Preseason Roundup Of Penn Staters In The NFL
As we inch closer to the NFL season, we saw our favorite teams’ rosters slim down to the required 53-man minimums. Among the players retained by their respective NFL teams were a slew of former Penn State standouts. Here’s a recap of how notable Penn State names fared in the gauntlet that is the NFL preseason.
LB Mike Hull: Miami Dolphins
Just months after signing a free agent contract with the Dolphins, the 24-year old middle linebacker was released on Saturday. One day after being cut, Hull was re-signed by Miami, and was designated to the 10-player practice squad. The undrafted rookie showed promise of being a productive middle linebacker in the NFL, and ranked T-16 in tackles among all AFC rookies with 14 tackles and also contributed a sack in a goal-line situation.
Many thought Hull was slighted during the draft process due to his relatively small stature, given that Hull’s 6-foot frame is somewhat short for NFL standards. Regardless, the Dolphins saw past this physical flaw, and put Hull on a platform to prove his doubters wrong. Despite limited opportunities in the preseason, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hull elevated to the 53-man roster at some point in the season — be it for depth or because of injury.
TE Ross Travis: Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Ross Travis…didn’t he play basketball?” Many people thought the same thing when the former Penn State basketball player made headlines after forgoing the NBA Draft for a chance to get drafted in the NFL. Unfortunately, Travis didn’t hear his name called on draft day, but received his first professional opportunity with the Houston Texans and head coach Bill O’Brien in the form of a minicamp tryout.
After being participating in the Texans’ mini camp, Travis was relatively dormant in NFL circles — until Sunday, that is, when the Chiefs came knocking. Travis was persistent, and it paid off. The Penn Stater was signed to the Chiefs’ practice squad, where he’ll have the chance to prove his worth as well as the opportunity to break into the 53-man roster with stellar play in practice.
RT Garry Gilliam: Seattle Seahawks
Most Penn State fans remember Gilliam as a tight end, along with a single season on the offensive line. Gilliam was talented in his lone season starting at tackle for the Nittany Lions, but was deemed too raw at the position to make a significant impact early on in the professional ranks. Gilliam used that label to fuel his fire, and played with a chip on his shoulder.
Hard work has paid dividends for Gilliam, as the former undrafted player has made his way up the depth chart in the past year, and earned time with the first team at right tackle in the Seahawks’ latest preseason game against the Chiefs. Gilliam was impressive in the game, keeping Justin Houston — the NFL’s sack leader last season — away from Russell Wilson. The Seahawks recently announced that Gilliam will get the nod as the team’s starting right tackle — a commendable accomplishment for a player that started his career as a tight end.
LB Michael Mauti: New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans native is heading back home to play for his hometown team after his recent release by the Minnesota Vikings. The former Penn State linebacker was drafted by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft. After suffering knee injuries in both college and the NFL, he was limited in chances to prove his worth to the Minnesota front office. The writing was on the wall after the team used its second round pick on 2014 Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks, who starred at middle linebacker at UCLA.
The Saints were quick to jump on the New Orleans native, who has a connection to the Saints. Mauti’s father Rich Mauti — who played wide receiver for Penn State from 1975-76 — spent six seasons with the New Orleans Saints from 1977-83. In joining the Saints, it appears that Michael Mauti will be following in his father’s footsteps.
TE Jesse James: Pittsburgh Steelers
Jesse James was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and looks to be the heir to incumbent starter Heath Miller, but he’ll have his work cut out for him if that’s the case.
James wrapped up his preseason with six catches for 42 yards, but not before fumbling, missing assignments, and dropping a surefire touchdown pass in the preseason opener. James is still getting a feel for the speed and flow of an NFL game, and it might take time before he flourishes as an NFL tight end — especially in the run-blocking department. Despite this, there’s a good chance James sees action on the goal line in 2015 given his freakish size and propensity to make plays in short-yardage situations.
OT Donovan Smith: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Donovan Smith, the Buccaneers’ second round selection, has enjoyed a nice preseason, one that saw him earn the coveted starting left tackle job right out of the gate. Instead of protecting Christian Hackenberg, Smith’s duties entail keeping pressure off former Florida State standout Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay’s shiny new franchise quarterback.
Though he struggled at times throughout the preseason — especially against the Cleveland Browns midway through — Smith seems to be developing quickly, and should see his share of success during the 2015 campaign.
Stay tuned as we track the progress of every former Penn State player in the NFL as the 2015 regular season plays out.