It's late July and football is almost back. (Thank goodness.) While there are still a few weeks until Northwestern opens camp, NFL training camps will be starting up this week. By August 2, every team will have opened camp and start the grueling few weeks that is training camp.
For several former Northwestern players, the next few weeks could determine how they will spend the next few years of their lives. There are established players in the league that have come out of Northwestern -- a Super Bowl champion among them -- but this year, the theme is fringe players. Lots of former Wildcats will be vying for a roster spot or a practice squad position or, at the very least, a chance to impress and play elsewhere if the NFL doesn't work out. One example was Tyrell Sutton, who was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers, bounced around to the Panthers and Seahawks, and ultimately ended up in the Canadian Football League, where he has had a very productive career so far. Without further ado, here's where Northwestern's NFL contingency stands:
Zach Strief, T, New Orleans - Strief, a former seventh-round pick, will enter his tenth season -- all with the Saints -- this year. That's impressive longevity for any player, and even more so for a guy who almost went undrafted. After providing depth at both tackle positions for the first portion of his career (and earning a Super Bowl ring in 2010), Strief has had the starting gig at right tackle since 2011. He started all 16 games there last year and 15 the year before that. He signed a five-year extension in 2014, so it's looking like New Orleans will be home for the dependable lineman for quite some time.
Corey Wootton, DT, Detroit - Wootton showed the most promise in the 2012 season -- his third year in the league -- with the Chicago Bears when he posted seven sacks in 16 games played, seven of which were starts. But the fourth-rounder in the 2010 NFL Draft struggled the next year despite getting 15 starts. Last year, he appeared in 15 games with the Vikings and, this offseason he signed with the Lions, who are looking to replace Ndamukong Suh. Wootton's versatility-- he can play both tackle and end-- combined with the fact that he's still in his prime at just 28 years old will likely help him earn some playing time.
NOTE: Barry Cofield and Nick Roach, two NFL veterans, are currently free agents who could get a call from teams in the near future. Cofield was released by the Washington Redskins after they signed three defensive linemen in free agency, and Roach, a linebacker, has been dealing with lasting after-effects of a concussion he suffered last preseason. At this point, it's certainly not unreasonable to expect Cofield to find a home as a run-stopping nose tackle.
Corbin Bryant, DT, Buffalo - A member of the staunch Bills defensive line unit, Bryant saw time in all 16 games last year as a backup and special teamer. With new head coach Rex Ryan in town, the Buffalo defense will have a 4-3 under formation, opening an extra spot along the defensive line in the middle next to stud tackle Marcell Dareus. Bryant will, in all likelihood, make this roster, but he will have a fair amount of competition for playing time.
Sherrick McManis, CB, Chicago - McManis doesn't see much time at all on the defensive side of the ball, but where he makes his impact felt is on special teams. McManis is one of the top gunners in the league and has been very good in that role for the Bears. He has certainly found his niche in the pros. The former fifth-round pick by Houston has had a good offseason too, according to ESPN's Jeff Dickerson, and might see some more time in nickel and dime packages.
Mike Kafka, QB, Minnesota - Kafka has caught on with the Vikings after spending last year with the Buccaneers. He has also spent time with Philadelphia, which drafted him in the fourth round, and the Patriots' and Jaguars' practice squads. Teddy Bridgewater is definitely penciled in as the long-term starter in Minnesota, and the Vikings brought in 14-year veteran Shaun Hill to help tutor Bridgewater, but if the Vikings decide to keep three quarterbacks, or if Hill or Bridgewater were to get hurt, Kafka's only other competition is undrafted free agent Taylor Heinicke. Kafka will have to have an impressive preseason to stick, though.
Rashad Lawrence, WR, Chicago - After a stint in the Redskins' training camp, Lawrence was signed to the Bears' practice squad in November in a move that corresponded to the release of Santonio Holmes. Lawrence impressed at his pro day workout, running a 4.49 40 and, at 6-foot-2, he has good size for the position. The Bears have Alshon Jeffery, added Kevin White in the draft and Eddie Royal in free agency, but there could be a spot for Lawrence as a sixth receiver or a body on the practice squad.
Brian Peters, LB, Minnesota - What a great story this would be. Peters played safety at Northwestern before going undrafted in the 2012 draft, mainly due to his 4.60 40 time, likely too slow for an NFL safety. Since, he has played in the Arena Football League with the Iowa Barnstormers for a year and the Canadian Football League with theSaskatchewan Roughriders for two. In 2013, the Roughriders won the Grey Cup (the CFL's Super Bowl) and last year he registered 78 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), displaying the play-making ability he showed at Northwestern. He has bulked up from 218 pounds to 235 after signing with the Vikings in February, something that will surely help. Minnesota has some depth at the position, but if Peters can contribute on special teams he could find a way onto the active roster,
Ibraheim Campbell, S, Cleveland - The fourth-rounder will join a strong secondary in Cleveland, but should see time as a backup and special teamer. Campbell will likely have to learn to play both safety positions, but he's a smart guy (4x Academic All-Big Ten selection) and the Browns believe he could be the heir apparent to double-digit-year veteran Donte Whitner. He signed a four-year deal with the team on May 20.
Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver - Lots of people were surprised when the Broncos took Siemian with one of the final picks of the draft considering his mediocre numbers senior year and his balky knee, which prevented him from taking part in lots of pre-draft workouts. Peyton Manning is entering what may be his last year and behind him is the unproven but athletically-impressive Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert and Siemian (likely in that order at this point). The thing that is helping Siemian out, however, is he is the only quarterback on the team drafted under new head coach Gary Kubiak. Siemian, who signed a 4-year deal with only the $52,000 signing bonus guaranteed, will need to beat out Dysert for a roster spot and even then, Denver might go with just two quarterbacks on their roster.
Kyle Prater, WR, New Orleans - After being picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Saints, Prater signed a three-year deal, but like almost every other free-agent signing, very little money is guaranteed. Prater has obvious size, and he is being reunited with his receivers coach from Southern California, John Morton, who fills the same role in The Big Easy. The Saints love to spread the defense out with five-receiver sets, and they throw it a lot, so that might also help the oft-injured wideout's chances. There's a lot of competition at the wide receiver slot, but the Saints could also try to beef Prater up and see if he can compete as a tight end. The Saints traded away All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham this offseason and do not have any particular standouts at the position on the current roster.
Brandon Vitabile, C, Indianapolis - The chance to snap the ball to Andrew Luck is not a job to be taken lightly. Yet the Colts, just a few days before training camp, don't have an established veteran at the center position. Right now, the battle is between Jonotthan Harrison and Khaled Holmes. Vitabile is a longshot to start at this point, and perhaps even a longshot to make the team, but given the Colts' lack of proven depth at the position, he could wind up on the practice squad or, with an injury to the guys in front of him or strong preseason performance, the former Wildcat could end up as a backup to whoever wins the job.
Jimmy Hall, S, Oakland - Silver and Black Pride has Hall listed at safety, the position he played for Northwestern his first three years, mainly because of his speed/strength/size combination. Hall is 6-foot-1, 228 pounds, runs a 4.44-second 40-yard dash, and put up 24 bench press reps. In the NFL, those are the measurables of a safety. Hall's instincts at the position are lacking, but no team loves athleticism more than the Raiders, and considering there is much more depth at linebacker than there is at safety for the team, Hall's best shot to make the roster is, in fact, as a safety. Additionally, if Hall can translate those impressive physical attributes into special teams ability, he could nab a spot on the roster, but he will certainly have to stand out in camp.
Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, San Diego - The ultra-productive linebacker will face an uphill battle to make the San Diego roster. The Chargers are just loaded at the position: Donald Butler and Manti Te'o are both young, productive players, Kavell Conner -- a reliable veteran -- and rookie Denzel Perryman, who they drafted in the second round. It'll be tough for Ariguzo to stick in San Diego.
Tony Jones, WR, Washington - Jones provides speed and return ability, but not much else. Plus, the Redskins already have speedy returners in DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and Jamison Crowder, a fourth-round pick this year. Unless Jones shows that his hands and route running have improved immensely, it's likely that he won't stick around long with the Redskins.