INDIANAPOLIS —"It takes one play. That's all it takes; to change the course of a series, to change the course of a quarter, man — to change your life. One play. But you don't know when the play's coming. So ball every chance you get!"
Jeremiah George was speaking to his teammates when he delivered these words prior to the Indianapolis Colts' fourth preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
But, deep down, George was having a conversation with himself.
"It came from a place of just being in that same situation time and time again, and, unfortunately, not taking advantage of it every play of every series of every quarter," he said. "And this time, I might have been speaking to the team, but I feel like I was really speaking to myself and speaking from the heart."
In a game commonly known as a "final audition" for those hoping to snag a final spot on the regular season 53-man roster, George had been in this spot before. A fifth-round pick of the New York Jets in 2014, he came into that preseason game against the Bengals having played in 21 career regular season games with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2014) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2015), but, despite some strong performances in past preseason games each year of his career, George would have to be waived during a team's final cuts, or first placed on the practice squad, in order to find an opportunity on another roster.
No. Not this time. George wanted to earn a spot with the Colts.
Six tackles and a forced fumble later, George had done his part against the Bengals. And four days later, after havingnot received a call to come turn in his playbook and to clean out his locker, George reported to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for the first day of 2017 regular season practice.
He had made it.
"All you can expect is the unexpected," George said of his feelings heading into that fateful weekend. "You don't know if a team will keep you, you don't know if the team will keep you just for a couple days and then cut you as they try to claim other guys. But I felt confident in what I put on tape and what I showed my coaches and teammates throughout the few weeks of training camp and the preseason I had. So I was excited when the phone didn't ring, and I showed up to work the same way I did as a tryout player back in mandatory minicamp — I just came to work."
Since that time, George has proven his worth over the course of the first two regular season games for the Colts. In the team's Week 1 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, George had two tackles on defense, but he also recovered a fumble on a muffed Rams punt return.
Then, last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, George earned his first-career start, filling in at inside linebacker for the injured Antonio Morrison. He would finish with five tackles, including a big stop for a loss of six yards where he sniffed out a screen pass from quarterback Carson Palmer to running back Andre Ellington.
Colts defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said George was initially able to earn his spot due to his solid special teams play, but has proven that he can also more than handle the rigors at inside linebacker.
"Jeremiah first emerged on special teams, and we saw the skill set — we saw the explosiveness, we saw the willingness to put his face on people in the run game — and he's carried it over to the defense," Monachino said. "He's shown that he can be a three-down inside linebacker, and those guys are hard to find. He's athletic and he's explosive enough that he can cover, but not at all scared to go down and take on an offensive guard in the run game.
"We're thrilled with where he is right now."
For George, the thrill of making the Colts' initial 53-man roster this season isn't going away anytime soon. He treats every day, whether it's practice or a game, like it's his fourth preseason game.
"If you ask any of the linebackers that I play with this year, they'll tell you, when I come out to practice, I'm screaming, I'm yelling, I'm having fun, and I'm just preparing for battle," George said. "Because I love the game and I love to play the game that way.
"When I came here as a tryout player, I just wanted to show that I was grateful for the opportunity, and now that I made this this roster, I just want to show my teammates and coaches that I'm grateful," he continued. "And the fans will see that with the way I play the game."