It's extraordinarily easy to dismiss the fourth week of the NFL preseason. Unless, of course, you're one of the hundreds of players still trying to earn a job.
Indianapolis Colts safety Delano Howell made a name for himself in Week 1 when he played 89 snaps during a 44-20 loss against the Buffalo Bills. Despite the overall ugliness of that day, Howell showed the coaches two important things — he can tackle and he can handle a large defensive workload while remaining effective on special teams.
That outing earned him another start in place of LaRon Landry in Week 2 at the New York Giants, and he leads the team with 17 tackles in three exhibition games.
But Howell is assured of nothing heading into Thursday's preseason finale at Cincinnati. His versatility and previous strong performances make the outlook good for his chances of making the 53-man roster, but there is no shortage of players behind him with the same goal.
"This is the game we've been looking forward to," Howell said of the players attempting to make the team. "There's going to be a lot of opportunity, a lot of snaps and everything. I know all of us, all the young guys and everything, people that are fighting to earn a spot, they're all going to be taking advantage of it."
Howell appeared in just one regular-season game during his rookie season in 2012, spending much of the year on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad.
But that qualifies him as a seasoned veteran compared to outside linebacker Caesar Rayford. A veteran of the Canadian Football League and two levels of the Arena Football League, the 27-year-old rookie has made an impact with five sacks and two forced fumbles in his first three games against NFL competition.
A relative giant at 6-foot-7, Rayford struggled to gain weight at the University of Washington. He carried around a bag filled with peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of bread every day. Nothing worked.
But the hard work eventually paid off. Rayford is up to about 275 pounds now, and it might give him the extra bulk he needs to be as a big a force against the run as he is against the pass.
In any case, like all the other players trying to make the roster Thursday, Rayford is not looking back.
"My mindset is like it doesn't matter what I did last game," he said. "I'm just going to go out and compete like nothing happened, make the best of every play, every opportunity I get. What I did last game doesn't matter about this game. It's all about Cincinnati and got to go out there and compete. Because those guys (the Bengals), they ain't worrying about what I did last game. It's what I do now."