Wednesday, January 29, 2014
From bouncer to broker to NFL fullback
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In 2012, the Green Bay Packers signed a running back who was selling used cars. So why not a fullback who's working for a financial firm and moonlighting as a nightclub bouncer?
Since being released by the Dolphins last June, Ina Liaina has been working two jobs while waiting for his next shot at the NFL.
Ina Liaina (pronounced E-nah LEE-ah-E-nah) is the very definition of a street free agent. Since he was released by the Miami Dolphins last June, he has been working the two jobs while also trying to stay in shape for another shot at the NFL.
That shot came Monday, when he worked out for the Packers and later that day was signed to a reserve/futures contract.
He hopes to follow in the footsteps of a free agent such as running back DuJuan Harris, who was working at a car dealer in Jacksonville, Fla., before the Packers signed him to their practice squad Oct. 24, 2012. Harris was promoted to the active roster five weeks later and despite missing the entire 2013 season because of a knee injury remains very much in the Packers' plans.
"This is a great opportunity for me," Liaina said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Last year, I was with the Dolphins, but I never got a chance to play in a preseason game or even made it that far and I've been off for a whole year, so it's an opportunity and a blessing."
The 6-foot, 250-pound fullback visited the Packers before last year's draft but signed with the Dolphins afterward in part because he and his agent, Angelo Wright, felt there was a better opportunity in Miami, where there wasn't a veteran fullback like John Kuhn still under contract.
Now, with Kuhn scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, perhaps the timing is right for Liaina.
The move doesn't necessarily mean the Packers don't plan to re-sign the popular Kuhn, who made $2.35 million (including a $1.8 million base salary) last season. But general manager Ted Thompson will have to decide whether he wants to pay that kind of money again for a player who saw the field on 28.1 percent of the offensive snaps even if that player is a trusted veteran and a popular figure.
Liaina was a running back in high school but was converted to a fullback at San Jose State. His workout Monday in Green Bay also included Jonathan Amosa, a fullback who was with the Packers in training camp last summer.
Whichever way the Packers go at fullback -- with a young player like Liaina or the veteran Kuhn -- the Packers don't appear to be ready to forget a position that has slowly been phased out of many NFL offenses.
"They want me to clear holes," Liaina said. "They want somebody to go in there and make holes for the running back."
The idea of blocking for running back Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 1,178 yards last season as a rookie, is intriguing to Liaina.
"He's a beast, man," Liaina said. "The guy's a monster."
Liaina will report to Green Bay for the start of the offseason program April 21. Until then, he said he will continue working out -- and working -- in the San Francisco area.