Alumni Association: Vols in the NFL

Keeping up with the NFL preseason, there are 3 Vols who were drafted and are battling for roster spots.  In draft order, let's take a look at their progress:

Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots

If you happened to keep up with NFL draft day, you'll remember that most prognosticators thought that the Patriots reached with their pick when they selected Mayo at 10th overall.  (Never mind that their next pick was in the second round, nobody would trade them down, and LB was their position of greatest anticipated need in the next few years.)  Give the completeness of the Pats, the Mayo pick was intended to give them a smart, aggressive, hard-hitting linebacker that they could train for a year or two before replacing one of their vets.  Well, that was the intent.

Somebody should have given Mayo the memo on that on.  Or perhaps they did.  Either way, Mayo has been a force on the field so far.  Mayo led the team with 7 tackles - 5 of which were solo.  Most of those tackles came in the first half, when the Tampa Bay 1st team offense was on the field.  Nothing but good news has come from the practice sessions either. 

He's keeping his head screwed on straight, too.  When asked about that helmet-ejecting hit, he downplayed its significance in favor of looking at the things he needed to work on.

In short, if he keeps this up, he may surpass that "ease into the system" approach and earn a starting spot this year.  I dont know if he'll make it by the first game, but it's not out of the question, either.

Brad Cottam, Kansas City Chiefs

News on Cottam is a little harder to come by than Mayo.  As a third-rounder, he just doesn't generate as much press attention as a #10 pick to the Darth Patriots.  But all reports have him entrenched firmly as the #2 TE for the Chiefs.  Considering that the #1 TE is Tony Gonzalez - a likely first-selection HOFer - that's not too shabby.  They're learning to love the things we wished we had seen more of:  great hands, huge size, amazing speed, solid blocking.  Given the right development, Padawan Cottam might become the next TE Force in the Chiefs' history once Master Gonzalez retires.

In the game against Arizona, Cottam led Tight Ends with 4 catches for 38 yards.  You have to be careful how much you read into that; Gonzalez only had 1 catch, indicating that he wasn't kept in for too long.  But getting 4 catches means that he got 4 good looks and succeeded with them.

In other news in the game, Cottam had to leave with a bruised shoulder.  When that's the only note about you in the team's game log, it suggests that the team writer isn't focused on your other plays, so don't expect too much news from that front for a while.  Again, that's understandable when they're used to writing about Gonzalez.  Give him time, though, and he'll be generating his own press.

Erik Ainge, New York Jets

If finding news on a 3rd-rounder wasn't hard enough, try finding news on a 6th-round QB.  Oh, and he goes to a team that trades for some other QB, though I just can't recall the guy's name right now.  Hold on... who? ...  oh, thanks, Mayor!  (Linked rather than embedded for mercy.  See?  I'm not completely cruel.)

Simply put, Erik has a harder road.  With that guy as the starting QB, the other QBs will take a backseat in terms of practice field reps and preseason looks.  There are already 2 other QBs on the roster - Clemens and Ratliff - who have been a part of the Jets organization and are further ahead in the playbook.  One of the most direct mentions of Erik from Mangini is not as shining as you'd want, though that's certainly no death knell for a 6th-round QB in his first training camp.  At least he has the funny thing going for him.  Who knew he had a personality?  (I kid.)

But Erik has not seen any preseason time yet, and I doubt he will as the final two games are usually used to get the 1st-stringers ready for the real games.  When asked about the "non-Favre" QBs (yes, it's that obsessive), Mangini mentioned that Ainge was on the show-team and can "make a case for himself".  Oy.  He's got a real chance, but he's going to have to fight for it and it'll probably take a couple of years.  Give him time.  After all, there was a certain 1st-round QB who languished for years behind Favre before getting a shot.  (By the way, if you're still looking for someone to fill the lead role in your church's Christmas pageant, I think Rodgers is still available.)

Summary

As was the case last week, it seems that Mayo has the best shot early.  Cottam will see some rotation time, but is waiting for the Gonzalez to retire.  Ainge is waiting for the unretireable one to retire simply to get a chance to practice with the team.  Expect them to have their opportunity for the big time in draft order.

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