2004 NFL Cougar roundup finale

IT WAS THE year of the defensive back for Washington State players in the NFL, as two rookie Cougars--<b>Erik Coleman</b> and <b>Jason David</b>--made an instant impact in the bigs, while veterans <b>Lamont Thompson</b> and <b>Marcus Trufant</b> posted impressive 2004 campaigns. Together the quartet notched 17 interceptions between them. But they weren't the only Crimson Soldiers who impressed on the gridiron this past season.

Jason Hanson and Rian Lindell proved they are among the league's elite kickers. Drew Bledsoe showed he still had the competitive fire in leading Buffalo just shy of a play-off berth. Saints special teams phenom Steve Gleason once again was proof that the NFL still has a need for blue-collar guys who give it all every play.

But the best—and most inspirational—story of any NFL Cougar in 2004 belongs to Mark Fields. The Carolina linebacker was forced to sit out the 2003 season after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Remarkably, just one year removed from his recovery, Fields is playing in the Pro Bowl today.

D.D. Acholonu, LB, Houston: Spent most of season on Texans' practice squad. Signed to active roster for season finale but did not participate.

Drew Bledsoe, QB, Buffalo: Completed 256 of 450 passes for 2,932 yards with a TD/INT ratio of 20-16…posted a QB rating of 76.6…rushed the ball 22 for 37 yards…named to USA Today's NFL All-Joe team (best blue-collar players). Will be released by the Bills by the end of the month in order to gain $4.3 million in salary cap space. May rejoin ex-coach Bill Parcells in Dallas.

Erik Coleman, S, New York Jets: His four interceptions were the most on the Jets… recorded 100 tackles (third best on team), including two sacks…also recovered a fumble and defensed nine passes…chosen to USA Today's NFL All-Joe team…named to ESPN's NFL All-Rookie team.

Devard Darling, WR, Baltimore: The Ravens' 2004 third-round draft pick was placed on injured reserve with a heel injury before the start of the regular season.

James Darling, LB, Arizona:…Finished second on the squad in total tackles, with 93—his personal best…recorded one sack and returned one interception 65 yards…forced two fumbles and defensed five passes…selected to USA Today's NFL All-Joe team.

Jason David, CB, Indianapolis: Led Indy with four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown...made 51 tackles and forced one fumble…recorded 11 pass defenses…returned eight punts for 50 yards…recently named to ESPN's NFL All-Rookie team.

Chad Eaton, DT, Dallas: Retired after Cowboys' sixth game due to chronic knee problems…tallied nine tackles…retirement ended 10 year NFL career.

Mark Fields, LB, Carolina: Notched 60 tackles in 14 games (started 10) including four sacks…made one interception and defensed three passes…forced and recovered one fumble…finished second in voting (to San Diego QB Drew Brees) for NFL Comeback Player of the Year (he sat out 2003 due to Hodgkins disease)…chosen as alternate to Pro Bowl and will play in place of injured Tampa Bay LB Derrick Brooks.

Steve Gleason, S, New Orleans:Saints' special teams captain…recorded nine tackles and blocked one punt (for third consecutive year)…despite a broken thumb, dislocated finger, concussion, hamstring, and being hospitalized for abdominal pain and a bruised lung, he missed just one game…named one of NFL's 10 best special teams players by The Sporting News.

Jason Hanson, K, Detroit: Led Lions in scoring with 100 points…was perfect on 28 extra point attempts and hit 24 of his 28 field goal tries (85.7 %).

Joey Hollenbeck, C, Seattle: Spent entire season on Seahawks' practice squad.

Rian Lindell, K, Buffalo: Led Bills in scoring with 117 points…was perfect on 45 extra points attempts…connected on 24 of 28 FG attempts (85.7%)…also punted once for 37 yards…recovered his own onside kick against Seattle.

Rien Long, DT, Tennessee: Recorded 26 tackles, including five sacks…missed one game due to MCL injury.

Rob Meier, DE, Jacksonville:Tallied 22 total tackles, including one sack…missed six games, five due to a broken fibula that occurred against Minnesota on a block by fellow Coug Withrow.

Jonathan Smith, RB, Kansas City: Signed to KC practice squad in late December…also spent a week on 49ers' practice squad…originally signed as a free agent by the Chiefs last spring but was released after suffering a hip flexor injury…assigned by the club to play in NFL Europe this spring.

Raonall Smith, LB, Minnesota: Made 27 tackles and one pick for 19 yards… was placed on injured reserve late in the season due to concussions...was having a standout year on special teams and performed exceptionally well as both a reserve LB and as a starter for three games.

Lamont Thompson, S, Tennessee: Finished third on the Titans with 64 tackles…also tallied four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown…made John Madden's Horse Trailer as co-player of the game following victory over Green Bay on Monday Night Football.

Robbie Tobeck, C, Seattle: Started all 17 games for the Hawks.

Marcus Trufant, CB, Seattle:Led the Seahawks with 96 tackles, the second cornerback in NFL history to lead his team in stops. Also posted five interceptions and one fumble recovery. Played most of the season with a sore right shoulder and recently had surgery on it.

Brian Walker, S, Detroit: Did not play: placed on Injured reserve prior to start of season.

Cory Withrow, C, Minnesota: Started in place of Viking center Matt Birk for five games…named teams' offensive player of the week following November victory over Jacksonville…missed two games with torn knee cartilage and recently had surgery to repair the problem.

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