Former Eagles: football training camp edition
Given where we are in the calendar, the focus right now is on football, and by my count there are now ten former EMU Eagles on roster with professional football teams, including five in the NFL.
Dan DeMaster recently finished his first season as a professional athlete, playing offensive/defensive line for the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League.
Ryan Downard is playing free safety for the Dresden Monarchs in the German Football League, which is the elite league for American football in Germany, where 24 leagues participate in a promotion and relegation system. Downard is also providing regular columns about his experiences for his hometown newspaper, the Lima News.
Tight end Ben Thayer, despite being a first-team All-MAC player last year, doesn’t appear to been picked up yet, but he’s coming up on lists of the top available undrafted free agents. According to his agent, Thayer ran a slow 40-yard-dash at Pro Day this spring because he was sick with a 102-degree fever.
Linebacker Neal Howey, the leading tackler on EMU’s weak 2010 defense, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks. During the NFL lockout, Howey had signed with the United Football League’s Virginia Destroyers, but since their season isn’t scheduled to start until September, he never actually played there. It’s hard to tell which players have a legitimate shot at making the cut this year due to the shorter off-season and larger training camp roster (90!). The commentary seems to be that the Pete Carroll-led Seahawks give a fair shot to their undrafted free agents. Although at 6-1 and 230 pounds he may be a little small for an NFL linebacker, he’s got outstanding speed, and his best chance to make the squad may be on special teams.
Heading into his third season in the NFL, T. J. Lang is competing with 2011 first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod to be the Green Bay Packers’ starting left guard. Both played as offensive tackles in college, and Lang’s play for the Packers the last two years was also primarily as a tackle, though he did play half a game as left guard last December. Lang hopes that with the shorter training camp due to the lockout, his knowledge of the team’s offense will give him an edge.
That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed so far this year to last year, outside of being healthy, was just my mental grasp of the offense. The first day, kind of getting back into it, there was confusion and questions. But the more each day went on, I looked at it, just started realizing that I know this stuff, it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing the repetitions.
Other former Eagles signed with NFL teams are Charlie Batch (Pittsburgh Steelers), Jason Jones (Tennessee Titans), and Kevin Walter (Houston Texans).
In the Canadian Football League, Johnny Sears won a starting cornerback spot for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but is currently on the 9-game injured list. Arrington Hicks is also on the team, but appears to be getting very little playing time. Éric Deslauriers is in his fifth year as a wide receiver/slotback for the Montreal Alouettes.
In other sports, relief pitcher Tim Combs was released by the Gateway Grizzlies on June 14, less than two weeks after signing. Martin Jeppesen won a US Amateur qualifier and will compete in the US Amateur in Erin, Wisconsin (a beautiful area, by the way), this month, and then will attend PGA Tour Qualifying School this winter with any eye to becoming a professional golfer.
Turning to coaches with EMU ties, former EMU running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley has been having noteworthy success recruiting against his former coach and alma mater, Fred Jackson at the University of Michigan. Wheatley has snagged several U-M targets for his new home, Syracuse.
Todd Monken, who was EMU’s offensive coordinator from 1993 through 1999 (under head coaches Ron Cooper and Rick Rasnick, and interim head coach Tony Lombardi) has been hired as offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Speaking of Ron Cooper, University of Louisville blog Card Games has a look back at how he parlayed a 9-13 record in two seasons at EMU into a 13-20 record in three seasons at Louisville. Subsequently, he managed to go 23-22 at Division I-AA Alabama A&M. Good times!
Finally, the University of North Dakota reports that Eric Oakley, who was a 2001 EMU graduate, an assistant softball coach at EMU for the past five seasons, and EMU interim head softball coach in 2010, has been hired as head coach of the Fighting Sioux softball team. We wish Oakley the best of luck except when he’s up against the Eagles!