IRVING, Texas – Chris Whaley has been here before – in fact it's where he has spent the entirety of his brief NFL career.
The Cowboys have called it a season for a second time since Whaley joined their ranks, and the former University of Texas standout has yet to take a snap. That was to be expected his rookie year, as Dallas signed him undrafted just months removed from a major knee injury.
The 2015 season was supposed to be different, though. Fully rehabbed and finished with his "redshirt" year, there was hope Whaley could compete for a defensive tackle job – right up until he tore his Achilles tendon in training camp on Aug. 11.
"It was real frustrating, to go from one season-ending injury to another one," Whaley said. "But it's just going to determine how bad I really want it."
The fact that Whaley is still around is a testament to his dedication. He tore three ligaments in November of his final year with the Longhorns, ending any draft hopes and landing him in a three-year undrafted deal with the Cowboys.
It was rewarding enough that the organization thought enough of him to keep him around through 2014, allowing him to rehab and focus on the next year. It was a gesture Whaley said wasn't lost on him last spring.
"Me and my brother always talk about how they see something in me, they took the time out to give me a chance to sit out a year and get my knee right," he said in May. "I'm very thankful for this opportunity, and I can't let them down. I've got to come out and I've got to push and show them that they didn't waste their time."
Heading into 2016, the story appears to be the same. Whaley tore his Achilles just two weeks into his first real training camp, and he never had a genuine chance to compete for a roster spot. Despite that, he's still at Valley Ranch rehabbing his injury. The Cowboys could have reached an injury settlement and parted ways with him long ago, but that hasn't happened.
"That's the special thing about it, man. They've really given me the opportunity to be here – after the first injury, and then this injury too. I guess it's just upon me to take advantage of it," Whaley said. "I did the same last year, coming back from the knee injury -- I busted my butt to get back. Then I went down with the Achilles, and I've got another chance to come back and show them."
The Cowboys signed Tyrone Crawford to a multi-year extension in September, but the defensive tackle position is mostly in flux behind him. Nick Hayden is set to enter free agency, and Terrell McClain is recovering from a season-ending injury of his own. It's entirely possible Whaley could once again have a chance to factor once he is healthy.
At this early stage in the process, Whaley said he doesn't have a timetable for any type of return – but he's already hard at work toward that moment.
"I'm not sure when the day will be, but like I said – I just do what they tell me to do and go day-by-day," he said.