Ernest Owusu returned to Winter Park on Tuesday after being released from the Vikings practice squad last week. His locker stall remained the way he left it, his personal belongings untouched.
"The day I come back and see my locker empty," he said, "then maybe I'll know it's time to go for good."
Tyler Holmes' locker is located around the corner. His, too, looks occupied. But he's an ex-Viking now. At least for another few days. Odds are he'll return next week and Owusu will be unemployed once again.
Such is the crazy, unpredictable life those two rookie practice squad players have shared the past month.
This marks the fourth consecutive week that Owusu and Holmes have traded places for the final spot on the Vikings' eight-man practice squad. Each week, one gets waived, the other gets signed. One gets paid his $5,700 weekly salary, the other is unemployed. One gets to practice, the other stays home.
And then they flip-flop the following week.
"I'm just here right now," Owusu said. "I don't really know what's going on. I just go with the flow."
This is their livelihood and both are trying to prove they belong in the NFL -- Holmes as an offensive lineman and Owusu at defensive end. But the two have a sense of humor about their revolving door relationship. They've become friends off the field and text each other asking if the other is in the building.
"If we're both here at the same time, it's like, wait, what's going on?" Owusu said.
So what is going on? Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman declined to discuss the matter, but this can't possibly be happenstance. Once is an everyday NFL transaction. Twice is a curious development. Three times is mildly amusing. A fourth seems downright odd.
"Yeah, it's definitely a little strange," Holmes said.
They're not complaining, mind you. They don't have enough equity built up to voice their displeasure that way. The practice squad is the bottom rung on the NFL ladder in which job security is essentially nonexistent. Teams maintain a fluid taxi squad to accommodate injuries or depth concerns at certain positions.
"Neither one of us really has control of this situation," Holmes said. "It sort of depends on what their needs are for the week."
Owusu and Holmes know better than anyone that their place in the pecking order leaves them vulnerable to roster movement. League rules allow teams to cut and re-sign players to the practice squad unlimited times so this rotation presumably could last the rest of the season.
"Whatever I can do to help this team out, I'll do it," Owusu said. "If they want me here one week or want me here another week, it's fine."
They are like a tag-team pro wrestling duo. One works for a short time while the other waits for his turn. Minus the hand slap, of course.
"You get a little bit more comfortable every week that they sign me back," Holmes said. "The first week was a lot worse than this week as far as being nervous about being released."
Their instructions from the team remain the same: Stay in shape and keep their phone nearby. Both players rent apartments near Winter Park and spend their "bye" week working out at local health clubs.
"I've got to stay ready with the chance they'll bring me back," Owusu said. "I don't want to come back out of shape."
That likely would ensure he'd find an empty locker the next day. Both players seem eager to maximize their time and opportunity to develop in practice. They know they can't afford to waste a single day because they're not guaranteed a next week. Maybe the week after, but not next week.
"If I'm here," Owusu said, "I've got to get in as much work as I can."
Holmes, a native of Ottawa, turned down an opportunity to play in the CFL to pursue this dream. The Toronto Argonauts selected him in the first round of the 2011 CFL draft before his senior season at Tulsa. Holmes' father, Richard, played running back in the CFL and USFL. Tyler said he never considered making the same move.
"The NFL was always my goal," he said.
That hasn't changed. He hopes to continue that pursuit as soon as possible. If the past few weeks provide any indication, he'll likely get a phone call from the Vikings asking him to return to work. And Owusu might get a call telling him to do the opposite.
"I'm happy to be here regardless," Owusu said. "If it's like this for the rest of the season, I'm OK with it."
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org