Five undrafted, former Wisconsin Badgers are en route to NFL training camps.
Scott Tolzien will fight for his right to back up the fiery Philip Rivers in San Diego.
John Clay and Niles Brinkley are 'Burgh bound as the Steelers open up training camp with questions at both runningback and cornerback.
David Gilreath (Colts) and Blake Sorenson (Seahawks) will hope their play on special teams secure themselves at place on the 53 man roster.
The following is a look at all five former Badgers and their prospects at making it on their respective teams or someplace else in the NFL.
Tolzien isn’t the exact opposite of Philip Rivers, but he’s not far from it.
The strong-willed, strong armed incumbent is the only signed quarterback on the roster with back-up Billy Volek an unrestricted free agent. The Chargers will surely look to sign a veteran should Volek look elsewhere.
Matt Moore of the Carolina Panthers is a name being thrown around at press time. Vince Young, to me, would be a fantastic back-up plan should Rivers get injured, but that’s purely speculation on my part.
Tolzien likely chose the Chargers over teams like the Colts and Seahawks due to their depth chart and the ability to work with Head Coach Norv Turner. Apparently if you’re labeled “the guy who developed Troy Aikman” you can more-or-less gain employment in the NFL in perpetuity. Tolzien will be a clipboard holder much like his fellow Wisconsin QB alumni in the NFL and it’s highly unlikely Turner will have the time or inclination to develop Tolzien.
The Bottom line: The truth of the matter is Tolzien’s arm strength (or lack thereof), agility, and average height will limit him the next level. Still, there are worse places to improve and develop as a professional than San Diego. We always knew he was a cerebral quarterback!
Match made in heaven? Not so fast.
The Steelers haven’t had a big back play a meaningful role on the team since Jerome Bettis backed up Willie Parker in 2005. They’ve been searching for his replacement ever since, so it’s no surprise to find two other big backs on their current roster. Clay is a big and powerful back with ample wiggle and decent wheels. He has a spotty history when it comes to injuries, specifically his ankles, and his inability to play special teams will hinder his chances of making the roster.
The depth chart looks like this:
Rashard Mendenhall is signed and will start (when he’s not tweeting) when the season commences. Mewelde Moore is an undrafted free agent the Steelers would like to keep. Moore is the third down back who is excellent at catching passes and in blitz pickup. He’s also a Tomlin favorite and can start in a pinch. The guess here is that he’ll be back. The Steelers, despite Peter King’s incessant nonsense, are very unlikely to bring in Tiki Barber.
Mendenhall was the team’s goal-line back until the team discovered Isaac Redman, an undrafted free agent from Bowie State in 2009. Redman, who goes 6’ 240lbs, is the man to beat for Clay.
The team also has Jonathan Dwyer (2010 Draft pick. 6th Round, Georgia Tech), who was a highly
touted and very productive running back in the Yellow Jackets triple option system. Dwyer made the roster last season and carried nine times for 28 yards against Cleveland in the regular season finale. He’s a bigger back as well, but no where near the size of Clay.
Baron Batch was selected with the Steelers final pick in the 7th round in 2011. He’s likely an insurance policy for Moore as he is more of a 3rd down back- which should come as no surprise to those of you
who know how the Texas Tech offense operates.
The Bottom line: Clay has a chance, and those increase only slightly if the Steelers are unable to come to an agreement on Moore. Clay has the talent, but desire and health have always been big question marks for the big fella from Racine. His best chance to blow away Pittsburgh personnel in camp is to come in fit, hungry, and ready to dominate during goal-line situations and in blitz pickup.
The good news: It seems like anyone who can get on the field and catch passes for the Colts will have some level of success.
The bad news: David Gilreath is behind so many players, at wide receiver and tight end, who have contributed in recent years.
The depth chart is full of names you and I had on our fantasy teams last season: Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Blair White, Anthony Gonzalez, Austin Collie.
And don’t forget, the Colts love to deploy tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme to further confuse defenses.
Gilreath was in contact with teams such as the Chargers, Eagles, and Raiders but ultimately chose Indianapolis for one reason.
The Colts were 28th in punt returns and 29th in kickoff returns in 2010 and that, as Wisconsin (and Ohio
State) fans know is his specialty.
Despite seeing the field for four years, Gilreath is still a relatively raw prospect. His 4.41 second 40 yard dash at UW’s Pro Day was good, but not spectacular- just like his hands and route running ability. He wasn’t nearly as productive during down-and-distance situations- which explains why he wasn’t drafted.
The Bottom Line: At 5’8” Gilreath’s only chance of making a career in the league is on special teams. There are few small receiver plying their trade in the NFL and Gilreath just doesn’t have the skill-set or talent at this point to see the field one first, second, or third downs. Making the Colts roster would be a fabulous achievement for the former Badger.
The fact that the Steelers brought in Brinkley will tell you they’re not even close to set at cornerback entering the 2011 season. This is probably obvious to most of you in Wisconsin who saw Aaron Rodgers tear up the Steel secondary in the Super Bowl.
Ike Taylor will re-sign with Pittsburgh which doesn’t help Brinkley’s chances. Neither does the fact that the Steelers have used valuable, albeit not high, draft picks in search of the next great corner.
Taylor and Bryant McFadden will enter the season as the starting corners. Taylor is underrated and McFadden is overrated. William Gay started for one season but was so unremarkable the team traded to get McFadden back. That’s all you need to know, really.
Behind them, it seems the Steelers have cornered the market on unmarketable corners. Check out these studs, err, duds: Crezdon Butler, Keenan Lewis, Anthony Madison, Tuff Harris, and Donovan Warren. None of these have distinguished themselves outside of Madison, who is a special teams ace.
Pittsburgh drafted cornerbacks Curtis Brown (Texas) and Cortez Allen (The Citadel) in the third and fourth round, respectively, in 2011. Both Brown and Allen are gifted athletes but, like Brinkley, will need to be coached up. Despite adequate playing time in college, none of the three are polished. Both drafted prospects are clearly better athletes. For Brinkley, a converted wide receiver, to get a long look he’s simply going to have to outwork his classmates. You can bet the Steelers will part ways with some of the veteran corners listed above and will continue their search for quality depth on the outside. You can also bet they’ll give both drafted corners more than a fair crack at making the roster, just as they have with previous draft picks.
The Bottom line: It’s going to be an uphill climb for Brinkley. There are spots to be won, but so many challengers for those positions.
Sorensen will join fellow Badger John Moffitt in Seattle. Sorensen will also join the other six rookie linebackers on the roster. Two of the rookies (Mike Morgan and Malcolm Smith) went to Head Coach Pete Carroll’s former employer, USC, so Sorensen really up against the numbers and nepotism in the northwest.
Seattle’s starters are all slated to return in 2011. David Hawthorne and Aaron Curry play outside as Lofa Tatupu mans the middle. Key backup Will Herring is gone which bodes well for all rookies, including Sorenson. Herring came in on nickel packages, could play all three positions and was a stalwart on special teams. According to sources he’s now with the New Orleans Saints.
For those Seattle supporters scouring this piece, Blake Sorensen was that jack-of-all-trades linebacker in Madison. He too played all three positions, came in during nickel situations and contributed on special teams. Sorensen led the team in tackles and was arguably the Badgers best linebacker who dropped into coverage- an underrated aspect of his game that will appeal to NFL coaches, and specifically those in NFC West where passing is paramount. Sorensen was second on the team in interceptions and was named the team’s co-defensive player of the week in the Badgers big win over Ohio State.
The Bottom line: It may not ultimately be in Seattle, but the former “Mr. Football” in Minnesota has a chance to catch on with an NFL team thanks to his above-average instincts, ability to cover receivers, and proficiency on special teams. Seattle’s linebacker corps is crowded, but Sorensen has been productive every time he gets on the field.