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ND in the NFL: Rice Week

| Tuesday, August 26, 2014

As of Tuesday evening, Notre Dame has 39 former players on NFL rosters. This number includes one player (defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore) on injured reserve and two players (safety Zeke Motta and receiver TJ Jones) on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Ten NFL teams have multiple former Irish players on their rosters. Here’s a quick look at those teams and how the Irish players fit into their rosters:

New England Patriots

The perennial AFC powerhouse Patriots currently have running back Jonas Gray, linebacker Darius Fleming and center Braxston Cave.

After bouncing between Miami and Baltimore the last two seasons, Gray has stood out in the Patriots backfield, as he leads the team in rushing with 130 yards on 30 in three preseason games. Gray ran for 98 yards on 12 carries and had a 20-yard touchdown run called back in New England’s 42-35 victory over Philadelphia on Aug. 15. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen already in the Patriots backfield, carries will be hard to come by for Gray, but he might be able to find a spot on special teams.

The Patriots signed Fleming, who has torn his ACL twice in the past two seasons, in May, and the Chicago native has totaled 11 tackles in three games, including seven in New England’s 23-6 loss to Washington on Aug. 7. Current projections indicate that Fleming is likely to make New England’s 53-man roster.

Cave is expected to battle for a spot on the Patriots practice squad.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals, who were eliminated in the wild card round of last season’s playoffs, currently have tight end Tyler Eifert and center Trevor Robinson.

Eifert, Cincinnati’s first-round pick in 2013, has been slowed by a shoulder injury and has only played in one preseason game, making one catch for three yards in the Bengals’ 41-39 loss to Kansas City on Aug. 7. Eifert has said he is day-to-day with the injury, and he will not require surgery for it.

Robinson, who has played in 19 games for the Bengals over the past two seasons, is projected to battle for the backup center position with veteran lineman Mike Pollak.

Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City, who lost in the wild card round of the playoffs last year, features tight end Anthony Fasano, tackle Ryan Harris and defensive end Kona Schwenke.

Fasano, who is entering his ninth season in the NFL, has seven receptions for 70 yards in three preseason games. Fasano scored three touchdowns in nine games with the Chiefs last season.

Harris, a veteran of 78 NFL games, signed with the Chiefs in July after spending last season with Houston. He is expected to battle for the starting spot at right tackle, which opened up after Donald Stephenson was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Schwenke has been battling a shoulder strain and has not yet appeared in any preseason games.

Oakland Raiders

Oakland features a rookie in running back George Atkinson III and one of Notre Dame’s longest-tenured NFL players in defensive end Justin Tuck.

Atkinson III, the son of former Raiders safety and current team broadcaster George Atkinson Jr., has two rushes for two yards and one catch for two yards in the preseason, but he did score a two-point conversion in Oakland’s 31-21 loss to Green Bay on Saturday. Atkinson’s best shot at making the Raiders will likely come on special teams — he had 2,136 kick return yards in his time at Notre Dame.

After nine years and two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants, Tuck signed a two-year contract with the Raiders in the offseason. He has four tackles in three preseason games and is expected to start at the left defensive end position.

San Diego Chargers

San Diego, another team coming off a playoff appearance last season, has linebacker Manti Te’o and offensive lineman Chris Watt on its current roster.

Te’o, who missed three games last year with a sprained right foot, sat out San Diego’s preseason game against San Francisco on Sunday with a sprained left foot. Te’o has eight tackles in two preseason games, including six in a 41-14 loss to Seattle on Aug. 15, and is projected to be a starter at the inside linebacker position.

Watt has been competing with third-year lineman Johnnie Troutman for the right guard spot, which is open while returning starter Jeromey Clary is on the PUP list. Troutman started the game against San Francisco.

New York Giants

New York drafted cornerback Bennett Jackson in the sixth round of May’s NFL Draft and signed linebacker Dan Fox as an undrafted free agent shortly thereafter.

Jackson has recorded four tackles in the Giants’ three preseason games. Jackson will likely find a role on New York’s special teams, as he was a key special teams contributor in his first two seasons at Notre Dame.

Fox has added two tackles and one pass defended in preseason action. Despite some early playing time, few projections have Fox making the team’s 53-man roster.

Detroit Lions

Detroit has three former Notre Dame offensive stars on its roster in receiver Golden Tate, running back Theo Riddick and Jones.

After winning a Super Bowl with Seattle last season, Tate signed a five-year contract with the Lions in March. Tate, who is expected to play opposite Lions’ star receiver Calvin Johnson, has seven catches for 91 yards and one touchdown in three preseason games with his new team.

Riddick, who played in 14 games for Detroit last year, has been talked about as potentially being one of the Lions’ breakout players this season. He hasn’t gotten many touches at running back, only rushing for two yards on four carries in three preseason games, but he has seen action as a slot receiver, racking up 51 yards on four catches in preseason action.

Jones was designated for the PUP list after he had offseason shoulder surgery. This designation requires Jones to sit out the first six weeks of the season. After that time period expires, the Lions can decide when to allow him to begin practicing and whether they would like to put him on the 53-man roster.

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota has earned the nickname of “Notre Dame North” in the last few years and despite the loss of tight end John Carlson in the offseason, the Vikings still have safeties Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton, tight end Kyle Rudolph and center John Sullivan.

Smith has been a starter at safety since being drafted by the Vikings in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Smith, who played only eight games last season after suffering a foot injury, has seven tackles in three preseason games.

The starter spot for the safety position alongside Smith is open and Blanton, who was drafted by the Vikings in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft, is a contender for the position. He missed the team’s first two preseason games with a hamstring injury, but received 34 snaps at the position in Minnesota’s 30-12 victory over Kansas City on Saturday.

Rudolph signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason and has looked like the type of player that made him a Pro Bowl selection in 2012. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder has seven catches for 148 yards in preseason action and hauled in a 51-yard touchdown pass in Minnesota’s 30-28 win over Arizona on Aug. 16.

Sullivan has started 77 games for Minnesota since the start of the 2009 season, and the former All-Pro center is expected to anchor the offensive line in front of starting quarterback Matt Cassel.

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta, the current subject of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” has taken two Notre Dame players in the last two NFL drafts, selecting Motta in the seventh round in 2013 and linebacker Prince Shembo in the fourth round in May.

Motta, who played in 10 games for the Falcons last season, was placed on the PUP list while he continues to recover from a cervical fracture suffered last December.

Shembo is currently second on the Falcons with 13 tackles through three preseason games. He also recorded a sack in Atlanta’s 16-10 victory over Miami on Aug. 8. Shembo is expected to play behind incumbent linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu, but he did receive increased snaps with the first-team defense earlier this week.

Arizona Cardinals

If Minnesota is “Notre Dame North,” then Arizona is deserving of the moniker “Notre Dame South,” as the Cardinals have four former Irish players in tight ends John Carlson and Troy Niklas, receiver Michael Floyd and running back Robert Hughes.

After spending four years with Seattle and the past two years with Minnesota, Carlson signed with Arizona in March. Carlson has had a quiet preseason, not recording a catch in three games, but he’s expected to earn a starting spot in the Cardinals offense.

The Cardinals’ second-round draft choice in May, Niklas will look to earn some reps alongside Carlson. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound tight end was slowed by injuries in the offseason and has recorded only one catch in preseason action.

Floyd emerged as a top target in his sophomore campaign, totaling 65 receptions and five touchdowns last season, and was recently named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Breakout Team. He missed the team’s first two preseason games with a groin injury but played and had one catch in Arizona’s 19-13 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.

Hughes, who has played with five different NFL teams since 2011, ran for 26 yards on nine carries and scored a touchdown in Arizona’s 30-28 loss to Minnesota on Aug. 16. Hughes, who has also caught three passes for 18 yards, will look to compete for a backup spot behind starter Andre Ellington.

Other Quick Hits

– Pittsburgh defensive end Stephon Tuitt has zeroed in on the starting left defensive end job for the Steelers. Tuitt, who was a second-round draft pick in May, has eight tackles in three preseason games.

– Former Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen won Chicago’s backup quarterback job after a strong preseason showing. The former Carolina quarterback has thrown for 280 yards and two touchdowns on 24-for-37 passing in three preseason games and beat out Jordan Palmer for the right to back up Jay Cutler.

– Dallas offensive lineman Zack Martin, who played left tackle at Notre Dame, has received the majority of snaps at right guard for the Cowboys and is expected to start at that position for the team’s season opener.

– Some notable former Notre Dame players cut during the preseason include quarterback Brady Quinn and running back Cierre Wood. Quinn, who had been hired as an analyst by Fox Sports in late July, signed with Miami in early August and was released Tuesday after appearing in just one preseason game. Wood was released by Baltimore on Monday after racking up just seven yards on five carries in the preseason.

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About Brian Hartnett

Brian Hartnett is a senior marketing major and journalism, ethics and democracy minor. The Carroll Hall resident hails from Clark, New Jersey and covers Notre Dame football, as well as other University topics.

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