TAMPA — Mike Liedtke has the quiet confidence of a young player who has settled in with a team and a coaching staff, and his play on the field is showing it.
It's a luxury the Bucs offensive lineman has waited to earn over two years and five teams while on the fringe of the NFL, hoping for enough time to establish himself as being worthy of a roster spot on a fall Sunday.
"I'm fitting in well here. I'm showing them the type of player I can be," said Liedtke (pronounced lid-key) after practice Thursday. "I still have a long way to go, and I'm building, but I'm confident. I'm hoping they like me and that I can finish out these last few preseason games well."
In the next nine days, the 25-year-old will find out if he can grab one of the last spots on the 53-man roster or one of 10 spots on the practice squad. He has spent nine months with Tampa Bay, his longest stint with an NFL team.
It hasn't been easy. When he came to the Bucs in November, it was his fourth team in six months. He was cut by the Chiefs in May and joined the Jets in June, only to be among their final cuts in September. Then the Browns — whom he will line up against Saturday at Raymond James Stadium — added him to their practice squad, only to cut him three weeks later.
"It was really tough for me," said Liedtke, who played collegiately at Illinois State. "I was battling through some injuries, and my play started slipping because of it. I was frustrated that I was home. I thought I was playing well enough that I shouldn't be home."
Liedtke has the versatility a backup linemen needs. In Thursday's practice alone, he worked at right tackle, right guard and left tackle, helping the Bucs push through a rash of injuries and showing his value at the same time.
"It's hard for me to get comfortable at any of the positions, but that's kind of the name of the game," said Liedtke, 6 feet 3 and 305 pounds. "Wherever they need to stick you, they're going to put you there."
Different places on one offensive line are much easier than different places on other teams' lines. The Bucs have shown a patience with Liedtke that Cleveland did not. He was flying to another workout when the Browns signed him. For them to cut him loose 20 days later, he believed, didn't give him a chance to showcase himself.
"I was furious," he said. "When they released me, they were like 'You don't know our playbook,' and I was like 'You never gave me a chance!'
"That's the game, and there's good organizations and bad organizations. It really was tough on me. I was starting to question how much longer I could bounce around like that. I'm not fond of (Cleveland's) front office. There's definitely some extra motivation there."
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When he has doubted himself, bouncing from team to team, his wife, Noelle, has been a constant, offering support in phone calls, after a long day of practice on his end, before an overnight shift on her end for her job as a nurse in Illinois. They got married in March after being together for 10 years, since high school.
"I've never given up on myself, but there was a time I gave up on the process," Liedtke said of the support he has gotten from Noelle and his parents in Woodstock, Ill. "I do it for them. That's my motivation. I always want to make them proud."
Noelle will fly to Tampa for Saturday's game and for Thursday's final preseason game against the Redskins, glad to be together with him and able to watch him in person.
"It's very tough. It's emotionally draining," she said. "I see all the work he puts in every day, and in a phone call, it was over for him when he got cut. I have to be here to support him. It's super hard on me, but I can't get down about it. I have to be there for him."
Liedtke had tried out for five teams in two weeks when the Bucs signed him in November — "I basically was living out of the airport and my bag," he said — and he showed enough in five weeks on the practice squad to land a futures contract. That gave him an offseason to learn what the Bucs want their linemen to be.
Coach Dirk Koetter has praised Liedtke's play and his ability to help the line at multiple positions.
"Versatility is always a key in the NFL," Koetter said. "He can play every spot but center, and I'm not sure he couldn't do that.
"Mike's been around a little bit. This is not his first rodeo. With O-line, the intricacies of what different coaches want and the different line calls, the communication, having time helps any guy. Guys get better with experience, and I think he's playing with confidence."
Noelle has watched HBO's Hard Knocks for a glimpses of him, getting text messages from friends whose kids pause the TV to take pictures of a largely anonymous player they're pulling for from far away.
"He has an idea of where he's at, and he knows he's close to making it," Noelle said. "If they need that next guy to step in, he wants to be there for the team, to make sure he doesn't miss a beat for them. … We've been through it all together, and it's been a fun journey, but it's definitely been tough."
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.