Allen Park — After a recent training camp practice, Lions safety Nate Ness walked into the team facility smiling from ear to ear.
“You’re the happiest guy out here,” a reporter said.
“That’s because I’m the most blessed guy out here,” Ness said.
The affable Ness has been among the happiest — and funniest — players since he joined the Lions in April 2014. He spent most of last year on the practice squad, but regularly would have his teammates laughing in the locker room.
Ness, however, is realistic about his future. Like many players in camps, he knows this year could be his last.
“I have to make it,” Ness said. “I have to put my best foot forward. I can’t leave plays out there. I can’t take a play off because that play off can be a deciding factor.
“I’m trying to be noticed in a positive way. Make a difference play every day and do what I can do on special teams. That’s where the money’s at.”
In two weeks, teams will start whittling their rosters to 75 players, and a few days after that, to 53. Although some players will make practice squads, most won’t have another opportunity.
Ness’ tale began in 2009, so it’s lasted longer than most. Since going undrafted out of Arizona, he’s spent time with seven teams — Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Washington, St. Louis, Carolina and Detroit.
“He works his butt off,” said receiver Andrew Peacock, who spent last year on the practice squad. “There’s a reason he’s been in the league as long as he has.”
Ness, however, has appeared in nine regular-season games — one with the Seahawks in 2010, three with the Dolphins in 2010, four with the Rams in 2011 and one with the Lions last year.
He was one of the top exhibition performers last year, with two interceptions. But after starting the year on the practice squad, it took a couple of injuries in the secondary for him to join the active roster in Week 2.
“Everything that I did last year, I’ve got to do it 10 times better,” said Ness, 28.
His 10 plays in the loss to the Panthers came on special teams. A week later, Ness was sent to the practice squad — but he wasn’t upset.
“It’s never a down Nate Ness,” Peacock said. “He comes in and it’s always a smile on his face, ready to work.”
Making the roster will be difficult again this season with the Lions returning their top four safeties. And Ness is no longer eligible for the practice squad.
But between his time in the NFL and his 8-year-old son living in Los Angeles, Ness has plenty of blessings.
“I get to wake up every morning,” Ness said. “My son’s healthy, I have my parents, I got my family (and) I have an opportunity.
“I’ve just got to keep fighting and keep praying and keep working.”
Detroit at Washington
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
TV/radio: Channel 2/97.1
Exhibition records: Both teams 1-0
Exhibition series: Detroit leads 11-7 (Detroit 34-25, Aug. 9, 1996)
Did you know? Detroit is 1-2 at Washington in exhibitions.