Cincinnati Bengals linebacker J.K. Schaffer said he knows his strong showing in Thursday’s preseason opener at Atlanta isn’t going to secure him a spot on the 53-man roster, but he’s enjoying the jolt of added confidence that came with it.
“It’s definitely encouraging, especially when you haven’t played a game in over a year, to go out and perform and make tackles and run around,” Schaffer said. “It felt really good. Now I just have to build on that.
“It’s just the beginning,” he continued. “I’ve got to keep going. One game isn’t going to make it for me. I have to keep going and have a good game like that and keep improving every single week.”
Schaffer, a Cincinnati native who played at La Salle High School and the University of Cincinnati, knows as well as anyone that success in the preseason doesn’t guarantee a job.
When he went undrafted last year, he had an offer from the Bengals but elected to sign with Jacksonville instead.
“He left me at the altar at the last minute,” Bengals linebacker coach Paul Guenther joked.
Schaffer played well for the Jaguars but ended up being one of the final cuts. He quickly signed with Tampa Bay but was cut two weeks later.
“That’s a low point in a man’s life when you’re trying to make it,” Schaffer said. “It’s no fun. I don’t want to have that feeling again.”
He may not have to worry about that if he continues to play the way he did in the 34-10 win against the Falcons. Schaffer had a team-high six tackles and a clutch block that sparked Dane Sanzenbacher’s 71-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“That’s the biggest key for him, he’s got to play great on special teams,” Guenther said. “To be a backup linebacker, you’ve got to be a banshee on special teams.”
Schaffer sat at home for five weeks last year wondering if another shot would come, and it did in November when the Bengals signed him to their practice squad, where he spent the remainder of the 2012 season.
He impressed the coaches in scout team work, but he really starting catching their eye this spring.
“At first he learned a lot from the guys just watching them play,” said Guenther. “Once he got actual reps in there with our group during OTAs, he just started getting better and better.”
Of the 12 linebackers currently on the roster, nine of them were undrafted, including James Harrison, a two-time Super Bowl champion and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“I always tell them, ‘At some point in time, nobody wanted any of you guys, so you always have to play with an edge, with that chip on your shoulder,’ ” Guenther said. “And J.K. does a great job of that.”
If he continues to do that, he could survive what is likely to be a difficult final roster cutdown. Of if he ends up getting cut, he could end up back on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
“I don’t even want that to be an option,” Schaffer said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s not.”