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ND in the NFL: Irish impress in August

Notre Dame has 42 former players on NFL rosters at preseason’s halfway point. Irish Illustrated takes a closer look at how many former Notre Dame players will survive the next major cut down day, which is less than a week away.

Football will soon be running at full speed.

NFL teams are halfway through the preseason with two games complete. Another round of exhibitions begins Thursday and runs through the weekend. And it’ll be an important slate as every club must pare its roster to 75 by 4 p.m. next Tuesday.

Several former Notre Dame players hope to remain employed.

There are currently 42 of them on NFL rosters league wide. Arizona, Detroit and the New York Giants lead the way with four former Irish players each. Irish Illustrated takes a team-by-team look.

Arizona (4): WR Amir Carlisle, S Matthias Farley, WR Michael Floyd, TE Troy Niklas

Michael Floyd joins Larry Fitzgerald as the established veterans for Arizona, which is 0-2 this preseason after going 13-3 last year. Troy Niklas has turned in his best camp yet, making two catches for 44 yards on three targets in the first exhibition game. Niklas remains part of a deep tight end rotation, however, with Darren Fells and Jermaine Gresham. Amir Carlisle has yet to make a catch in two games. Matthias Farley signed with Arizona as an undrafted free agent and could be on the verge of sticking. He’s made nine tackles, including one for loss, through two games. Pro Football Focus graded Farley as the best rookie safety through the first two games of the preseason.

Atlanta (1): S Sergio Brown

Atlanta added Brown to its roster last week, offering an opportunity for the veteran safety. Brown spent last season in Jacksonville, where he played 15 games and made 29 total tackles.

Baltimore (2): OT Ronnie Stanley, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore

Stanley has so far lived up to the billing of a first round pick (sixth overall). Pro Football Focus graded Stanley as the best rookie offensive tackle through two preseason games. Lewis-Moore is battling it out for a roster spot and helped himself in the first preseason game with five tackles, three of which were solo. Rookie defensive end Bronson Kaufusi recently suffered a broken ankle and is out for the season, widening the door for Lewis-Moore.

Buffalo (1): S Robert Blanton

Blanton is in Buffalo after a four-year run in Minnesota. Right now Blanton is slotted as the backup free safety, but his preseason form has been solid with five total tackles in the first two games. He also nabbed an interception in a 21-0 win over the Giants in the second exhibition.

Carolina (1): LS J.J. Jansen

There might not be a more secure former Notre Dame player in the league. Jansen is entering his eighth season as the long snapper for Carolina. He’s appeared in every game each of his first seven seasons and went to the Pro Bowl in 2013.

Chicago (1): LB Jarrett Grace

Chicago signed Grace as an undrafted free agent. He’s made three tackles through two preseason games in hopes of latching onto the roster.

Cincinnati (1): TE Tyler Eifert

Eifert hasn't appeared this preseason while continuing to rehab following surgery on his left ankle. Earlier this week, he started jogging and still hopes to suit up for the season opener Sept. 11 against the Jets. Eifert had a breakout season last year with 52 receptions for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns in 13 games.

Cleveland (1): FB Robert Hughes

Hughes is trying to catch on in Cleveland but is behind incumbent Malcolm Johnson, who’s a few years younger.

Dallas (3): WR Chris Brown, OL Zack Martin, LB Jaylon Smith

Let’s start with the easy one: Martin has been entrenched as the starting right guard in Dallas since his rookie season. He’s made the Pro Bowl both years, was first team All-Pro as a rookie and second team last season. Jaylon Smith continues to rehab his knee after a horrific bowl game injury. There’s been some optimism he could play the season, but it’s more likely he misses the duration. Brown, an undrafted free agent signing, made three catches for 19 yards on seven targets during the first preseason game. He didn't have a catch in the second and broken his foot.

Detroit (4): WR TJ Jones, RB Theo Riddick, WR Golden Tate, CB Darrin Walls

Notes: Detroit continues to be one of the top employers of former Irish players in the league. Tate remains the most established and is working his way into form with three catches for 41 yards in the second preseason game. TJ Jones has three catches for 25 yards total in two games while also working on the kick return team. Theo Riddick has been the preferred third down back in Detroit for a couple seasons. He has 11 carries for 32 yards total so far. Walls is the newest addition after four seasons with the New York Jets. He has four tackles this preseason.

Houston (2): WR Will Fuller, OL Nick Martin

Notes: Fuller is battling for a starting spot and put his best foot forward in the second preseason game with four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. His score came from 25 yards out. Martin stood out early in camp, at one point being listed as the starting center, but has struggled with injuries of late. He missed a week of practice with a back injury, returned, then suffered an ankle injury that could require surgery. Stay tuned on that front.

Jacksonville (2): DL Sheldon Day, TE Ben Koyack

Notes: After some early optimism Day would climb up the depth chart, a lingering back injury has kept it from happening. Day hasn’t been practicing and didn’t again earlier this week. Koyack remains active but hasn’t yet made a catch after spending last season on the Jaguars practice squad. Jacksonville briefly had running back Jonas Gray on its roster as well, but a quad injury led to his release last week.

Kansas City (1): CB KeiVarae Russell

Notes: Kansas City drafted Russell with its third round selection and has seen some early returns. Russell registered four tackles in the first preseason game and now has five total.

Miami (1): OT Sam Young

Notes: Young is new to Miami and now on his fourth team since coming into the league with Dallas in 2010. He most of the last three seasons in Jacksonville. Last season, as a backup at both tackle positions, Young made three starts.

Minnesota (3): TE Kyle Rudolph, S Harrison Smith, OL John Sullivan

Notes: Smith has blossomed into one of the very best safeties in the league last year while making his first Pro Bowl, meaning his preseason preparation is more about staying healthy than actual production. ESPN.com listed Smith at No. 41 overall in its top 100 players. Rudolph has a couple receptions for 54 yards on four targets so far this preseason. Sullivan missed all of 2015 with a back injury that required two surgeries. But the early returns on his progress have him as the presumptive starting center again.

New York Giants (4): CB Bennett Jackson, DT Louis Nix, DE Romeo Okwara, LB Ishaq Williams

Notes: It’s safe to say the Giants have probably gotten more out of a couple undrafted free agents — Okwara and Williams — than most could’ve expected. Okwara has seven tackles and a sack, grading out as the top rookie 4-3 defensive end, according to Pro Football Focus. Williams has made 10 tackles, including seven in the second preseason game. Nix has been coming on of late while registering five total tackles. New York needs some depth at defensive tackle, so there might be room for him on the roster. Jackson, who might’ve started at free safety last season if not for tearing his ACL during the preseason, is now fighting for a roster spot. He’s taken some practice reps at cornerback as well and is playing on some special teams units.

Oakland (1): RB George Atkinson III

Notes: Atkinson had a breakout performance of sorts in the first preseason game with five carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns. He scored on runs of 53 and 35 yards. His second game ended with just three carries for three yards and one catch for another 15.

Pittsburgh (2): OT Ryan Harris, DE Stephon Tuitt

Notes: Tuitt has quietly established himself as a quality cog in the Pittsburgh defense. Last season he had 6.5 sacks in 14 games, all starts. He’s made three tackles so far this preseason. Harris is in his first season with the Steelers and in a battle to start after winning a Super Bowl with the Broncos while starting at left tackle.

San Diego (2): LB Manti Te’o, OL Chris Watt

Notes: Te’o has turned in a solid preseason despite limited production in games (just one tackle) and is likely a starter at one of the inside linebacker positions in San Diego’s 3-4 defense alongside former Miami standout Denzel Perryman. Watt has been on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list while recovering from knee surgery. He still counts against the roster number. Trevor Robinson played last season in San Diego but was waived during the offseason.

San Francisco (1): DL Ian Williams

Notes: Williams had a strong 2015 season with 65 tackles and one sack. San Francisco originally signed him to a five-year contract extension in light of that performance but an offseason ankle injury, which will cost him the entire season this fall, reduced that deal to one year.

Seattle (1): RB C.J. Prosise

Notes: Prosise suffered a hamstring injury the first day of camp and had been out until earlier this week, when he donned pads and returned to practice. He’ll be looking to get his first preseason action in the third game and get up to speed in a battle for the third down back role.

Tennessee (2): TE Anthony Fasano, CB Cody Riggs

Notes: Riggs spent all of last season in Tennessee as a reserve cornerback and special teams player. He’s made two tackles so far while trying to lock up a roster spot. Fasano, meanwhile, is well established and is considered all but a lock to make the roster even in a reserve role.

Washington (1): S David Bruton

Notes: Bruton, a veteran safety, signed with Washington this offseason after winning a Super Bowl with Denver despite missing the end of last season with an injury. He’s made one tackle so far this preseason while trying to lock up a starting spot.


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