undrafted players like new roster rule
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Bridger Buche was tending the cash register July 19 at his father's textbook store in Lansing, Mich. Thursday, the 300-pound offensive lineman was back behind that register. Seemingly between customers, he tried out for, signed with, practiced with and was cut by the Steelers, all in two weeks' work.
Today, instead of making change for a $20, he will work out for the Minnesota Vikings.
Buche wasn't on the roster the Steelers initially released. Without a rule change by NFL owners raising the offseason roster size from 80 to 90, Buche might never have spent any time in Latrobe. The change, instituted the day before the 2012 draft, allowed 320 more players to vie for spots on the 53-man rosters.
"It gets guys like me a chance, and, coming from a smaller school like Eastern Michigan, that's all I really wanted," Buche said after practice Friday. "Just a chance to come into a camp and show what I could do, so I'm glad they're giving me this opportunity."
That opportunity did not last long because Buche was cut before practice Tuesday. The cut brought an end to a two-week roller-coaster ride posing as a vacation from the cash register. Buche's phone rang July 20, five days before camp opened. After a quick flight and workout, he signed with the Steelers July 23 and first saw the playbook two days later. In four days of practice, while Buche may not have digested the entire playbook, he learned quite a bit.
"The speed of the game is a lot faster," he said. "Just a couple steps up from college football to the NFL, and I got a taste of that. It's a humbling experience, but it's good to know what I need."
After being cut, Buche headed home to Portland, Mich., for what turned out to be a short visit. The Vikings called him Wednesday. Meanwhile, other undrafted rookie free agents have hung on with the Steelers a bit longer, taking full advantage of the 10 extra roster spots.
Three days after the rule change, defensive end Jake Stoller's phone rang within minutes of the draft ending April 28. The Steelers were on the other end, quickly easing the disappointment of going undrafted with an invitation to training camp.
"If it helped me get here, then obviously I'm a fan," Stoller said of the rule. "On top of that, I'm a fan of competition."
One of only two current NFL players from Yale -- the other being Kansas City Chiefs fullback Shane Bannon, a 2011 seventh-round pick -- Stoller certainly had other, more secure options than fighting for an outside chance at a roster spot.
The political science major never considered any other field, though, instead thinking perhaps he could earn a spot on the practice squad.
"Football has definitely been my goal all along," he said. "I want to take this as far as it can go. When the next step comes, I've been lucky enough to go to a good school, graduated and know a lot of great people."
Stoller and the other remaining undrafted rookies at camp will have until after the third preseason game, Aug. 25 at Buffalo, to make enough impact to avoid the first round of roster cuts.
First Published August 3, 2012 12:00 am