Whatever you do, don't wish Brandon Powell a happy Sept. 2.
"I hate that day," the Vikings returner/wide receiver joked heading into Saturday night's 24-16 preseason loss to Tennessee.
Wait a minute. As a perpetual roster-bubble guy, Powell should love Sept. 2. He has changed teams six times in six seasons, none by his choice, and twice he's been given new life by teams signing him Sept. 2.
"Yeah," Powell said, "but if you're signing on Sept. 2, it means you just got cut somewhere else and you're picking up and moving somewhere new again. I still want to be a Viking this Sept. 2," four days after cuts are made.
That looks promising, but, as the 27-year-old Powell knows all too well, ya never know.
The 5-8, 181-pounder is in a tussle at punt returner and receiver. He's battling mostly incumbent Jalen Reagor at punt returner and primarily four guys — Reagor, Jalen Nailor, Trishton Jackson and N'Keal Harry — for likely three receiver spots behind Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn and Jordan Addison.
Powell also offers the most NFL kick return experience at a time when A: second-team All-Pro kick returner Kene Nwangwu can't get healthy, and B: the best kick returner to play the position this preseason is an undrafted rookie camp-body running back (Aaron Dykes) who joined the team Thursday.
"Brandon Powell has had an excellent training camp doing so many things that I don't think people realize sometimes, just all the different jobs he can do," coach Kevin O'Connell said in what Nwangwu might want to consider a nudge.
At receiver, injuries to Addison and Nailor have given more first-team reps in the three- and four-wideout sets to the down-the-depth-chart backups, particularly Reagor and Powell. Addison spent last week in the concussion protocol while Nailor got hurt on Day 1 of camp, hasn't returned and no longer should be considered the presumed No. 4 receiver.
Powell, Jackson and Reagor started Saturday, when none of the receivers stood out. O'Connell's attempt to showcase Reagor's speed on two deep balls failed because of poor pass protection on one attempt and Tennessee's coverage on the other.
"His speed is a real factor," O'Connell said of a strength that once upon a time convinced Philadelphia to draft Reagor one spot ahead of Jefferson.
Another factor: Reagor's $2.4 million is guaranteed. Powell's guarantee is only $200,000.
"I think that group is going to be very tough for us to figure out, whether it's five or six or ultimately what the depth looks like on the practice squad because there's probably four or five names that are all deserving," O'Connell said. "These are good problems to have."
And familiar problems for the guy who dislikes Sept. 2.
Powell grew up in Deerfield Beach, Fla., loving the running back position, hating punt returner and butting heads with a father who kept steering him back to fielding punts.
"My dad's about the same size, played running back in high school and got switched to receiver and kick returner at Memphis [in the mid-90s]," Powell said. "He used to make me catch punts. I hated it. He never made it to the NFL. He didn't return punts. He kept telling me teams were going to want me to return punts."
Brandon went to Florida. His sophomore year, new coach Jim McElwain switched him to receiver and made him a punt returner.
"Never liked it in college either," Powell said.
The Detroit Lions signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2018.
"They took one look at me and said, 'He can return punts,'" Powell said. "That's where I learned from Jamal Agnew how to catch punts."
The last game of his rookie season, Powell started at receiver and caught six passes for 103 yards.
The Lions released him the following Aug. 31. The Falcons signed him to their practice squad two days later, on Sept. 2, 2019. He didn't appear in a game in 2019, played in 15 in 2020, wasn't re-signed, went to Buffalo for training camp 2021, got released on Aug. 30 and was signed to Miami's practice squad on — yep — Sept. 2, 2021.
Miami gave up on him a month later. The Rams signed him a month after that.
"That's where I met [special teams coordinator] Joe DeCamillis," Powell said. "He taught me how to read blocks, set up returns and take it to the next level."
A month later, on Dec. 26, 2021, Powell notched his first and only punt return for a touchdown, a 61-yarder in a 30-23 victory over the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"Easiest return I've ever had," Powell said. "Set up perfect."
Powell went on to win a Super Bowl ring along with O'Connell, the Rams offensive coordinator that season. Two years later, O'Connell brought Powell to Minnesota when the Rams chose to part ways.
"It really helps my chances having K.O. believe in me, and me already knowing his offense," Powell said. "I also feel the talent here is better than we had in L.A. when we won the Super Bowl."
Powell has three preseason catches on five targets for 33 yards and the team's only two punt returns, including a solid 16-yarder on Saturday. He also was targeted on fourth-and-3 on Saturday, but couldn't get to a high ball thrown by Nick Mullens.
Powell did, however, impress onlookers in last week's joint practices with Tennessee. He laid out for a diving grab against cornerback Tre Avery.
"Used my quickness to get a little separation there," Powell said. "Everybody wants to think you got to be 6-4 and run a 4.3, but ask any DB and they'll tell you it's hard covering a guy who's 5-8 and can get in and out of his cuts real quick."
Powell knows, however, that it's his job as a returner that will make or break his goal of staying beyond Sept. 2.
In four years, Powell has 49 punt returns for a 9.6-yard average and one touchdown (and 30 kickoff returns for a 20.2 average and no touchdowns). Reagor, meanwhile, has 61 punt returns in three years, averaging 8.0 yards with one touchdown (and 12 kickoff returns for a 21.3 average and no touchdowns).
"All I know is we got three guys at the top, including the best receiver in the game, and the rest of us knowing special teams are going to be very important," Powell said.
If Powell survives cutdown day and is still in purple come Sept. 2, he might even allow himself to dream of the bigger goal for all bubble men.
"Everywhere I've been, I've rented," Powell said. "I've been on one-year deals. If I work hard, take advantage of this opportunity and get a two- or three-year deal, I'll buy me a house somewhere to live in."