Former Jayhawks in Professional Football

Sept. 3, 2009

With the NFL preseason drawing to a close, several former Jayhawk football standouts are fighting for roster spots or preparing to make an impact on Sunday’s around the NFL this fall. Here’s a look at how these former KU players are doing.

Bengals RT Anthony CollinsCollins filled in for 2009 first-round pick Andre Smith at right tackle, while Smith was holding out of training camp over a contract dispute. Collins started Cincinnati’s first three preseason games, and Bengal coaches have noticed definite improvement, since the former Jayhawk is making the transition from left to right tackle.

Bills TE Derek FineThis former Jayhawk standout is coming into the 2009 campaign preparing to split snaps with Derek Schouman as the Buffalo Bills starting tight end. Fine started the first three preseason games for the Bills and made three total catches totaling 18 yards – but Fine missed the final preseason game due to a thumb injury that also kept him out of a few practices during training camp.

Steelers C Justin HartwigJustin Hartwig is trying to improve off of a Super Bowl-winning season last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hartwig missed the first preseason game of the year due to a toe injury, but started the next two games, and is expected to start the fourth and final game, as he enters the season as Pittsburgh’s starting center.

Jets WR Marcus HenryHenry is battling for a roster spot for the New York Jets after being drafted, waived, and signed by the same team all in less than five months. Marcus Henry, one of Todd Reesing’s wide receiver targets in 2007, was the Jets’ 2008 sixth-round draft pick, and is currently vying for a spot in the crowded Jets’ receiving core.

Chargers LB James HoltFormer Jayhawk linebacker James Holt is pursuing his NFL dreams after being signed by the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent in April. Holt is towards the bottom of the projected division-winning Chargers linebacker depth chart, and is currently battling for a roster spot before the season gets underway.

Texans LG Adrian JonesAdrian Jones is going into the 2009 season as the Houston Texans third-string left guard. Jones, who missed the first preseason game, played in, but did not start the following two tune-up games for the Texans; and it is unclear whether or not he will play in the Texans’ final preseason game against Tampa Bay.

UFL’s New York Sentinels LB Joe MortensenThis former Jayhawk is going the rare route of professional football players not going to the NFL. Joe Mortensen signed with the recently formed New York Sentinels of the United Football League (UFL), who will begin their opening season in October. In a four-team league, it is difficult to see what role Mortensen will play for the Sentinels.

49ers FB Moran NorrisMoran Norris will be one of Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore’s primary blockers this upcoming season for San Francisco. The former KU fullback missed the first preseason game of the year due to injury, but started the ensuing two, and is expected to play in the fourth, as he goes into the year as the projected starting fullback for the 49ers.

Bears WR Brandon RideauRideau is in his third year after leaving Lawrence, and is vying to earn a spot on a receiver-heavy Bears offensive depth chart. Rideau is a former Chicago practice team member who has appeared in two career NFL games, and is currently listed as one of the Bears’ second-string wide receivers.

Bears LB Mike RiveraThis former all-conference Jayhawk linebacker is trying to makie it with one of the historically great defenses of all time, the Chicago Bears. Rivera is currently the third string Bears middle linebacker, and is trying to earn a spot as Chicago Bear captain Brian Urlacher’s backup.

Texans WR Mark SimmonsThe former Chargers and Texans’ practice squad member is trying to make his way onto the Texans’ season-opening roster. The former Jayhawk has yet to see playing time this year, and is battling for a highly-coveted roster spot.

Buccaneers CB Aqib TalibTalib probably has the highest profile of any ex-Jayhawk in the NFL right now, as he was Tampa Bay’s 2008 first-round draft pick. Talib will be one of the two Buccaneer starting cornerbacks this year, as he has started Tampa Bay’s first three preseason games, recording four solo tackles.