Nittany Lions In The NFL Playoffs
The NFL’s regular season has come to a close, and teams fortunate enough to make the postseason will now be pitted against each other as they attempt to capture the ever-elusive Lombardi Trophy. Penn State has always held a presence in the NFL, with a total of 28 Nittany Lions currently playing on NFL teams. That presence will be felt in the 2015 NFL playoffs, as 10 Nittany Lions currently play on playoff bound teams. Let’s take a look at which players will be playing for a chance to win the Super Bowl.
DT Jordan Hill — Seattle Seahawks
In his second NFL season, Jordan Hill enjoyed a much improved 2014 campaign that saw him almost triple his statistics from the previous year. Hill established himself as a pass-rushing threat after recording 5.5 sacks, including two against Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in Week 11. Hill also reminded fans why he was drafted in the third round by flashing some versatility, recording 19 total tackles, recovering three fumbles, and picking off Shaun Hill in the team’s regular season finale against the St. Louis Rams. With a more experienced Hill in the rotation, the Seahawks could pose a threat to make yet another postseason run.
OT Garry Gilliam — Seattle Seahawks
Garry Gilliam’s journey to the NFL was not easy by any means, but when the opportunity presented itself, Gilliam took full advantage. After going undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, Gilliam signed onto Pete Carroll’s Seahawks squad. He caught the eye of Carroll during training camp, and thanks to his hard work throughout the offseason, earned a spot on the team. Early on in the season, Gilliam was limited to reserve work due to the talent ahead of him on the depth chart. However, as the season progressed, the injury bug struck the Seahawks’ offensive line, and Gilliam would be forced into action. He saw action at offensive tackle and was forced to start at offensive guard — a position Gilliam had never played — due to an injury to starter James Carpenter. Gilliam was also used in certain packages as a blocking tight end, given his previous experience at the collegiate level. Gilliam’s versatility is the reason why Seattle took a chance on him, and is what will help him succeed in the NFL as he continues to grow into his role on the Seahawks’ talented front five.
TE Andrew Quarless — Green Bay Packers
Drafted in the fifth round in 2010, Quarless played an important role in Green Bay’s offense during the team’s title run as a rookie, playing mostly as a situational tight end in certain packages. After former Packers’ tight end Jermichael Finley went down with a spinal cord injury in 2013, Quarless was pressed into a starting role. In 2014, Quarless enjoyed a productive season playing as NFL MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers’ safety valve, and provides another viable receiving option when teams focus on Randell Cobb and Jordy Nelson; two of the team’s most prolific receivers. In 2014, Quarless recorded 29 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns, and will be an important factor in Green Bay’s offense as the team looks to capture its second Super Bowl title in five seasons.
DT Devon Still — Cincinnati Bengals
The story of Devon Still and his daughter Leah, who is currently battling pediatric cancer, resonated throughout the country as a feel-good story in the midst of the troubling cases of Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. Unable to focus primarily on football given Leah’s medical emergency, Still was initially among the players who fell victim to roster cuts prior to the start of the regular season. However, in a touching act of good will, the Bengals resigned Still to the team’s practice squad, so that Leah’s medical expenses would be covered by the team’s insurance policy. The team also made Still’s jersey available for sale on the team’s website, with all of the proceeds donated towards the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Pediatric Research Center. The final totals soared well north of a million dollars, and made Still’s jersey the team’s best seller. On a football note, Still played well enough early on in the season and was elevated to the 53-man roster. Still finished the 2014 regular season with 19 total tackles, and figures to contribute to the Bengals’ rotation up front as the team prepares for a wild-card matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.
OG John Urschel — Baltimore Ravens
John Urschel, who was selected in the fifth round in 2014, came into training camp with the expectation that he would serve as a backup to veterans Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda; two of the team’s higher-priced players. Urschel waited in the wings, and was rewarded with his patience as the injury bug struck the Ravens up front late in the year, and Urschel was pressed into action. In all, Urschel made three starts at left guard during the regular season in relief of an injured Osemele, and with second-year right tackle Rick Wagner headed to the injured reserve list, Urschel now becomes an important factor in Baltimore’s rushing attack. Marshal Yanda, who started over Urschel at right guard during the regular season, will take over for Wagner at right tackle, meaning Urschel will start at right guard. Excelling as a run-blocker, Urschel will now be tasked with paving the way for Ravens’ feature back Justin Forsett, who rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014 after filling the void left by Ray Rice.
LB Glenn Carson — Arizona Cardinals
Glenn Carson, who joined the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent, had a relatively quiet rookie season, as he played in a reserve role behind veterans Kevin Minter and Larry Foote in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ 3-4 system. Carson experienced his finest game starting in place of the injured Foote in the regular season finale, recording nine tackles against Frank Gore and the San Francisco 49ers. Foote will return for the Cardinals’ wild-card matchup against the Carolina Panthers, meaning Carson will return to his reserve role. Carson proved that he can play with the big boys with his impressive Week 17 performance, so expect to see him roaming between the hashmarks if injuries once again plague the Cardinals’ linebacking corps.
C/OG A.Q. Shipley — Indianapolis Colts
A.Q. Shipley, who was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens prior to the start of the 2014 season, was a valuable player for the Colts up front as the team captured the AFC South divisional crown. Shipley’s 2014 season was one of both triumph and uncertainty. He was thrust into action early in the season at center, but remained a constant variable in the lineup, as he was shifted constantly along the Colts’ offensive line. Shipley was the ultimate teammate, ready at a moment’s notice. He was injured in the team’s regular season finale, but his ankle has been upgraded to day-to-day, meaning he should be available to play in the team’s wild-card matchup with Devon Still and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Players on Injured Reserve:
WR Jordan Norwood — Denver Broncos
LB Sean Lee — Dallas Cowboys
DE Jack Crawford — Dallas Cowboys (eight tackles, two sacks during 2014 regular season)