TAMPA - Chad Lucas has been here before. Not once, not twice, but three times. That doesn't make this latest go-round any easier for him. If anything, it only makes it harder.
'You're only human, so of course it's tough,' Lucas said. 'But that's life.'
Life for Lucas is life on the bubble. He's been there ever since he first squeezed his way into the league as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans three years ago, and he's definitely there now.
An afterthought of a receiver on a Bucs squad that probably will keep only five players at his position, Lucas is facing the likelihood of being cut from an NFL team for the fourth time.
The prospect is one that weighs heavily on his mind. It doesn't necessarily keep him up at night, but it's there when he wakes up in the morning and it'll be there when he suits up for tonight's game against the Houston Texans.
It's the final exhibition game, which means it's the last chance Lucas and several others will have to prove they're worthy of a spot on the 53-man final roster. Functioning as an NFL receiver is difficult enough, but try doing it when the thought of losing your dream keeps tapping at your brain and blurring your focus.
'You can't help but think about it,' Lucas said. 'It's just the nature of the beast. But I've got a job to do, so I just try to play my best and let the chips fall where they may.'
Just once, Lucas would like to see the chips fall his way because they always have fallen in favor of someone else.
That was definitely the case in 2004, when the Titans let him go before training camp even started. It was also the case in 2005, when Lucas went to camp with the Packers but was part of the first wave of cuts.
He later joined the Packers practice squad, and he briefly earned a promotion to the active roster. But he was back on the practice squad two weeks later and was cut during the second mandatory cutdown the following season.
Lucas joined the Bucs practice squad late in 2006, but they let him go after a week, then re-signed him two days after the season ended. Now he's on the bubble again.
'I wouldn't say I'm nervous,' said Lucas, who has caught one pass for a 3-yard gain this preseason. 'I'm just anxious to play and see what happens. I mean, all I can do is play it like it's my last game because you never know when it really will be your last time playing NFL football.'
That's how cornerback Sammy Davis intends to play tonight's game. Davis is on the bubble, too, which seems a little surprising given his background. It's a little more storied than Lucas'.
He came into the league as a first-round draft pick (30th overall) of the San Diego Chargers in 2003. He started all 16 games that year, finishing with an impressive 58 tackles and 10 pass defenses. He appeared to be on his way to a solid career late the following season when he was sidelined by a hairline fracture in his leg. He hasn't been the same since.
He started four games for San Diego in 2005, was traded to the 49ers before the start of the 2006 season and released by the 49ers not long after last season ended. Now he's in Tampa and on the bubble.
'I know whatever decision they make, it's a decision that's best for the team,' Davis said. 'You just have to take it for what it is. At the end of the day, it's a business.'
Davis plans to take a business-like approach to tonight's game. That means concentrating on details but it also means playing loose and free. Any other approach would be disastrous, he said.
'In a situation like this, you can't go out there and try to push anything or try to play outside yourself,' he said. 'You do that and that's when you start to mess up. So I just have to play the way I have been playing. I have to make plays and try to be consistent and avoid making mental mistakes. I just have to play hard, and no matter what, I can't give up. You never give up.'
The Bucs will more or less be giving up on a lot of players after this game. Their final cutdown comes Saturday, and Coach Jon Gruden said there's not much advice he can give to a player on the bubble.
'We're not going to have a scripted message for them,' Gruden said. 'Obviously, there's a lot of us on the bubble. I'm on the bubble, too, I'm told. You just have to go out there and do your best. If you're a good football player, you're going to get an opportunity to play in this league, so just have fun and do the things you're capable of doing and just trust us in our evaluation.
'And if you don't make it here, hopefully, we can help you hook on somewhere else. But don't go out there and be a basket case and worry about things you can't control.'
Running back Kenneth Darby isn't worried. He's never been cut from a football team and he doesn't see himself being cut now, even if he is a seventh-round draft pick.
'This is totally different for me,' Darby said of being on the bubble. 'But I don't look at it like that. I'm always positive and I stay positive all day. If it happens, it happens. But I don't plan on it.
'I'm just as calm and clear-minded as possible. I'm more than confident in the skills and the abilities God gave me and believe I will make this team. So I'm not even worried about the cuts.'