Jayhawks Eye Start of NFL Training Camps
LAWRENCE, Kan. – As the summer months draw to a close and preparations for the 2015 National Football League (NFL) season begins to get underway, 13 Kansas football alumnus have earned a roster spot for their respective team’s training camp.
The AFC West Division headlines KU’s NFL ties as seven Jayhawks – three of which are coming off of a Pro Bowl season in 2014 – are set to embark on preseason training in the coming days.
The Denver Broncos All-Pro cornerback tandem of Chris Harris, Jr., and Aqib Talib, along with linebacker Steven Johnson, are scheduled to report to Englewood, Colorado on July 31.
Harris is beginning his fourth season in the league, entering 2015 and is coming off of his first Pro Bowl appearance after recording three interceptions and tallying 54 tackles. For his career, Harris has made 252 tackles and broken up 49 passes, while intercepting 10 and returning two picks for touchdowns.
Opposite Harris in the Broncos’ secondary, Talib also was named to the Pro Bowl last season after posting 64 tackles and picking off four passes – two of which were returned for touchdowns. Beginning his eighth season in the league, Talib has amassed 306 tackles and intercepted 27 passes – returning six for scores.
Rounding out Denver’s trio of Jayhawks, Johnson is looking to build from 2014 – the most productive season of his three-year career. He started seven games and saw time in 14 contests overall, notching 32 tackles and 0.5 sacks last season.
In San Diego, fresh off of a Pro Bowl bid in January, Chargers’ special teams captain Darrell Stuckey will begin training camp July 30 at Chargers Park in San Diego, California. Stuckey is entering his sixth year and in 2014 he ranked second on the team in special teams tackles, while blocking the first kick of his career.
Entering his third year in the NFL, Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson is slated to return to the Bengals’ offensive front when the team opens its camp on Friday, July 31 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hawkinson played in three games in 2014, providing depth at a multitude of positions along the offensive line.
Tampa Bay’s Bradley McDougald will report to Buccaneers’ camp on Saturday, August 1. The third-year safety saw increased time in 2014 after recording five starts and posting 50 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception.
Switching over to the NFC, the New Orleans Saints signed fullback Toben Opurum to a camp deal in December. Opurum has bounced around with several teams during his career, but is looking to crack the Saints’ rotation. Opurum reported to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for the team’s report day on July 29.
Months removed from wrapping up their collegiate careers, six rookies will get their first real taste of professional football starting in the next couple of days.
The Oakland Raiders selected linebacker Ben Heeney in the fifth round of the NFL draft and later snagged cornerback Dexter McDonald in the seventh round. Heeney led Kansas in tackles in each of the last three seasons and picked up First Team All-Big 12 Conference honors in 2014.
Joining Heeney on the Raiders’ defense, McDonald started 24-straight games at cornerback for KU, earning All-Big 12 honorable mention accolades and the conference’s player of the week award last September. Heeney, McDonald and the Raiders will begin their camp in Northern California on Friday, July 31.
In the sixth round, the Philadelphia Eagles chose cornerback JaCorey Shepherd. During his tenure at Kansas, Shepherd contributed 90 tackles, five interceptions and 36 passes defended. Shepherd and the Eagles will report to camp on August 5 in Philadelphia.
KU’s leading receiver in 2014, Jimmay Mundine, signed a rookie free agent contract with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Mundine heads into Patriots camp July 30 in Foxboro, Massachusetts, after catching 45 passes for 584 yards and three scores in his senior season at Kansas.
Wide receiver Nick Harwell will embark on his post-collegiate football career July 30 in Oxnard, California with the Dallas Cowboys. Harwell transferred to Kansas for his senior season and started all 12 games in 2014. He was KU’s second-leading receiver with 44 receptions, while ranking third with 470 yards, catching a team-best five touchdowns.
After redshirting at Kansas in 2013 and leaving the program for personal reasons before the 2014 season, cornerback Kevin Short is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs and began working out with the team in St. Joseph, Missouri on July 29.
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