The New Orleans Saints drafted Fincher in 2005, and he played in six games for them in 2006, but his spot was far from assured before last season. He made the team, but then the Saints cut him after they placed him on injured reserve with a concussion.
Now, after Detroit released him last month and the Redskins acquired him four days later, the linebacker will try to secure one of the final spots on Washington’s roster.
“It is something that I don’t think a lot of people really understand,” Fincher said. “This is your life on the line. It is not just a job - it is your life. If you get cut, yeah, you might have an opportunity somewhere else, but there might be a chance this could be it. It is tough. It could be the last day of you playing the game that you love [and] that you’ve played your whole life.”
Added once training camp had begun, Fincher has raced against time to prove to the coaching staff he can grasp the strategies on defense and special teams.
Earlier in camp, defensive coordinator Greg Blache said Fincher “ran around a bit” but also had to show he could play more under control. For a player like Fincher who needs to make a quick impression, it’s a delicate balance.
“When you get in a situation like this, you have to play hard,” Fincher said. “I’ve been trying to fly around, and I think they know all of those other things will come into play like slowing down and getting the scheme down. Initially, I just want to show them I can play, that I can run and do all the things I need to. Now it is about fine-tuning some things.”
When the Redskins host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, it’s the last chance for a number of players whose place on the roster isn’t assured. The starters will see minimal action, and then they will give way to the bubble players - those who need to make one last sales pitch to their supervisors.
Marcus Mason has had a solid training camp and preseason, but he probably won’t feel safely on the roster until well after the Saturday deadline for teams to pare rosters from 75 to 53. Last year, he survived cutdown day, but the team exiled him to the practice squad after Week 1.
“I remember sitting by the phone and just waiting and waiting and waiting,” Mason said. “When the time passed, I called Rock Cartwright and asked him, ‘I didn’t get a call - what does that mean?’ He said, ‘It means your butt better be at practice in the morning.’ I was nervous last year.”
This year, Mason said he’s not nervous. Mason leads all NFL exhibition rushers with 253 yards and should see plenty of chances Thursday to secure his preseason title.
Despite that, cracking the 53-man roster for Washington is still not a certainty. The Redskins have three veteran tailbacks in front of him, including special teams dynamo Rock Cartwright. If the team opts against carrying five running backs (including fullback Mike Sellers), the Redskins can try to sneak Mason on the practice squad again, but his preseason performance could have other teams lurking to snatch him up.
“It is the preseason, but at the same time it is pretty cool to be able to say that,” Mason said of his NFL-best rushing total. “There’s more - I can do a little bit more. I can do better with my pass blocking and making my reads. There is definitely more I can do to improve my game.”
So for some of the players on the fringe at each position, the biggest day of the season is forthcoming. Teams have until Saturday to make their final cuts, but coach Jim Zorn expects to make the announcements sometime Friday.
That means one last job interview Thursday night and then plenty of anxious pacing, waiting by the phone or whatever players do to pass the time.