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Ex-Cats in the NFL: 22 players in camp

'Shaggy' no more: Nick Foles has cut his long hair before his second season in Philadelphia. Photo by Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t call him ‘Shaggy’ anymore: Nick Foles cut his long hair before his second season in Philadelphia. Photo by Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When will tight end Rob Gronkowski be ready to play for the New England Patriots? Will quarterback Nick Foles beat out Michael Vick for the starting job in Philadelphia?

Those are two of the high-profile NFL preseason questions involving former Arizona Wildcats players.

But there are 20 other ex-Cats in training camp, including former UA hoopster Fendi Onobun, during week 1 of the preseason.

Here is a look at who is where:

Colin Baxter, C, San Diego
Baxter, who started an Arizona Wildcats record 48 consecutive games, is in his third NFL season. He bounced between the Chargers and the New York Jets as a rookie before landing back in San Diego late last season. The former undrafted free agent, who has appeared in 12 NFL games, is battling for backup spot in 2013.

Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago
Briggs enters his 11th NFL season, but his first without the guy he lined up next to for a decade — middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Briggs is now the face and voice of the Bears’ defense, making the defensive calls and in all ways being a leader. He is still going strong at 32, although the days of being a Pro Bowl outside linebacker might be over. He was selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls at one point; Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary are the only other Bears to accomplish that.

Eben Britton, OT, Chicago
Britton signed with the Bears this spring after an up-and-down four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He started 15 games at right tackle as a rookie in 2009 before injuries limited his availability and effectiveness. Britton was limited to a total of 11 games in 2010 and 2011. He is able to play and tackle and guard, appears healthy and rejuvenated in Chicago.

Recent story: Bears’ Britton in right place at right time (Chicago Tribune)

Dan Buckner, WR, Arizona
The undrafted free agent caught one pass for 19 yards in the Cardinal’s preseason opener on Friday night. His size (6-4, 215) helps give him a chance to latch on as a backup. “Coach says I’m getting better every day,” Buckner said on the Burns & Gambo show on 620-AM in Phoenix this week. “That’s what you’ve got to do as a rookie guy. You’ve just got to get better, try to get some eyes on you and try to get some reps in practice and the preseason games coming up.”

Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona
Cason, the 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner and the brightest defensive star of the Mike Stoops era, started the past three seasons in San Diego. He signed a one-year contract with the Cardinals in the offseason for about $2 million, plus incentives. Cason, a former first-round pick, has 12 interceptions and 55 pass break-ups in his five-year career.

Juron Criner, WR, Oakland
Criner was making some headway in the Raiders’ rotation in the second half of last season before suffering a hip injury, finishing his rookie campaign with 16 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. He’s listed as a second-string on the team’s first depth chart of camp.

David Douglas, WR, Tampa Bay
Douglas, who was undrafted in 2012, made a good impression in the New York Giants camp but didn’t make the 53-man roster. The Giants brought him back to the practice squad, where he stayed until late November when Tampa Bay signed him. Douglas, who played in one game for the Bucs, is listed as a third-string receiver and second-team punt returner.

Ricky Elmore, OLB, San Diego
Elmore 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, has been on the fringes of rosters and practice squads, seeing time with San Francisco, San Diego, Arizona and Cleveland before signing with Washington in January.

Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia
Foles might not seem like a perfect fit for first-year Eagles coach Chip Kelly, the read-option coaching whiz who had Oregon among the national elite, but Foles knows how to handle tempo and will get a fair shot to beat out Michael Vick. Foles, who started six games in his rookie season as an injury replacement for Vick, completed 60.8 percent of his passes (161 of 265) for 1,699 yards, with six touchdowns and five interceptions, last season.

Recent story: Vick, Foles battle to draw in preseason opener (Delawareonline.com)

Nick Folk, PK, New York Jets
Folk, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with Dallas in 2007, has connected on 77.9 percent of his field goal attempts (134 of 172) over a six-year career split between the Cowboys and Jets. He has hit on 13 of 24 attempts from 50-plus yards. Folk held off veteran Josh Brown in training camp last year and is competing with Billy Cundiff this preseason.

Recent story: Nick Folk balancing competition with impending birth of twins (Metro.us)

Robert Golden, DB, Pittsburgh
Golden, an undrafted free agent in 2012, made the roster as a rookie last season, playing primarily on special teams in 15 games. He’s a good bet to make the Steelers, who can move him between free and strong safety.

Chris Gronkowski, FB, San Diego
Gronkowski is with his fourth team in four seasons, going from Dallas to Indianapolis to Denver and then to San Diego this spring. Gronkowski, who was not drafted, is a tough, willing blocker who can handle a special teams role.

Rob Gronkowski can only watch for now. Photo by Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Gronkowski can only watch for now. Photo by Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
Gronk is recovering from back surgery — and while there is “positive buzz” about his rehab, it’s not yet known how early in the season he will be ready to play. Whether he’s being caught partying off the field or catching passes on it, he’s one of the most talked-about players in the NFL. Amazing stat: He has 38 touchdown receptions in 43 regular-season games in three seasons. He already has 187 catches for 2,663 yards.

Spencer Larsen, FB, Tampa Bay
The former All-Pac-10 linebacker sat out all of last season with New England on injured reserve, and then the Patriots released him this spring. Larsen spent four seasons before that with Denver, where he was a two-way player for his first two years, famously starting at fullback and at linebacker in the same game as a rookie. He signed with Tampa Bay late last month.

Earl Mitchell, NT, Houston
Mitchell is entering his fourth season with the chance to be a starter for the first time. He has been a solid contributor to the Texans, making 86 career tackles, and all indications are he’s ready for a breakthrough season after the departure of starting nose tackle Shaun Cody. Mitchell had three tackles for loss, including a sack, in the preseason opener vs. Minnesota.

Fendi Onobun, TE, Chicago
The former Arizona basketball power forward, who played one season of football at the University of Houston, is on his sixth 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.

Kyle Quinn, C, Arizona
Quinn, an undrafted free agent, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the spring but was cut before training camp. He signed with the Cardinals last week.

Brooks Reed, OLB, Houston
Reed looks to have a long career ahead of him, starting 23 of the 28 games in which he has played. 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. He has 8.5 regular-season sacks and five sacks in four playoff games.

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 the Vikings in any game during the 2011 season and appeared in six games last season. He’s battling for a spot again in camp.

Matt Scott, QB, Jacksonville
He surprisingly went undrafted but quickly landed with the Jaguars, where he gets to work under quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo, his position coach for two years at Arizona. The Jags’ quarterback race has been the story of their camp, with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne the frontrunners. Scott and Mike Kafka figure to vie for the third quarterback spot. Scott was 6 of 13 for 51 yards in the preseason opener.

Mike Thomas, WR, Detroit
Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick of Jacksonville in 2009 (No. 107 overall), had 171 catches for 1,768 yards and six touchdowns through 45 games before being traded to Detroit on Nov. 1. He caught just five passes for the Lions in nine games last season and is reported to be struggling in training camp.

Recent story: Mike Thomas No. 31 on Top 50 countdown of best UA football players

Trevin Wade, CB, Cleveland
Wade, a seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, appeared in 13 games for the Browns last season, making 13 tackles. He started at nickel back in the team’s preseason opener Thursday, contributing the final block on a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown but also getting beat for a 59-yard pass.

Matt Scott attempts a pass in the Jaguars' preseason opener Friday night. Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Scott attempts a pass in the Jaguars’ preseason opener Friday night. Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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