Erik Walden remained confident about his future in the NFL after he got cut, figuring his next chance would come as a special teams contributor.
Even he didn't imagine making big plays on defense to help send the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs.
After being released by Miami on Sept. 28, Walden was at home working out when he got a call from Packers assistant director of pro personnel Eliot Wolf -- the son of former Packers general manager Ron Wolf -- telling him the injury-riddled Packers wanted to give him a chance to play in Green Bay.
"He said, 'Look, this is the situation, it's an incredible opportunity,' so my eyes lit up," Walden said. "I'm just trying to cash in and contribute, kind of make a name for myself. But at the same time, the bigger picture is helping us get to where we want to be, get these wins and get this train rolling." Walden signed Oct. 27 and was pressed into action only four days later, making his Packers debut against the New York Jets. The linebacker saved his best performance for Sunday, with two sacks and 11 total tackles as the Packers clinched a playoff berth with a 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Going into a playoff game at Philadelphia on Sunday, Walden might be called on again for a team that is playing strong defense despite dealing with injuries all season.
"He did it all," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "I think he impressed a lot of people around here (Sunday). When you play at that high of a level, now we expect you to do it all the time. So we look for big things from him coming into these playoffs."
The Packers have 15 players on injured reserve, including three defensive starters, and have had to make up for prolonged absences by several other significant players throughout the year.
Walden is one of four players to start at right outside linebacker for the Packers this season.
"It's just nice to have someone in there to make some plays and take a little heat off me," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "I told him he's doing a fantastic job. He's been working his butt off since he got here. It's not easy to come in here halfway through the year. Now he's starting for a playoff team and making sacks, making plays. More power to him."
Safety Charlie Peprah said the Packers won't get anywhere without their role players.
"It's not going to be every game that Clay Matthews is going to do his thing," Peprah said. "It's not going to be every game Charles Woodson is going to do his thing or whatever. But if you're out there, we're going to need you to step up. And thank goodness he stepped up and came up big for us. He's playing good ball."
Walden was taken out of Middle Tennessee State by Dallas in the sixth round of the 2008 draft and had played for Kansas City and Miami. He was cut by the Dolphins in September, but remembered something Bill Parcells told him.
"I was working out, trying to stay in shape and spending time with my son," Walden said. "I was just waiting. The advice I got from Parcells (was), if you can play special teams, you'll always have a job in this league. So I never doubted I'd get back on. It was just a matter of when and it being the right fit."
It's too soon to say what Walden's future might be in Green Bay, but coaches like what they see so far.
"I can't say enough about the young man and the way he's performed, the way he's worked," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "The extra hours that you see him and (outside linebackers coach) Kevin Greene put in throughout the evenings upon his arrival here. We've done a very good job getting players ready to play in a short period of time. Our team is formed, this is who we are and we head into the playoffs."