WKU Football begins its fall camp in three days but nine former Hilltoppers hoping to make NFL rosters are already back on the gridiron as NFL Training Camps began last week.
Antonio Andrews (Titans), Xavius Boyd (Bills), Derrius Brooks (Saints), Jonathan Dowling (Raiders), Jack Doyle (Colts), Andrew Jackson (Colts), Kadeem Jones (Rams), Bobby Rainey (Buccaneers) and Quanterus Smith (Broncos) are all in camp as of July 30th and aiming for roster spots.
NFL teams carry 90 players into their training camps and must narrow their rosters down to 53 players a week before the regular season begins. Rosters must be trimmed to 75 players two days before the final preseason game and finalized at 53 two days later. Of the 53 players on the roster, 46 are allowed to dress on game day.
Former Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year Quanterus Smith is the lone WKU alum entering his second training camp with the same team. Denver Broncos head coach John Fox gave Smith high praise in Denver’s 2013 training camp, telling Sports Illustrated’s Peter King the following: “When we studied him, we saw a first-round talent. That’s the kind of flyer you take on draft day, using a fifth-round pick on a kid who has rare talent and you just hope he can make it back from the injury. So far, I really like what I see.”
Smith showed flashes of his ability last summer but was ultimately placed on injured-reserve to give more time for his surgically repaired ACL to heal. This summer, Smith has been working with the first-team defense while DeMarcus Ware recovers from injury and has impressed coaches and media. Smith will likely be behind All-Pro caliber defensive ends Von Miller and Ware to start the season but should get opportunities in Denver’s defensive rotation.
Former All-American running back Bobby Rainey took advantage of his first starting opportunities last season in Tampa Bay and rushed for 532 yards and five touchdowns. Rainey persevered after being cut by the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns early in 2013 and was a bright spot for the Buccaneers once Doug Martin went down with a season-ending injury. He scored his first-career touchdown in game-winning fashion for the Bucs on Monday Night Football versus the Dolphins and strung together a pair of 100-yard rushing performances against the Falcons and Bills.
Rainey signed a one-year contract with the Bucs during the offseason and will battle Mike James for the No. 2 spot behind Martin this season.
Jack Doyle entered his rookie training camp with the Titans last summer but wound up on his hometown Indianapolis Colts roster after Tennessee cut him late in the preseason. Doyle played in 15 games and was primarily used as a blocking tight end, but still caught five passes for 19 yards. The Colts return No. 2 tight end Dwayne Allen from injury and Coby Fleener is locked in as the No. 1 option, but Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton relies on the tight end position heavily in his offense. Doyle will battle fourth-year South Carolina product Weslye Saunders and Miami rookie Erik Swoope for the No. 3 tight end spot.
Two-time all-conference linebacker Andrew Jackson joins Doyle in Colts camp after being drafted by Indianapolis in the sixth round of May’s NFL Draft. The Colts run a 3-4 defensive scheme, which requires two inside linebackers, so that should earn Jackson significant reps in camp. Jerrell Freeman and D’Qwell Jackson will start in the middle for Indianapolis this season so he will have to battle veteran Kelvin Sheppard and Josh McNary for a position in the substitution rotation.
Jonathan Dowling led college football with six forced fumbles during his junior season at WKU and was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the seventh round of May’s NFL Draft. NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt lauded Dowling as one of the steals of the draft and “guarantees” he will be a special teams demon and good safety for Oakland. Dowling may not crack Oakland’s safety rotation as a rookie but his speed and aggressiveness should earn him a spot on special teams at the least.
Two-time All-American running back Antonio Andrews was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans shortly after the NFL draft ended in May. Andrews will be in the midst of one of the deepest running back battles in NFL Training Camps this season as Shonn Greene, Bishop Sankey, Leon Washington and Jackie Battle join Andrews in the backfield. A roster spot may depend on Andrews’ ability to shine on special teams, which was key for Bobby Rainey when he made the Ravens roster as a rookie in 2012.
2013 SBC Defensive Player of the Year Xavius Boyd is in Buffalo’s training camp, former defensive back Derrius Brooks is with the Saints and former fullback Kadeem Jones is in camp with the Rams. Boyd is one of eight healthy linebackers in Bills camp and Jones has missed the first couple days of Rams camp due to injury. Brooks racked up 35 tackles, three interceptions and six pass breakups with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders in 2013 and gets his opportunity to crack an NFL roster in New Orleans this summer.