Between the NFL, NFL Europe and the Arena League, former Crimson Soldiers are making tracks -- and, in some cases, huge dollars -- at the next level.
But first, let's talk about the guy who's had a frustrating few months trying to hook up with an NFL team: Running back Dave Minnich.
He went from what some pundits thought would be a fourth-round draft position to a free agent odyssey that finds no team willing to take a chance on the former Marine who Mike Price called the best Cougar back since Shaumbe Wright-Fair rode the Palouse a decade ago. Now comes the explanation.
The Tacoma News Tribune reports that there's a small piece of scar tissue in Minnich's lungs, quite possibly the by-product of a fungal infection he had while serving his country in the Persian Gulf in 1995. Minnich is in as fine a shape as ever, but his NFL stock plummeted at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis back in March when doctors found the scar tissue during a CT scan, the TNT said. The problem isn't believed serious at all, so Minnich's agents are working hard to get him an NFL contract. If not, the CFL may await.
ANOTHER COUGAR who deserves a legitimate shot at an NFL job is former Fab Five receiver Chris Jackson. He's in his third season with the Arena League's Los Angeles Avengers and on pace to shatter the various career receiving marks set by another Cougar, long-time Arizona Rattler Calvin Schexnayder, who is sidelined with an ACL injury. After missing two games earlier this month with a broken hand, Jackson returned to action last week with a vengeance, nabbing six TD receptions and 13 catches overall in a victory over Georgia.
Jackson has been on the NFL fringe since hanging up his Cougar cleats after the 1998 Rose Bowl. Twice he was one of the final cuts made by the Seattle Seahawks. In 1998 he was on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad and in 2000, following his Rookie of the Year season in the Arena League, he was signed by the Tennessee Titans. But that stint was cut short by a back injury. I say it's time he got another shot at playing on Sundays.
ROOM FOR RYP? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the Vikings have at least temporarily shelved plans to pursue a veteran backup quarterback to mentor starter Daunte Culpepper. The name believed to be at the top of coach Mike Tice's vets list was old Cougar and one-time Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, late of the Indianapolis Colts.
FORMER COUGARS were well represented in the May 27 edition of The Sporting News, which devoted a portion of each team update with an analysis of the club's respective situation at safety.
Head of the class is old Alamo Bowl Cougar Brian Walker, who signed a five-year, $10 million free agent contract with the Lions this off season after a couple of great years with the Dolphins. Walker will be playing free safety after years at the strong spot.
In New Orleans, TSN says Steve Gleason will be one of three candidates battling for two back up safety positions. Given Gleason's late-season work on special teams for the Saints the past two seasons, I think he may have an inside track. By the way, one of Gleason's mates in the Saints secondary is Dee Moronkola, who will be looking to make the team as a backup corner.
Chris Hayes, a former Cougar linebacker a la Gleason, enters his seventh NFL season with a new team: the Patriots. He signed a free agent deal with them after several productive years a spot starter and special teams star for the Jets. He'll fill the same role for the Patriots.
And finally, in Cincinnati, TSN is predicting nothing but great things for rookie free safety Lamont Thompson. Says TSN, "Thompson's smooth coming out of his backpedal and reacts quickly to the ball. He has great hands and has the needed acceleration for deep routes."
The Bengals, as you may recall, reaffirmed why they're one of the most pathetic teams in the NFL by not offering Thompson contract protection if he's hurt during the club's voluntary mini-camps. The club apparently is wary of the neck injury Thompson had two seasons ago. Bengals president Mike Brown said a few days ago that the team would protect the former All-American, but he wouldn't put it in writing. Consequently, Thompson's participation so far is mostly from the sidelines.
Elsewhere around the NFL, former Cougar QB Aaron Garcia is thought to have an edge for the third-string job in San Francisco because of his years of experience in the Arena League.
Kicker Rian Lindell, who struggled mightily last season with the Seahawks, will be pushed hard come summer camp. The Hawks are inviting every foot this side of Joe Danelo to come to camp for a tryout. The latest is Shayne Graham, formerly of the Bills.
And speaking of Seahawks, another Cougar on the roster this July will be rookie wideout Nakoa McElrath. They picked him up shortly after after the Jaquars' released him at their rookie camp.
MEANWHILE, 'CROSS the pond, NFL Europe is entering Week 8 of its season, and former Cougars Earl Riley and Kevin McKenzie are making marks with the Scottish Claymores. Riley, a safety who will be with the Dallas Cowboys come July, has 22 tackles so far. And McKenzie, a receiver who belongs to the Raiders, has seven catches for 73 yards.
Marcus Williams, another former Cougar receiver who will be trying to catch on with the Raiders this season, is on injured reserve for the Amsterdam Admirals. The 6-5, 233-pound Williams will audition for the Raiders as a tight end.