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5 Most Surprising Stars of 2012 NFL Training Camp

Stephen WhiteFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2012

5 Most Surprising Stars of 2012 NFL Training Camp

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    Every year, a few players come out of nowhere during training camps and make a name for themselves.

    Sometimes they are undrafted rookies. Sometimes they are veterans who haven't played much. Sometimes they are guys who had to play in another league for a while before getting their shot in the NFL.

    These guys start off the offseason totally off the radar, but by the time the season rolls around they are on the verge of becoming household names. It's still early in training camp, but here are five players who have made the most of their opportunities this year.

Barry Church

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    After choosing not to re-sign last year's starting safety, Abram Elam, the Dallas Cowboys brought in veteran Brodney Pool in free agency and selected Matt Johnson in the fourth round of this year's draft. All indications were that they were uncomfortable handing the starting safety job to Barry Church, opposite Gerald Sensabaugh.

    Unfortunately, Pool failed a conditioning test and Johnson started training camp injured, giving Church the perfect opportunity to show what he could do with the starters.

    Instead of being satisfied with having the job by default, Church went out every day and impressed the coaching staff by raising his game to a new level.

    He was so impressive, in fact, that the Cowboys decided to release Pool last week and announce that Church, who, in his two previous years in the NFL, started only one game, had indeed won the job.

    He carried that momentum over into the Cowboys' first preseason game with the Raiders Monday night and had a strong showing in an otherwise dismal game for both teams. 

    After looking at quite possibly being third on the depth chart at the start of the preseason, Barry Church has to be one of the most surprising stars of training camp this year.

Rod Streater

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    Oakland Raiders undrafted rookie free agent Rod Streater has been making quite the impression in training camp. At 6'3" and 200 pounds, Streater is a big target at wide receiver. Due to injuries as well as his performance, he has been getting some reps with the starters during camp.

    On Monday evening, he was one of the few Raiders on offense to show up and ended their first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys with a team-high six receptions for 66 yards. 

    It's hard to believe that Streater only had 19 catches last year while playing with Temple. One thing is almost certain: If he continues to perform at a high level and stays healthy, he should easily eclipse that number this year for the Raiders. 

    From going undrafted to rising up the depth chart, Rod Streater is definitely a surprise training camp superstar.

Courtney Roby

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    New Orleans Saints wide receiver Courtney Roby has been in the NFL since 2005. In all of that time he has hauled in only 24 receptions, instead making a name for himself on special teams, earning the title of captain for that unit with the Saints.

    This preseason, however, he has been showing up on offense as well. 

    In the Saints' first two preseason games Roby has nine catches for 139 yards, leading the team in both categories. This performance is all the more impressive when you consider that he has caught only one pass in the last five seasons.

    If Roby makes the team, it will likely still be because of what he brings on special teams. But what he is doing at receiver is still outstanding and surprising.

    Roby is proof that you don't have to settle for just being a special teams player, even after several years in the league. By leading the Saints in all receiving categories, he has distinguished himself as a surprise camp superstar.

Phillip Hunt

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    Two years ago, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Phillip Hunt led the CFL in sacks with 16. Now he is making some noise in the NFL as a pass-rusher in training camp. 

    With the injury to former Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole, Hunt has been able to showcase his wares with the starters. He built on his strong beginning to training camp with a two-sack effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Eagles' first preseason game last Friday.

    Obviously, those opportunities will be limited when Cole comes back, but Hunt has shown what he can do when he gets a chance to play. If he continues his strong training camp, he is likely going to see more time in the rotation once the regular season starts.

    Hunt was thought to be too small to play in the NFL when he initially came out of college, but he never gave up his dream. You may not know his name now, but if he continues his fantastic play in camp, he may well end up being the next Cameron Wake

    Whether Hunt ever reaches Wake's level or not, going from the CFL two years ago to being a dominant pass-rusher in his first preseason game this year qualifies him as a surprise camp superstar.

Vontaze Burfict

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    There was a time when Cincinnati Bengals rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict was thought to be a sure thing as a high first-round pick.

    Then he decided to tank the end of his senior season, perform horribly in pre-draft workouts and reportedly flunk a drug test before the draft in April. At that point, just about everyone wrote him off. That included all 32 NFL teams, as none of them were willing to use a draft pick to get him.

    After the draft was over, however, Burfict was granted a lifeline by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. He was going to get his shot to play football in the NFL after all, but few had any expectations for him at that point.

    Burfict, perhaps sensing that this would be his only shot, has come into camp and has done everything right, showing that he belongs there. After starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga went down with an injury in Friday's preseason game against the New York Jets, it was Burfict who came in for him and performed admirably. The highlight of his night was picking off Jets quarterback Tim Tebow to end a second-half drive.

    His performance thus far has led Coach Lewis to the belief that he will definitely be a full-time starter in the NFL one day. That's an amazing turnaround for a guy who I wasn't sure would even make an NFL roster as recently as April.

    A turnaround like that makes him one of my surprise camp superstars.

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