Pro Speak 7-15: NFC South and more roundball

On the docket this week in our look around the sports world for Ohio State players trying to make it in the professional ranks is a checkup with the NFC South and an update on the NBA summer league in Las Vegas.

This week Professionally Speaking has its focus on the NFC South, the division more populous with former Buckeyes than any other in the NFL.

That is mostly thanks to the Atlanta Falcons, who count six one-time-wearers of the scarlet and gray amongst their ranks: tight end Ben Hartsock, wide receiver Michael Jenkins, defensive linemen Tim Anderson, David Patterson and Simon Fraser and offensive linemen Alex Stepanovich.

It is doubtful that any of those players will take on a starring role this season, but Hartsock told his hometown newspaper, the Chillicothe Gazette, that he hopes to blossom into a dual threat with the Falcons.

He made his name at Ohio State largely as a blocker but hopes he can be a threat in the passing game as well. In 22 games with the Tennessee Titans the past two seasons, Hartsock caught 18 passes for 206 yards. When signing a four-year contract worth a reported $9 million from the Falcons in March, Hartsock joined a relatively unaccomplished tight end troupe, and he could become a safety valve for rookie first round pick Matt Ryan, a quarterback from Boston College.

"Going to Atlanta is a wonderful opportunity for me," Hartsock told the Gazette. "It's going to be my first year to go in and be a starter in this league and I'm looking forward to it."

Both he and Jenkins will hope to excel in the passing game to be installed by new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Time could be running out for Jenkins to reach the potential that prompted the Falcons to select him in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft.

Jenkins posted career highs of 53 catches and 532 yards last season, but those modest totals paled in comparison to the numbers of Roddy White, a 2005 draftee who broke out to the tune of 83 catches and 1,202 yards.

The Falcons believe White can flourish in Mularkey's offense the same way Hines Ward did when Mularkey was the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but where Jenkins fits in remains to be seen.

Among those he is likely to compete with for playing time are veterans Joe Horn and Brian Finneran as well as rookie 2008 third-round draft pick Harry Douglas of Louisville.

All of them will be under the tutelage of new receivers coach Terry Robiskie, a long-time NFL assistant and the father of current Buckeye receiver Brian Robiskie

Jenkins has long way to go to become the most accomplished former Buckeye receiver in his own division. That title now belongs to Joey Galloway, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' ageless marvel who posted his third straight 1,000-yard receiving season last year.

Now 36 years old, Galloway returns to lead the way again with the same blazing speed that made him a star at Ohio State more than a decade ago, but our Network partners at lament the fact that the Tampa Bay organization failed to find Galloway much help in the offseason.

In 13 NFL seasons with three teams, Galloway has caught 669 passes for 10,572 yards and 77 touchdowns. Among active players, only Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison and Isaac Bruce have more TD receptions, according to

In Carolina, veteran linebacker Na'Ill Diggs figures to enter training camp with a battle for one outside linebacking spot. At his heels are free-agent signee Landon Johnson and perhaps rookie Dan Connor, a third-round draft pick.

Also hoping to join cornerback Chris Gamble in the starting defensive backfield is Nate Salley, a safety who missed all of last season because of a knee injury…

In New Orleans, Will Smith will cash a far bigger paycheck than he did last season after he signed a lucrative contract extension, but could he soon be the only Buckeye on the Saint roster? Kevin Houser has handled long-snapping duties for the Saints since the start of the 2000 season, but New Orleans signed undrafted rookie Ryan Senser of Columbus St. Francis DeSales and Ohio University during the offseason...

NBA Las Vegas Summer League Update

Mike Conley Jr., a lottery pick of the Memphis Grizzlies last summer, has gotten good early reviews for his play alongside ballyhooed 2008 first rounder O.J. Mayo.

The duo, which is part of a crowded Memphis backcourt, was the subject of an feature story earlier this week in which Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni told the site he wants Conley to begin assuming a greater role of leadership as the primary point guard.

Because Mayo is a talented ball-handler and scorer, Conley also is challenged with the task of learning how to play off the ball at times.

"It's a little different," Conley said. "I'm running to the corners and spotting up, looking for opportunities to score off the ball. It's a different game for me, but I'm learning how to play that role because I'm going to have to if we play together and he brings the ball up. It's helping me grow."

In his first three summer league games, Conley averaged 11 points and shot 45.8 percent (11 for 24) from the field. He made 4 of 9 three-pointers (44.4 percent) and had one steal while posting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.0/2.67.

In four games, the rookie Mayo has averaged 18.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting 42.4 percent (25 of 59) from the floor and 58.8 percent from three-point range (10 for 17). He's struggled to protect the ball – including an eight-turnover debut – and posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.0/5.0.

Also in Vegas, Othello Hunter made his professional debut last week as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats summer league team. In his first two games, the power forward made 6 of 9 shots and totaled 13 points and one rebound in 21 minutes. He grabbed one rebound.

Professionally Speaking is a weekly feature of compiled by staff writer Marcus Hartman. It appears weekly this summer. To give feedback or suggest Buckeyes in the pros you would like to hear about, email Marcus at

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