Tracking the Tigers

With the stunning loss at Troy on Thursday, some Missouri fans might not have noticed that the NFL season began that evening, as New England defeated Indianapolis 27-24. The season starts in earnest Sunday and there will be several Tigers on the field. Check inside for a look at where these former Missouri standouts are being paid to play these days.

Players on NFL active rosters: 4

Dwayne Blakley (1998-2001): Blakley has been in the NFL for three seasons now, but is still officially a first-year player. He spent time on four practice squads over the past two seasons, in Kansas City, San Diego, Miami and Tennessee. He was one of the final cuts by the Titans this fall, but was picked up by Atlanta soon after. He is currently listed as a third-stringer behind Alge Crumpler and Eric Beverly.

Justin Gage (1999-2002): After being drafted by Chicago in the fifth round in 2003, Gage developed into a weapon for the Bears in the second half of last season. After being inactive for the first five weeks of the season, he finished with 17 receptions for 338 yards, including two touchdowns. Gage nearly cracked the starting lineup this season, but sits second behind David Terrell at one receiver position. Gage should see plenty of playing time this season and could emerge as one of offensive-challenged Chicago's top scoring threats.

Steve Martin (1992-95): Now a nine-year NFL veteran, Martin is a second-string defensive tackle for Minnesota. Martin played in 14 games, starting eight, with Houston in 2003. He accumulated a career-high 92 tackles with the Texans last season and should prove an adequate back-up for starting tackle Chris Hovan with the Vikings this season.

Justin Smith (1998-2000): The talented defensive end remains Missouri's highest draftee, when Cincinnati snagged him at No. 4 in 2001. Smith is one of the keys to a rapidly improving Bengals defense. He has started the Bengals' last 43 games, recording five sacks last season and 20 over the past three years, the most on the team in that span. The Jefferson City native finished 2003 third on the team with 91 tackles and will start again this season at right defensive end.

Players on practice squads or injured reserved: 3

Rob Droege (2000-03): Joining Gage in Chicago is Droege, who had an outside chance to make the Bears' two-deep at tackle. That didn't happen, as Droege tore his left ACL, a season-ending injury, in a preseason game. The Bears thought enough of Droege to put him on the injured reserve list, meaning he'll stay with the Bears this season and receive a six-figure salary as an undrafted rookie.

Michael Harden (2000-03): After signing with Seattle as an undrafted free agent, Harden made the Seahawks' practice squad, quite an accomplishment for the former walk-on from Kansas City. Harden is the only cornerback on the practice squad and Seattle carries just four cornerbacks on its roster, meaning an injury could open the door for his arrival on the active roster.

Keith Wright (2001-02): Wright was a sixth round pick of Houston in 2003 and shuttled between the Texans' practice squad and active roster for much of last season. Indianapolis signed him as a free agent in January. Wright made the Colts' roster this season but was deactivated before Indianapolis' season-opening loss Thursday. He is listed third on the depth chart at right defensive tackle, behind Montae Reagor and Josh Williams.

Free agents: 6

Zack Abron (2000-03): Abron was signed by Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in May. He was among the Falcons' early rounds of cuts and has yet to land with another team.

Russ Bell (2002-03): Bell was briefly a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, picked up as an undrafted free agent. He is no longer with the team.

Kirk Farmer (1999-2002): After a strong performance in NFL Europe, where he led the Frankfurt Galaxy to the championship game, Farmer was released by Kansas City. Farmer was briefly affiliated with Dallas but is now without an NFL employer.

Rick Lyle (1990-93): After recording nine tackles for New England last season, Lyle, an 11-year NFL veteran, was not resigned and is currently a free agent.

A.J. Ricker (2000-03): Ricker was cut from the Bears on the same day Droege was placed on injured reserve. An undrafted rookie free agent, Ricker could not fight through the depth Chicago has on the offensive line. To this point, another team has not picked him up.

Otis Smith (1988-89): Now with 14 years in the league under his belt, Smith played in all 16 games and made 49 tackles with 1.5 sacks for Detroit last season. He was signed by New England, whom he played four seasons with, in April. He did not make the team and is currently a free agent.

If I missed any players, please e-mail me.

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