CINCINNATI - With the 2012 NFL regular season having kicked off last night, 17 former Bearcats student-athletes have secured their spot on an NFL roster. Of these 17 former student-athletes, five were members of the 2011 BIG EAST and Liberty Bowl Champion Bearcats football team who seized their first opportunity to play at the next level.
Former Bearcats and 2012 second-round NFL Draft selections Derek Wolfe and Isaiah Pead highlight this list as rookies poised to make significant impacts on their respective teams. Wolfe is first on the depth chart at left defensive end for the Denver Broncos, while Pead is second on the depth chart at running back and figures to be a change of pace third down back for the St. Louis Rams.
Third-round draft choice John Hughes stakes his claim as first on the depth chart at one of the defensive tackle positions for the Cleveland Browns, while fourth-round draft pick Adrien Robinson occupies one of the backup tight end positions for the New York Giants, defending Super Bowl Champions. After being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars late last week, linebacker J.K. Schaffer was promptly picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and will start the regular season on the Bucs' practice squad.
In what has become a haven for former Bearcats as they blossom into NFL elite, three former student-athletes continue to man starting spots for the Philadelphia Eagles. As a rookie last season, center Jason Kelce jumped right into the starting role and quickly became a leader of the Philly offensive line. Kelce was joined in the huddle by tight end Brent Celek, who finished last season strong with 294 receiving yards and a touchdown each week in the Eagles' final three contests. Defensive end Trent Cole turned in another dominant performance in 2011, tallying 11 sacks despite being slowed by injuries.
The Cincinnati Bengals are again featuring local collegiate talent with fourth-year punter Kevin Huber and first-year Bengals wide receiver Armon Binns, who is battling for snaps as the No. 2 wide receiver in the Bengals' offense.
Another tri-state team boasts a former Bearcats duo with offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach and defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews holding down the trenches for the Indianapolis Colts. Linkenbach will serve as the backup at right tackle, while Mathews is second on the depth chart at defensive end.
One-time two-sport athlete at UC and current Houston Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin, is coming off a monster 2011 season in which he posted 11.5 sacks. This high mark was ninth highest in the NFL last season.
After spending four seasons as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, safety Haruki Nakamura landed in Carolina via free agency and will start at free safety in 2012 for the Panthers.
Third-year long snapper Mike Windt continues to be an integral component on special teams for the San Diego Chargers.
After being released following training camp last season by San Diego and recently being released by the Cincinnati Bengals during final cuts, wide receiver Vidal Hazelton has caught on with the Tennessee Titans and will begin the season on their practice squad.
Safety Brandon Underwood was placed on injured reserve by the Oakland Raiders after seeing action in the preseason.
A trio of former Bearcats assistants, John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens), Rex Ryan (New York Jets), and Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers) are current NFL head coaches. Harbaugh was a UC assistant from 1989-96, Ryan from 1996-97, and Tomlin was on the UC staff from 1999-2000.
Both Harbaugh and Tomlin have assistants on their staff with UC ties. Amos Jones (1999-2002) is an assistant special teams coach in Pittsburgh. Jerry Rosburg (1992-95) serves on Harbaugh's staff in Baltimore as the Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams and has coached in the NFL for over 10 years. Don Martindale (1997-98), a former UC defensive line coach, joined the Ravens staff in 2012 coaching the inside linebackers and senior offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg was on the UC staff from 1990-93 and has coached nearly 30 years at all levels of football.
The Cleveland Browns staff features two former UC letterwinners in linebackers coach Bill Davis (1985-88) and offensive line coach George Warhop (1981-82). Davis is in his 18th season as an NFL assistant, previously serving as defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Warhop, a center during his time at UC, has coached in the NFL for 16 seasons during stints for the Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, and St. Louis Rams.
Former UC aide Bill Sheridan (1989-91) is defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while Tracy Rocker (1997) enters his second season with the Tennessee Titans after a storied collegiate career that included a stint with 2010 National Champion Auburn. Former linebackers coach William Inge (2008-09) is in his first season as an assistant defensive line coach with the Buffalo Bills.
Former defensive coordinator Mark Duffner (1977-80) was a collegiate head coach at Holy Cross and Maryland before coaching in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers. He is currently the Jacksonville Jaguars linebackers coach.
Stay tuned to GoBEARCATS.com throughout the NFL regular season and the playoffs as we keep you updated on the Bearcats in the NFL.