Three cities, three teams, three jersey numbers.
That's the tally of Erik Walden's two years in the NFL.
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The former MTSU standout defensive end/linebacker just finished his second NFL season with the Miami Dolphins.The nomadic Walden hopes south Florida is his home, at least for a while. "You always hope you don't have to move around, but it happens quite often in this league," Walden said. "I hope I don't have to do that much more. I want to find a place that I can call home."
Walden has had to adjust at the next level. After setting single-season and career records in sacks as an MTSU defensive end from 2004-07, Walden switched to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round — becoming the first Blue Raider drafted since Tyrone Calico in 2003.
Walden was cut by the Cowboys before the 2008 regular season and claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Chiefs. He played nine games with the Chiefs before being released and playing the final six games of the 2008 season with the Dolphins. He played 11 games with the Dolphins in 2009.
Walden has taken his numerous NFL moves in stride. "You're never ready to move like that, but I'm glad it happened early in my career," Walden said. "It's going to probably happen anyway. You're going to have to change teams, but it would hurt worse later in my career if I've been somewhere for a long time. "If it's going to happen, better that it happen now than later. Hopefully, I can find a home, though."
Walden, a Dublin, Ga. native, said he has not tried to grow roots anywhere until his NFL status gains a better footing. He has spent the last two years living in various apartments and hotels as temporary homes, including a mere three-month stay in Kansas City.
"I didn't really want to buy anything since I didn't know where I was going to be, but that's just part of it," Walden said. "At first, (changing teams) bothered me. But when I thought about it, I decided that I was not going to let an incident like that affect me. I just had to keep on working hard, and that's what I am doing."
In all three of his NFL stops, Walden, a 6-foot-2, 250-pounder, has spent most of his time on special teams, where he rarely played at MTSU. But MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said Walden must make his mark there.
"Each NFL team is so different, and there's always someone there to replace you," Stockstill said. "Early in his career, Erik has got to be a warrior on special teams. He can run and he's been in there for special teams and some situational things on defense. He's got to do things on special teams. If he keeps his nose clean and works hard, he's got a chance."
Walden was listed as a third-string outside linebacker behind Joey Porter and Charlie Anderson this past season.
Walden said his ultimate goal is to start on defense in the NFL, but he's willing to cut his teeth on special teams.
"This year and last year, I mostly did special teams," Walden said. "But I'm an athlete, so I should be able to adjust to that. That's my job right now, so I'm going to work really hard at it."
Walden recorded 10 special teams tackles with the Chiefs, second-most on the team, and five more with the Dolphins in the 2008 season. In 2009, he had eight tackles in 11 games with Miami. He was declared injured or inactive in five games.
The Dolphins' season ended a week ago with a 7-9 record. Walden said he hopes to return to Miami next season.
"It's a year-to-year thing in this league, and I know that," Walden said. "I'm looking forward to having a long NFL career, but all I can do is work hard. I can't worry about what I can't control, so I'm not going to worry. I will just keep working, but I feel pretty good about things so far."
MTSU career (2004-07)
MTSU single-season and career leader in sacks
Two-time All-Sun Belt first team selection
Only MTSU player ever to lead in sacks three seasons
April 2008: Drafted by Cowboys in 6th Rd.
Aug. 2008: Claimed by Chiefs off waivers
2008 season: Played 9 games with Chiefs
Nov. 2008: Claimed off waivers by Dolphins
2008 season: Played 6 games with Dolphins
2009 season: Played 11 games with Dolphins