As NFL Training Camps begin to heat up in anticipation of the coming season, the column “Spartans in the NFL” returns to give you full coverage of every former Michigan State player in the NFL. The Spartan ranks swelled to 25 during the off-season, as six players from last year’s Michigan State team were drafted and two were signed as undrafted free agents. And of the Spartans in the league before draft day, two switched teams and two received generous new contracts. All of the Spartan activity in the offseason is detailed below:
Quarterback Drew Stanton, a backup to the Lions’ Matthew Stafford last season, was traded to the Colts (from the Jets) on March 23rd for “undisclosed compensation.” Stanton will be the primary backup for the number one pick of the draft, Andrew Luck.
Brandon McKinney joined cornerback Chris Rucker and Stanton on the Colts’ roster when Indianapolis signed him on April 5th to shore up its defensive line.
Six Spartans were selected during the draft this year. The player and the team which drafted them are listed below:
DT Jerel Worthy: Packers (2nd Round)
QB Kirk Cousins: Redskins (4th Round)
WR Keshawn Martin: Texans (4th Round)
WR B.J. Cunningham: Dolphins (6th Round)
S Trenton Robinson 49ers (6th Round)
RB Edwin Baker: Chargers (7th Round)
(Two players were signed as undrafted free agents. Fullback Todd Anderson joined the Rams and tight end Garrett Celek was chosen by the 49ers.)
Bill Belichick valued backup quarterback, Brian Hoyer, was a restricted free agent entering the offseason. But the Patriots did not want to lose Hoyer, so they gave him a one year deal worth $1.92 million.
Blair White, who had surgery on his back in December, was released by the Colts in April. Currently a free agent, the wide out is still rehabbing his back. In the meantime, White is debating a return to the game. “Physically, I think I can play [again], absolutely. It’s a matter of staying healthy and not hurting my back again,” White told Mlive.com . “I want to be able to play with my kids when I’m 35, 40 years old. I want to be able to do things in life that I love to do. I’ve got to weigh those options and make a decision.”
Kellen Davis flirted with free agency over the off-season, visiting the Cowboys, Bengals, and Steelers. The Bears’ tight end searched for a new team because he was tired of his reduced role in Mike Martz’s offense. But with the departure of Martz and promotion of Mike Tice to offensive coordinator, Davis decided to stay in Chicago. The new offense will focus more on plays to the tight end, which Davis is excited about. “This is home for me. I love my teammates, the team, and the coaches. But it still comes down to me and my career and what I want to do with that. So [with the Bears] changing the offensive coordinator, I thought I had a good opportunity here.”
Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio likes his linemen big, so Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson decided to add some weight in the offseason. He gained a total of forty pounds, bringing his weight to 330 pounds. “I feel great. I’ve played at 330 my whole career. Last year, I tried something different and played smaller,” Vickerson said.
Cornerback Jeremy Ware was signed by the Bears on July 28th. The former Raider did not play in 2011, as he was waived by Oakland after training camp last year.
Ross Weaver, cut by the Lions before training camp, was brought back on August 2nd to compete at cornerback.
The Dolphins value Brandon Fields’ punting ability, as evidenced by the four year, $13.3 million extension Miami gave to Fields in early August. According to the Miami Herald, $3.3 million of the contract is guaranteed. The deal makes him the fifth-highest paid punter in the league.
Just two days ago on August 5th, wide receiver Devin Thomas decided to hang up the cleats. The 25 year-old made his announcement via Twitter: “I have decided to retire from the NFL.” He then explained himself in a subsequent tweet: “God has blessed me w[ith] achieving a childhood dream. I want to give back to my hometown and coach/mentor kids so they can reach their own. 1LUV.” Thomas was drafted by the Redskins in the second round in 2008, where he played for a little over two years before being released. He then played for the Panthers for one game in 2010 before joining the Giants, where he played for the remainder of 2010 and all of 2011. He recovered two fumbles in the critical NFC Championship win over the 49ers, which propelled the Giants to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the Patriots. Thomas has previously talked about his dislike of the game’s culture and his fear of long-term injuries, both of which may be reasons for his retirement.
Some Training Camp Tidbits:
With Mike Martz out as the offensive coordinator in Chicago, Kellen Davis is seeing a lot more passes at tight end. “We’re in the progressions as the No. 1 or No. 2 [target] in almost every play,” the tight end said. “So we’re gonna be there and Jay is going to look for us.”
Five out of the ten linebackers on the Giants’ roster are injured, but not Greg Jones. The former Spartan star has been getting extra reps in practice and taking advantage of them. He spent most of the spring and the first part of training camp at outside linebacker where he has done well, according to Mike Garafolo of the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “[Jones is] still taking the correct angles and such while working on the edge.” Jones switched back to middle linebacker late last week, where he continues to do well.
Rams’ rookie Todd Anderson will be competing against Ovie Mughelli, Ben Guidugli, and Brit Miller for two roster spots at fullback. Mughelli, a solid player with two Pro Bowl appearances in his career, is likely to secure the starting job. Anderson has a good chance to snag the final spot, though, as Mughelli is coming off of a knee injury from last season, Guidugli is a converted tight end, and Miller is mainly a special teams player.
Edwin Baker believes that he is adjusting well to the pro game, as he stated early in training camp: “I already feel like I’m playing faster. Honestly, I think I did pretty well today. The mental part of it came right back even though we had been away for a bit.” Baker will have to continue doing well, as he is one of six running backs on the Chargers roster.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins is listed as third on the depth chart behind Robert Griffin III and Rex Grossman. The fourth round pick has been performing well in camp, even during the rookie talent show, where he dressed up as head coach Mike Shanahan. Offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus told the Washington Times: “Cousins came out in his loafers and his khaki shorts and shirt with a collar. Cousins was great.”
Three year veteran Brian Hoyer is ready for the preseason on Thursday: “For me, the preseason is like the regular season,” he told the Providence Journal on Monday.
With Andre Johnson’s injury, Keshawn Martin is seeing reps with the Texans’ first team. Head coach Gary Kubiak has been impressed with Martin thus far: “He’s got great speed. He can catch some little ones and turn them into real big ones. That’s what you look for in the pass game.” Quarterback Matt Schuab has also liked Martin: “He really understands his role, really listens, and takes in all the information he can. He just makes plays. He creates a lot of separation from corners to give you a chance to make a throw.” Even the injured Johnson has been impressed: “He’s been having a great camp so far. I told him just keep working hard and doing what you’re doing.”
Javon Ringer is battling Jamie Harper for the backup running back role. Though he is listed as the primary backup, Ringer could be unseated by Harper due to the former Spartan’s disappointing season in 2011.
Sixth round draft pick Trenton Robinson is one of only two rookies on the 49ers two-deep depth chart. He is listed as the primary backup to strong safety Donte Whitmer.
Jerel Worthy is quickly becoming a noticeable figure on the Packers. The second round pick has showed an eagerness to learn and appreciation for the game. “He loves the game of football, he loves to bring energy. He’s here, he’s glad he’s here and he wants everybody to know he’s glad he’s here,” fellow rookie defensive lineman Mike Daniels told twincities.com. “That’s someone I love to have on my team, someone I’d love to have in the huddle with me. Outside of all the talking he does, he’s definitely a guy that’s focused. He’s given himself the right to be a little bit vocal.”