NFL camps have started … do you know where your former Arizona Wildcats are?
Offseason news has been dominated by ex-UA tight end Rob Gronkowski, who followed up his record-setting second season with the New England Patriots with what is widely referred to as the “Summer of Gronk.”
Let the Boston Globe describe it:
“Gronkowski, in no particular order, won a celebrity home run derby at the Triple-A All-Star Game (reportedly hitting one 325 feet), appeared on The Choice, a dating show, co-hosted Access Hollywood Live, judged a celebrity bikini contest in Las Vegas and walked the ESPY’s red carpet. He also attended the premier of the movie “Ted,” hung out with Kim Kardashian, was one of the naked cover boys for ESPN The Magazine, and ran a viral video campaign trying to land on the cover of the Madden video game.
Oh, and he also signed a six-year contract extension worth $54 million – the richest deal ever given to a tight end. It includes $18.17 million in guaranteed money.”
Oh, to be Gronk.
Gronk is the headliner among the former Arizona Wildcats in the NFL, with 22 players on camp rosters.
Here is a look at who is where:
Colin Baxter, C, San Diego
Baxter, who started an Arizona Wildcats record 48 consecutive games, bounced between the Chargers and the New York Jets as a rookie. The former undrafted free agent is battling for a backup spot in camp with San Diego.
Recent story: Baxter, Molk at center of Chargers competition (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago
Briggs is the most-decorated of the former Wildcats in the NFL, a stalwart on the Bears’ defense for the past nine seasons, recording 969 tackles. Being selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls puts him in unbelievable company in franchise history; Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary are the only other Bears to accomplish that. He is still going strong at 31, and he signed a contract extension in the spring to take him through the 2014 season.
Eben Britton, OT, Jacksonville
Britton started 15 games at right tackle as a rookie in 2009, but injuries have limited him to 11 games over the past two seasons. The Jags hope he can lock down the right tackle position, again, in camp.
Antoine Cason, CB, San Diego
Cason, the 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner and the brightest defensive star of the Mike Stoops era, has started the past two seasons for the Chargers, breaking up 17 passes each year. The former first-round pick has 10 career interceptions in four NFL seasons.
Juron Criner, WR, Oakland
One of the most prolific receivers in school history (209 catches for 2,859 yards and a UA-record 32 touchdowns), Criner drew rave reviews in Raiders’ OTAs and minicamps after being selected in the fifth round. Could be a steal.
Recent story: Raiders’ Criner signs contract on eve of first practice (CBSSports.com)
Gino Crump, WR, Arizona Cardinals
The undrafted free agent had a good senior season (65 catches, 610 yards, two TDs) and was signed by the Cardinals on May 30. Before that, he attended the Buffalo Bills mini-camp, but was retained. Said Cardinals star WR Larry Fitzgerald in the Arizona Republic in June: “He’s explosive; he has really good hands, a good feel.”
David Douglas, WR, New York Giants
Douglas faces long odds as an undrafted free agent, but he showed great hands and route running at Arizona, and his athleticism was often underrated. He made 117 receptions in his final two seasons with the Cats.
Ricky Elmore, OLB, San Diego
He was a sixth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2011, but didn’t make it through camp while trying to transition from a prolific college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker. Elmore, who had 21.5 sacks in his final two seasons at Arizona, is getting another chance with the Chargers.
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia
An Arizona quarterback in the NFL? Foles, who rewrote the Wildcats passing records, will try to become the first former UA quarterback to throw a pass in an NFL game since Bill Demory in 1973. Foles, a third-round pick, could battle Mike Kafka for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Michael Vick, according to some reports.
Recent story: Foles has strategy to attack Birds’ playbook (CSNPhilly.com)
Nick Folk, PK, New York Jets
Folk, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 2007, has connected on 49 of 64 field goals in his two seasons with the Jets and has hit from beyond 50 yards in each of his five NFL seasons. He and veteran kicker Josh Brown will compete in camp for a roster spot.
Robert Golden, DB, Pittsburgh
Golden, an undrafted free agent, started at cornerback and safety with Arizona. He’ll be trying to latch on with the Steelers at safety.
Adam Grant, OT, Denver
Undrafted after the 2010 season, Grant stuck with the Broncos’ practice squad all of last season and was invited back to camp.
Chris Gronkowski, FB, Denver
His favorable rookie season in Dallas in 2010 took a bad turn when he missed a block that got quarterback Tony Romo injured. Gronkowski played seven games for the Colts last season before being shut down because of a torn pectoral muscle. Perhaps he will get a chance to do this season what he didn’t last year with the Colts — protect Peyton Manning.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
The NFL party boy is coming back from post-Super Bowl ankle surgery (he says it’s 100 percent) and he will try to continue his march toward being one of the great tight ends in NFL history. He caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns last season (a record for tight ends).
Recent story: Bill Simmons tells three crazy Rob Gronkowski stories from the ESPYs (BusinessInsider.com)
Spencer Larsen, FB, New England
The former All-Pac-10 linebacker was a two-way player for his first two seasons in Denver, famously starting at fullback and at linebacker in the same game as a rookie. After four seasons with the Broncos, Larsen moved on to the Patriots in the offseason. He signed a two-year contract but will have to earn a roster spot in camp; his special teams ability will help.
Earl Mitchell, DT, Houston
Mitchell is a third-year pro who has been a solid contributor to the Texans, making 55 career tackles, and he’s back to battle Shaun Cody again for playing time at nose tackle. He might not be the traditional plugger in the middle of the 3-4 front, but he puts his athleticism to good use and should have a long NFL career.
Fendi Onobun, TE, Buffalo
The former Arizona basketball power forward, who played one season of football at the University of Houston, is on his fifth NFL team after being a sixth-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2010. He has played in four NFL games, making two catches.
Brooks Reed, OLB, Houston
Reed was excellent as a rookie last season, stepping into a starting role and making 45 tackles, including six sacks in the regular season. The former UA defensive end — a second-round pick — is quick with his pass-rushing first step, and Wildcats fans know all about his relentless motor.
Recent story: Texans LB coach: Sky’s the limit for Brooks Reed (Houston Chronicle)
D’Aundre Reed, DE, Minnesota
Reed, despite being a backup at Arizona, was intriguing enough as an athlete to be a seventh-round pick in 2011. He was not active for any game last season.
Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville
Thomas, a fourth-round pick in 2009, set a franchise rookie record with 48 catches for 453 yards. He followed up with team-highs in catches in each of the past two seasons, although the Jags’ aerial attack was rather anemic last year with rookie QB Blaine Gabbert. Thomas, who caught 44 passes for 415 yards last season, will have a new running mate this season to spark the passing game — two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State.
Paul Vassallo, LB, Arizona
Vassallo, signed as an undrafted rookie free agent, made 172 tackles, including 13 for loss, in his two seasons with the Wildcats after transferring from junior college.
Trevin Wade, CB, Cleveland
The seventh-round rookie had a solid senior season, bouncing back from junior struggles, and looked good in various offseason activities. “I think he’s got a feel for playing the game at corner,” Browns coach Pat Shurmer recently told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
–DE Lionel Dotson (Buffalo)
NOTE: Former UA returner/receiver Travis Cobb, an undrafted free agent after the 2010 season, worked out for the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday.