Monday, December 29, 2014

UConn in NFL: Week 17 report

It's been quite an interesting journey for UConn products in the NFL this season. With the regular-season ending today, Darius Butler is the only former Husky likely to see time in the playoffs as he will be a key performer in the secondary for Indianapolis.

The highlight in Week 17 is Jordan Todman and Dwayne Gratz scoring touchdowns in the Jacksonville's 23-17 loss to Houston. It is just the second time that two former Huskies scored touchdowns in the same NFL game.  In Indianapolis' 45-44 playoff win over Kansas City last year Donald Brown had scoring runs of 10 and 3 yards while Anthony Sherman had 5-yard TD pass. This is the second season in a row five UConn products had touchdowns in the regular season and the fifth time in the last six seasons TDs were scored by former Huskies.

The best UConn related stories involved a trio of former defensive stars. Danny Lansanah spent time in the camps of four different NFL teams before finding a home in Tampa Bay. In a 2-14 season with few bright spots, Lansanah's breakout season with the Buccaneers was something to behold. In the 2014 NFL draft Shamar Stephen had a chance to be a mid-round pick but he slid down to the seventh round. Perhaps some teams are kicking themselves after the Minnesota Vikings rookie finished third among NFL interior linemen with 23 tackles this season. Then there is the story of perseverance courtesy of Trevardo Williams. A fourth-round pick of the Houston Texans in the '13 draft, he had 3 1/2 sacks in the 2013 preseason but injuries dashed his hopes of becoming a part of the Texans' plans. Arizona and Indianapolis both signed and then cut UConn's career sacks leader. Finally the Washington Redskins gave him a shot. He was signed to Washington's practice squad on Dec. 2 and exactly a week later was promoted to the active roster.

Another feel-good story was Anthony Sherman's emergence into a vital cog in Kansas City. He was in limbo when Bruce Arians took over in Arizona since he doesn't utilize the fullback so Sherman was traded to the Chiefs. Pro Football Focus, which rates every play in every game, had Sherman as the top-rated fullback pretty much all season long. While he did not get selected to the Pro Bowl, clearly people are noticing.

It wasn't all good news. Yawin Smallwood bypassed his final season of eligibility to turn pro and wasn't taken until late in the seventh round. He failed to make the Atlanta Falcons out of training camp. Smallwood had to wait nearly three months before he was signed to the Tennessee Titans' practice squad. Also, from Aug. 26-Sept. 9 Kashif Moore, Lawrence Wilson and Nick Williams saw their dreams of playing in the NFL during the 2014 season come to an end when they were waived. Four former Huskies ended the season on injured reserve. Donald Thomas, signed to upgrade the Indianapolis Colts offensive line, spent all but two regular-season games on IR over the last two seasons due to twice tearing his quadriceps muscle. Tyvon Branch and Sio Moore, both defensive stalwarts with the Oakland Raiders, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson of Titans also saw their seasons end prematurely. When the dust cleared, there were 10 teams to finish with at least 10 losses and seven of them featured UConn players on the active roster.

Here's the final breakdown of the season
Will Beatty, OT New York Giants: Started in 34-26 loss to Philadelphia. Started all 16 games at left tackle
Tyvon Branch, DB Oakland: Had 30 tackles in three games before being put on injured reserve with foot injury.
Donald Brown, RB San Diego: Had 10 carries for 39 yards and an 8-yard catch in 19-7 loss to Kansas City. Finished first season with Chargers with 223 rushing yards and 221 yards on 29 receptions.
Darius Butler, CB Indianapolis: Had one tackle in 27-10 win over Tennessee had 45 tackles in 13 games.
Marcus Easley, WR Buffalo: Did not have a catch in 17-9 win over New England. One of NFL's best special-teams players had 11 tackles in 10 games
Dwayne Gratz, CB Jacksonville: Had four tackles and returned interception 55 yards for touchdown in 23-17 loss to Houston. Finished season with 51 tackles.
Ryan Griffin, TE Houston: Had 8-yard catch in 23-17 win over Jacksonville. After being targeted just three times in first 11 games he had eight catches on 12 targets in final five games.
Danny Lansanah, LB Tampa Bay: Had two tackles in 23-20 loss to New Orleans. Had 79 tackles with 1.5 sacks and three interceptions.
Robert McClain, CB Atlanta: Had six tackles in 34-3 loss to Carolina. Finished season with 59 tackles and two interceptions, both off of New Orleans QB Drew Brees.
Sio Moore, LB Oakland: Finished season with 90 tackles and three sacks despite missing five games in injury-shortened second season
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Detroit: Did not play in 30-20 loss to Green Bay. Did not appear in a game for playoff-bound Lions this season
Kendall Reyes, DT San Diego: Had two tackles in 19-7 loss to Kansas City. Finished season with 32 tackles and one sack.
Anthony Sherman, FB Kansas City: Did not have a catch or reception in 19-7 win over San Diego. Had two carries for eight yards and 71 yards on 10 receptions.
Shamar Stephen, DT Minnesota: Had three tackles in 17-9 win over Chicago. Finished with 23 tackles
Jordan Todman, RB Jacksonville: Had five catches for 46 yards including 23-yard TD and seven carries for 52 yards. Finished third in NFL with 972 kickoff return yards . Also had 186 rushing yards and 198 receiving yards.
Trevardo Williams, LB Washington: Did not have a tackle in 44-17 loss to Dallas. Had five tackles including a sack in three games.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Tennessee:  Had 57 tackles including first career interception in 11 games but finished season on injured reserve.


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