NFL Europe Stars: Ready For the Next Step

In the NFL Europe League, they were stars. Now, several players have returned to America with a notion to make the NFL their home. Hoping to follow the likes of Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme and Adam Vinatieri, players such as B.J. Tucker of the Seahawks get ready for the next step.

They proved themselves abroad, and soon it will be time to do it again at home.

The NFL Europe League brought down the curtain on its 13th season in exciting fashion on Saturday, June 11 as the Amsterdam Admirals earned a 27-21 victory over the Berlin Thunder in World Bowl XIII before a crowd of 35,134 at the LTU Arena in Düsseldorf, Germany.

"The season in Europe ended with a thrilling World Bowl that featured terrific performances all over the field," NFL Commissioner PAUL TAGLIABUE told NFL Network last week. "It was exactly what we had hoped to see at the conclusion of the season. We have so many young, talented players who get an opportunity to play in Europe, to mature and to develop. It’s very important for people to see how they do in game conditions. There were many players in the World Bowl that will follow in the footsteps of the players who first achieved success in NFL Europe before accomplishing great things in the NFL."

The Europe League, which enjoyed record attendance in 2005 by averaging 18,965 fans per game, has provided players with valuable experience through the years that has been an integral factor in their development.

In 2004, 262 players with NFL Europe experience appeared on NFL rosters, including five All-Stars – kicker DAVID AKERS, defensive tackle LA’ROI GLOVER, guard MARCO RIVERA, kicker ADAM VINATIERI and guard BRIAN WATERS. Countless other NFLEL players made a positive impact, such as return specialist DANTE HALL, quarterbacks JAKE DELHOMME and KURT WARNER, and guard JOE ANDRUZZI.

So who’s next?

A position-by-position sneak preview of the 2005 NFL Europe League standouts who may be poised to make an impact at NFL training camps this year:

QUARTERBACKDAVE RAGONE, Houston/Berlin

Ragone was NFL Europe’s top-ranked quarterback and Offensive Most Valuable Player, finishing with a 97.5 passer rating and leading the league with 1,746 yards and a 62.9 completion percentage. His 13 touchdowns tied for an NFL Europe high, but perhaps most impressive, he threw only two interceptions in 251 attempts, finishing with a league-record streak of 174 consecutive passes without a pick. NFL Europe veteran quarterbacks have made a big impression, as 27 such QBs have started in the NFL. "NFL Europe is a great opportunity to improve your game by actually playing in games," says Texans head coach DOM CAPERS. "Dave took full advantage of the experience." Added Texans starting quarterback DAVID CARR: "I think what Dave did was great for him. The confidence he has now from actually playing in games is great."

From NFL Europe QB to the NFL: JAKE DELHOMME, JAY FIEDLER, BRAD JOHNSON, JON KITNA, KURT WARNER

RUNNING BACKJARRETT PAYTON, Tennessee/Amsterdam; JOE SMITH, Tennessee/Rhein

The Titans watched a pair of backs excel in Europe and now JARRETT PAYTON and JOE SMITH return to compete for a job behind starter CHRIS BROWN. Payton, son of NFL legend WALTER PAYTON, tied an NFL Europe 2005 season high with seven rushing touchdowns. He rushed for 578 yards and ranked second with a 5.6 yards-per-carry average. "NFL Europe really helped me improve my game," says Payton. "Now it’s all about showing that improvement and trying to win a job with the Titans."……Smith led NFL Europe in rushing, becoming only the third player in league history to run for 1,000 yards in a season, finishing with 1,026.

From NFL Europe RB to the NFL: AARON STECKER

WIDE RECEIVERAARON BOONE, Carolina/Berlin; RUVELL MARTIN, San Diego/Amsterdam

Boone was a sure-handed option for the Thunder, leading NFL Europe with 43 receptions for 582 yards and five touchdowns. And in what might be a crucial factor in winning a roster spot with the Panthers, he led NFL Europe with 14 special teams tackles. "I feel like I’m so much better now than I was coming out of college," says Boone. "I really feel a comfort and confidence level that I’ll try to carry back to Carolina." Adds Panthers head coach JOHN FOX: "Aaron did very well in NFL Europe and we’re looking forward to getting him in here and seeing what he can do."……In San Diego, RUVELL MARTIN will seek to capitalize upon his success abroad. Martin was perhaps the league’s foremost big-play threat, leading NFL Europe with a record-tying 12 touchdown receptions and 679 receiving yards on 37 catches.

From NFL Europe WR to the NFL: BRIAN FINNERAN, DANTE HALL, MARCUS ROBINSON

OFFENSIVE LINETYSON CLABO, Denver/Hamburg; CHAD SETTERSTROM, New Orleans/Amsterdam

Clabo started all 10 games at guard for Hamburg and was named to the All-NFL Europe League team. He is hoping to be the next success story from NFL Europe to make a contribution along Denver’s offensive line that has produced 1,000-yard rushers in nine of the past 10 years. Broncos starters MATT LEPSIS and BEN HAMILTON both were standout players in the NFLEL before earning their current jobs with the team……Setterstrom helped Amsterdam lead NFL Europe in rushing, starting all 10 games.

From NFL Europe OL to the NFL: JOE ANDRUZZI, MARCO RIVERA, BRIAN WATERS

TIGHT ENDMARK ANELLI, Atlanta/Frankfurt; BOBBY BLIZZARD, Arizona/Hamburg

Blizzard started all 10 games for Hamburg, finishing with 34 receptions for 335 yards and two touchdowns. The All-NFL Europe selection used his time abroad to improve his blocking, pass catching and route-running abilities, leaving him in better position to compete for playing time in Arizona. "The players we sent to NFL Europe were all in the situation where they had to develop, and the best way to develop would be to play in games," says Arizona head coach DENNIS GREEN. "It was a chance to play, to play well, and to show they can be a legitimate NFL player."……Anelli was the most productive tight end in NFL Europe this season, leading the position with 36 catches (and three TDs), finishing as the league’s fifth leading receiver.

From NFL Europe TE to the NFL: BYRON CHAMBERLAIN, DANIEL WILCOX

DEFENSIVE LINETIM MC GILL, New York Jets/Hamburg; GREG WHITE, Chicago/Cologne

McGill spent 2004 on the Jets’ practice squad before earning valuable playing time in Europe. The Chicago native started nine of 10 games for Hamburg and was recognized as one of NFL Europe’s best DLmen. He is hoping to follow the footsteps of Jets defensive tackle ALAN HARPER, who was a Europe League standout with Scotland in 2004 before earning a job with New York and playing in 11 games last season……White led the league with 7.0 sacks and is hoping his efforts abroad lead to a spot with the Bears.

From NFL Europe DL to the NFL: LA’ROI GLOVER, GARY STILLS, KEITH TRAYLOR

LINEBACKERNICK MC NEIL, Green Bay/Hamburg; RICH SCANLON, Kansas City/Berlin

Scanlon led the league with 94 tackles and was named the NFL Europe Defensive Most Valuable Player. He is hoping to continue the legacy of Chiefs who have tasted NFL success following stints abroad. In the 13-year history of NFL Europe, Kansas City has had 17 Europe League veterans emerge as starters, including three who went on to the Pro Bowl – DANTE HALL, GARY STILLS and BRIAN WATERS. Scanlon hopes to be next, as he will compete for the starting middle linebacker position. "He was the Tazmanian Devil over there," says Chiefs head coach DICK VERMEIL. "He was all over the field making plays. It was good for his confidence."……Green Bay’s McNeil was an all-league selection and impact player for Hamburg, finishing with 61 tackles and seven special teams tackles.

From NFL Europe LB to the NFL: MIKE MASLOWSKI, DONNIE SPRAGAN, NATE WAYNE

DEFENSIVE BACKBLUE ADAMS, Tampa Bay/Rhein; SCOTT CONNOT, Kansas City/ Amsterdam; B.J. TUCKER, Seattle/Amsterdam

Tucker started all 10 games at cornerback and finished with five interceptions, tying for the league lead. He showed a knack for the big play, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and adding 19 tackles and 11 passes defensed. "Going to Europe was about getting my feet wet again," says Tucker. "Last year I didn’t see any time with the Seahawks, so I was glad they allocated me. I was able to get some playing experience."……Cornerback Adams led NFL Europe with 16 passes defensed and was an all-league selection, as was safety Connot, Amsterdam’s leading tackler (66).

From NFL Europe DB to the NFL: DEKE COOPER, NICK FERGUSON, KELLY HERNDON

KICKERTODD FRANCE, Tampa Bay/Hamburg

France set an NFL Europe League record with 91 points, connecting on 24 of 34 field-goal attempts, including a 54-yarder. He will likely compete with MATT BRYANT for the Buccaneers’ kicking position. "I believe I can win the job, and if I didn’t, I shouldn’t be there," says France. "It will depend on how I perform in practices and preseason games. NFL Europe was a positive thing because you get game experience and film to show the coaches you can compete at this level."

From NFL Europe K to the NFL: DAVID AKERS, LAWRENCE TYNES, ADAM VINATIERI

PUNTERB.J. SANDER, Green Bay/Hamburg

Sander led the league with a net punting average of 36.6 and will compete for the punting job in training camp. Packers special teams coordinator JOHN BONAMEGO said Sander’s time in NFL Europe was more beneficial than if he had remained at home working out. "He had a solid season," says Bonamego. "The biggest thing was getting game experience. You can’t simulate what it’s like in a game. Getting yourself ready during the week, to the pregame, to gametime, a punter has to be ready the entire game. It’s a mental exercise."

From NFL Europe P to the NFL: DARREN BENNETT, BRIAN MOORMAN, SCOTT PLAYER


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