Last spring, the Green Bay Packers convinced running back Dahrran Diedrick that it was not in his best interest to play in NFL Europe, urging him to remain in Wisconsin for workouts with the team in preparation for training camp. This year, Diedrick vowed not to make the same mistake twice, and the Washington Redskins happily obliged.
Diedrick is one of six players on Washington's roster who will begin play abroad this weekend as NFL Europe kicks off its 13th season. The league has gained a reputation as a breeding ground for unknown talent -- 1999 and 2001 NFL most valuable player Kurt Warner played abroad in 1998 -- and 83 players who participated in the 2004 playoffs once played in the developmental league.
The league has shifted to an almost entirely German entity -- five of its six teams are located in the country, where the game's popularity has soared -- and Diedrick is expected to start for the Rhein Fire. Cornerback Rufus Brown, whose steady improvement last season earned praise from Washington's coaches, is slated to start for Hamburg, while wideout Nathan Black (Rhein), linebacker Joe Tuipala (Cologne), center Ben Nowland (Frankfurt) and cornerback James Bethea (Frankfurt) are also spending the next 10 weeks in Germany.
The decision to play in Europe can be complicated. The commitment normally keeps players away from their NFL teams through offseason workouts and minicamps, and there is always the risk of serious injury. Diedrick, for one, was intent on going.
"In Green Bay last year they didn't want me to come to Europe," Diedrick said in a phone interview from Germany, "so I thought I was going to play a lot more in the preseason and I didn't and then I got released. All I had was film from the year before -- there was no new film of me -- and I thought this year, regardless of whether my team wants me to come or not, I need to come over here and play and get film of myself, because you never know what will happen."
The Redskins signed Diedrick, 26, the eighth-leading rusher in Nebraska history, in October and he remained on the practice squad until the final game, when he saw limited action on special teams. For a journeyman such as Diedrick, the opportunity to perform on the field in front of NFL scouts -- no matter the locale -- is paramount, and he is comfortable with the impression he left with Washington's staff before departing.
"I've already showed them the type of player I am with my hard work," Diedrick said. "I'm always out there giving 100 percent and they know I'm here doing the same thing and I'm sure once I get back I'll have a chance in camp to keep showing them the type of player I am."
Brown, 24, a product of Florida State, also spent last season on the practice squad before playing in the secondary and on special teams in the Week 17 victory over Minnesota. With stalwart cornerback Fred Smoot signing with the Vikings a few weeks ago, there should be heated competition from youngsters such as Brown and Garnell Wilds for playing time -- the Redskins are also expected to use their first-round pick on a cornerback -- and NFL Europe provides a chance to hone technique and come to camp in game shape.
"I just want to take advantage of this opportunity here," Brown said from Germany, "and hopefully when I go into camp I'll have a better showing than I did last year and a little better results. But I just have one thing in mind about the next three months: I hope I play good and Hamburg wins the championship."