HOUSTON -- The past year has been a dizzying journey for Blake Muir.
Without taking the field in an official game, the offensive guard from Australia has collected paychecks from three different NFL teams and earned a trip to Super Bowl LI with the Atlanta Falcons.
A few months after graduating from Baylor University, Muir signed with the San Francisco 49ers and went through the offseason program, training camp and preseason only to be cut on the eve of the regular season. He landed on his feet, signing with the Green Bay Packers practice squad a week later. A month and a half after that, he was let go by the Packers and ultimately caught on with Atlanta's practice squad in November.
"I've learned a lot so far," Muir said of his whirlwind 2016 season. "Each team I've been to has been different, and [the Falcons are] very, very close. You can tell how much each man cares for the next, and I think it shows on the field. That's probably one of the biggest things I've picked up so far, and I can see how the brotherhood and genuine care for one another really translates into success."
A number of Australians are coming to the United States to play gridiron, as the sport is known Down Under, but many of them serve as punters -- a position at which a strong-legged player can find success without a deep understanding of the game. That's not the case for offensive linemen such as Muir, who are typically expected to process more information than any other players aside from quarterbacks.
Falcons offensive line coach Chris Morgan said he has seen constant progress from Muir since the Aussie prospect joined the team, and Morgan noted that the 25-year-old has a clear picture of what it's going to take to keep his development on track. Morgan also pointed out the significance of Muir being selected to wear a black jersey in practice last month for being recognized as one of the Falcons' teammates of the week.
"Blake is doing a good job for us as far as improving every day," Morgan said. "It's good to have him in the room. It's cool to see his growth. He does a really good job at breaking it down into small parts and short-term goals. He's always working on those goals, and he understands exactly what they are."
Perhaps the best ones to assess where Muir stands in terms of development are the defensive linemen who have locked horns with him in practice for the past few months.
"I've seen Blake get a lot better in the time since he got with us," said defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who had three sacks for the Falcons this season. "He works extremely hard. He doesn't say much. He just comes to work every day. At the same time, you know he's enjoying himself, and it's fun for him. It's good for me to go against a guy like that every day to keep me sharp. He's doing a great job, and wherever his career takes him, I hope he's able to reach the level that he wants to."
Said veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux: "He's a quiet guy, but he goes out and does his work week in and week out for us. I think he will have the opportunity to play in this league."
Muir grew up in the Sydney suburb of Sutherland, New South Wales, and participated in myriad sports as a youth, including many years as a competitive swimmer -- not something one might expect from an athlete who now checks in at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. Although his only exposure to American football was from movies and the occasional game on television, Muir joined the Sutherland Seahawks Gridiron Club as a senior in high school.
Muir quickly showed athleticism and aptitude, earning a referral to coaches at the University of Hawaii. After two years with the Warriors program, he transferred to Baylor, where younger brother Sean will be a senior offensive lineman next season. Blake is also acquainted with another promising, young NFL player from Australia, Denver Broncos defensive end Adam Gotsis, a Melbourne native who also was a rookie in 2016. Prior to enrolling at Baylor, Muir visited Georgia Tech, where Gotsis served as his host. The countrymen then went head-to-head when the 49ers visited the Broncos for two practices and a preseason game back in August.
"I would say I won the day," Muir said, chuckling when asked about the matchup.
Muir has his foot in the door with the NFL. He has an opportunity to showcase his skills and graduate to an active roster at some point. But life on the practice squad is no easy path to success. There is no opportunity to play in regular-season or playoff games, and the salary is much less than what active players earn. Members of practice squads are expected to not only develop their own skills, but also to challenge the starters and keep them well prepared.
Still, a number of players have gone on to enjoy long pro careers after starting out on the practice squad, including Arian Foster, James Harrison and Danny Woodhead. Two wide receivers in this year's Super Bowl, Eric Weems of the Falcons and Danny Amendola of the New England Patriots, paid their dues on practice squads early in their careers.
"I want to be the best player I can be and play as long as I can," Muir said. "It is attainable."