One of the great stories on any football team occurs when a player's hard work pays off and he gets noticed and rewarded. Such was the case this past season for 49ers fourth year player Damane Duckett. For the last two games of the 2007 season, Duckett was bumped up to the 53 man active roster as an offensive lineman after spending the first 15 weeks of the season on the team's practice squad.
It was a feather in the cap for a player who actually spent his first three years in the League as a defensive lineman.
"I'll play offense, defense, whatever it takes," said Duckett. "I'm a team guy. I like playing football and the opportunity came, so I switched it up. It was a hard transition at first, but I'm a student of the game and I had a great teacher. Coach George Warhop pounded me every day in camp and just gave me opportunities to go out there and work and I was never nervous to play, so he knew he could put me out there."
Duckett's NFL career has mostly been an uphill battle with several obstacles to overcome, ones that required due diligence. Coming out of college at East Carolina as an undrafted free agent, Duckett knew he'd have to scratch and claw his way into the NFL. He first latched on with the Carolina Panthers and was on the active roster where he played two games for Carolina before he was eventually placed on the team's practice squad in early November. After a month, the Giants signed him to their active roster and he even got to start in the season finale where he collected five tackles and a sack.
"I just busted my butt during camp," said Duckett. "For example, I'd make a sack on a quarterback in practice, they would say continue to the ball, so I would chase the ball down and then just go straight back into the huddle. All before training camp I was practicing running, drills, agility drills, and things like that. That was just my effort and me working and playing hard. I had a couple good games my rookie year that got me on the active roster and I just continued to work hard throughout my career to keep me here."
Duckett spent the 2005 season again with the Giants in a backup role, and recorded one tackle and one blocked field goal. New York let him go in early September of 2006 and the 49ers were quick to scoop him up to their practice squad. After just two weeks, Duckett was activated and he went on to see action in six contests.
But at 6'6" and almost 320 pounds, the 49ers personnel and coaching staff figured they might have something in this untapped East Carolina talent over on the other side of the ball as an offensive lineman. Duckett happily latched on to an opportunity to further his playing career and started the process of learning a new position from scratch.
His transition began by training with the offensive line during the off-season conditioning program and attending film study sessions with his line coach, and then continued into the season where Duckett's hard work caught the eye of Head Coach Mike Nolan who awarded Duckett with a practice player of the week award early on in the season.
"He had a good week of practice," said Coach Nolan. "But more importantly every time I was out eating lunch on the patio, he was out here working with George (Warhop). I think he's going to be a good player in the future."
Duckett's move up the ladder to the active roster for the final weeks of the 2007 season was partially due to injury and a need to bolster depth along the line, but also because other NFL teams began to inquire about signing the converted offensive tackle, despite having seen only two preseason games on him at his new position. To avoid the risk of losing him, San Francisco went ahead and activated him.
"It's a blessing," said Duckett. "It's a blessing that other teams even wanted me. This was the first time I'm playing on the offensive line and I only played in two preseason games. With the talent they had seen then and the 49ers seeing the same thing, it's just a blessing to stay here and that they moved me up to the active roster. I'm just glad to be here."
Now the name of the game for Duckett will be to stay on the active roster in 2008, which means another demanding off-season for this 49ers offensive lineman.
"I got better every day during the season. I saw it and the coaches told me they were seeing it too, so I gained more confidence every day," said Duckett. "I just have to keep that up this off-season, and my goals are to just get better and work on my footwork, to be more precise and not go out there and think too much."