Northwestern football training camp is still a week or two away, but this past week, NFL players have begun to report to team facilities for the opening of their camps. And among them are a decent amount of Northwestern football alumni, including two former Super Bowl champions and the Oakland Raiders' 2013 leading tackler. But also among them are a host of players still trying to find their way in the NFL. Over the next month, they'll lay everything on the line with the ultimate goal of simply making an NFL roster. Here's a look at the situations of 16 former Wildcats who have the NFL in their sights, with an emphasis on the younger guys.
Barry Cofield, DT, Washington – Previously with the Giants, where he became a Super Bowl champion in 2008, Cofield signed a massive six-year contract with Washington back in 2011. The deal has since been restructured, but it should keep him in D.C. through 2016.
Nick Roach, LB, Raiders – After going undrafted and rising up through the ranks with the Bears, Roach signed a 4-year deal with Oakland. He was the Raiders’ leading tackler in 2013, and will be their starting middle linebacker and leader of the defense in 2014.
Zach Strief, OT, Saints – The Saints made Strief a 7th-round draft pick in 2006, and he’s been in New Orleans ever since. After five seasons as insurance at both tackle spots, he took over as the Saints’ starting right tackle in 2011, and hasn’t looked back. Strief goes into 2014 with the role all to himself.
Corey Wootton, DE/ET, Vikings – A 4th-round pick of the Bears in 2010, Wootton played four seasons in Chicago, and started 15 of 16 games last year. But in the offseason, he bolted for Minnesota, and signed a one-year deal with the Vikings.
Sherrick McManis, CB, Bears – After two years with the Texans during which he played in 23 games, McManis was traded to the Bears prior to the 2012 season. Since then, he’s been a reserve cornerback and a special teams standout in two seasons in Chicago. The Bears re-signed him this offseason and he should make the team in a similar role.
Corbin Bryant, DT, Bills – Bryant latched on with Buffalo last year and stuck. He played in 15 of 16 games and, with the Bills struggling to cope with injuries, even started two contests. He’ll be back in Buffalo for camp again this summer, and is reportedly competing for a backup defensive tackle role. However, working in his favor could be a potential suspension of Marcell Dareus (who also failed his conditioning test).
Brian Arnfelt, DE, Steelers – Arnfelt signed with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent last spring. Then, after spending much of the 2013 season on the practice squad, he was promoted to the active roster in December prior to the final two games of the season. In 2014, he’ll have a camp battle on his hands, but he looks like a good bet to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster.
Marquice Cole, CB, Free Agent – Cole has bounced around the league since he went undrafted in 2007. He spent three seasons with the Jets and two with the Patriots, and then was signed during last season’s playoffs by the Broncos. However, he hasn’t yet found a 2014 landing spot.
Jeremy Ebert, WR, Falcons – Ebert has been on and off of rosters and practice squads ever since he was one of the Patriots’ final cuts in 2012. In 2013, he saw the field sparingly with the Jaguars, and notched his first three NFL receptions, but was released in May. He recently signed with the Falcons, but will need to turn a few heads in training camp to even sniff the roster.
Mike Kafka, QB, Buccaneers – Andy Reid, known around the NFL as a quarterback guru, saw something in Kafka and made him the Eagles’ 4th-round draft pick in 2010 (and the fifth QB off the board). During that year’s training camp, Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was even quoted as saying that Kafka was "the best rookie that I’ve ever had in 15 years." But he was buried on the depth chart in Philadelphia, and was released prior to the 2012 season after fracturing his non-throwing hand in training camp. Kafka has since taken in short stints with the Patriots and Jaguars, but failed to make any 53-man roster (thanks in part to a certain Tim Tebow). This past February, he signed with the Bucs, where he will potentially compete with Alex Tanney for the third quarterback spot. He could just be a camp arm though.
Oh, also, somebody put in some serious work on his Wikipedia page. It’s inexplicably long.
Jordan Mabin, CB, Falcons – A journeyman of sorts since going undrafted in 2012, Mabin has spent short amounts of time with a few NFL teams, and even made two separate trips to the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. Following last season, Atlanta signed him to a reserve/futures contract, and he’s in camp with them, but as far as making the team goes, he’s an extreme outsider.
Al Netter, OG, 49ers – Netter went undrafted in 2012, was signed by San Francisco, and spent the remainder of 2012 on the 49ers’ practice squad. He was released during training camp the following year, but is back for another shot with the team in 2014. However, Netter's chances at a roster spot look slim to say the least.
Kain Colter, WR, Vikings – Early in the NFL Draft cycle, especially leading up to the Senior Bowl, there was a lot of buzz around Colter, who is transitioning from QB to WR (a position he occasionally played at NU). But he was forced to withdraw from Senior Bowl practices and undergo ankle surgery. Then, after a reportedly underwhelming personal pro day, he went undrafted and was scooped up by the Vikings. He faces an uphill battle, especially since, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune, "wide receiver is probably the deepest unit on the team." He’s likely competing with up to six players for one spot; however, there are some that believe that Colter is an underrated talent, so him making the 53-man roster isn’t out of the question. He’ll need a good camp and preseason though.
Tyler Scott, DE, Vikings – Scott joins Colter on Minnesota’s 90-man roster, but it appears he’s in an even more difficult situation than his former teammate. The Vikings have four defensive ends that are considered near locks to make the team, and there might not even be a fifth DE spot. However, as coaches always love to say, even if you’re not good enough for one team, you can showcase yourself to 31 others, so that’s what Scott will look to do.
Rashad Lawrence, WR, Washington - Lawrence wasn’t getting talked about at all as an NFL prospect, but then caught a few eyes at Northwestern’s pro day. As expected, he went undrafted, but signed with Washington shortly after. However, he’ll have to leapfrog several established NFL receivers to make the team, so he’s in a similar position to Scott.
Jeff Budzien, K, Free Agent – Budzien signed with the Jaguars following the draft, but was released just a week later. As of this writing, he hasn’t landed anywhere. Budzien was a standout kicker at Northwestern, but probably doesn’t have a strong enough leg to cut it in the NFL.