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VOL. 40 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 13, 2016

Not drafted? No problem. Many Vols beat the odds

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Ramon Foster has been a mainstay on the Steelers’ line since week 10 of the 2010 season after signing with the team in 2009 as a free agent. He is from Ripley.

-- G. Newman Lowrance Via Ap

Tennessee football fans probably remember Tyler Bray throwing for 34 touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards in 2013. Or, they might remember tales of Bray throwing golf balls and beer bottles off the balcony of an apartment building near the UT campus the previous year.

What’s Bray doing now?

He’s in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Bray hasn’t thrown a pass in an NFL game, yet signed a two-year contract extension early last September through the 2017 season. It’s worth at least $1.925 million and could increase to $4.425 million, according to ESPN.

Bray isn’t the only former UT player who reached the NFL as an undrafted free agent and has stayed there.

Knoxville native Britton Colquitt signed with Denver in 2009 after going undrafted and enters his seventh season as the Broncos’ punter. Many wondered if Colquitt would even make it through UT when he was kicked off the team before his freshman year for alcohol-related incidents.

Remember quarterback Matt Simms? Hardly a great UT career, but he’s in the NFL as an undrafted free agent.

After UT went 0-for in the NFL Draft for the second consecutive year, seven former Vols signed as undrafted free agents: receiver Marquez North (Los Angeles Rams), safety Brian Randolph (Rams), linebacker/end Curt Maggitt (Indianapolis Colts), tight end Alex Ellis (Tennessee Titans), receiver Pig Howard (Oakland Raiders), defensive tackle Owen Williams (Atlanta Falcons), and linebacker Chris Weatherd (New Orleans Saints).

Will they make in the NFL? Can they stay there? Sure they can.

Here’s a look at former UT players who were signed to NFL teams as undrafted free agents and are still in the league.

The list doesn’t include defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, an undrafted free agent signed by Jacksonville in 2006, and quarterback Justin Worley, undrafted and signed by the Bears to their practice squad in 2015. Both are currently free agents.

Tyler Bray

Quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs

2013 free agent, Kansas City Chiefs

After a turbulent UT career, Bray declared for the 2013 NFL Draft and was signed by the Chiefs after going undrafted. Bray made the 53-man roster in 2013 but didn’t play in a game. He spent the 2014 season on the Injured Reserve List with a knee injury.

After the 2014 season, he tore his ACL in the offseason, and during preseason in 2015 was placed on the Chiefs’ reserve/non-football injury list. He doesn’t count against the 53-man roster for at least 12 weeks into the 2016 season; then the Chiefs must put him on Injured Reserve, release him or have him start practicing.

Bray’s only season as a fulltime starter at UT was in 2012 when he threw for 3,612 yards and 34 TDs with 12 interceptions. And then there were the off-the-field issues while playing for UT coach Derek Dooley.

Justin Coleman

Defensive back, New England Patriots

2015 free agent, Minnesota Vikings

Coleman signed as a slot cornerback with the Vikings after going undrafted in 2015, and was waived at the end of training camp. The Patriots signed him Sept. 4, 2015, and released him the next day.

Coleman then signed with Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad, was released, and was signed by the Patriots on Sept. 9. He stayed on the roster despite a hand injury and concussion.

The four-star recruit from Brunswick (Georgia) High was a three-year starter at UT and played two years for coach Butch Jones and his first two under Derek Dooley.

Britton Colquitt

Punter, Denver Broncos

2009 free agent, Denver Broncos

Colquitt began his NFL career on the Broncos’ practice squad in 2009 and was signed to the active roster that December. He’s been the Broncos’ punter for the past six seasons and was a member of the 2015 Super Bowl team.

His UT career was checkered. He was suspended before his freshman year for three alcohol-related incidents and suspended and lost his scholarship for the first five games of his junior year after being arrested on DUI charges.

Still, he earned first-team All-SEC honors in 2006 and second-team honors in 2007. His brother, Dustin, is the punter for Kansas City, and his father, Craig, won Super Bowl rings as a punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Morgan Cox

Long snapper, Baltimore Ravens

2010 free agent, Baltimore Ravens

Cox has spent his entire career with the Ravens and won a Super Bowl ring in 2012. He’s played all 16 games every year except for 2014 when a knee injury put him out for nine games.

The native of Collierville played for Evangelical Christian School and was redshirted by UT coach Phillip Fulmer in 2005.

After spending the next year on the practice squad, Cox was the Vols’ deep snapper for the next three seasons, and he’s parlayed the success into an NFL career.

Matt Darr

Punter, Miami Dolphins

2015 free agent, Miami Dolphins

After signing as a free agent with the Dolphins on May 2, 2015, Darr beat out veteran punter Brandon Fields for the starting job and averaged 47.6 yards on 92 punts, ranking third in the NFL.

The Dolphins saved almost $1 million in signing cap money by releasing Fields and keeping Darr.

His career at Tennessee was up and down. The native of Bakersfield, California, was UT’s starting punter for nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2011. He was benched for the last six games the next season when Michael Palardy took over.

He didn’t play in a game in 2013 while serving as Palardy’s backup, but he was the Vols’ fulltime punter in 2014, averaging 42.2 yards on 80 kicks.

Ramon Foster

Offensive guard, Pittsburgh Steelers

2009 free agent, Pittsburgh Steelers

Although expected to be a late-round draft pick, Foster went undrafted and signed with the Steelers as a free agent with plans of competing for the backup guard’s job.

When veteran guard Darnell Stapleton went down with an injury in training camp, Foster was the backup, and he got his first NFL start in Week 3 as a rookie and finished the 2009 season as the starter.

He didn’t retain his starting job until Week 10 of the 2010 season, and since has been a mainstay on the Steelers’ line.

Knoxville native Britton Colquitt signed with Denver in 2009 after going undrafted and enters his seventh season as the Denver Broncos’ punter. Here he punts 47 yards in the 1st quarter during the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game against the Carolina Panthers.

-- Jim Mahoney Via Ap

Foster came to UT from Ripley High, recruited by Phillip Fulmer, and was on the All-SEC freshman team in 2005. He was on the All-SEC second team as a junior, starting at right tackle his last two seasons.

Austin Johnson

Fullback, New Orleans Saints

2012 free agent, Baltimore Ravens

After spending the 2012 season on the Ravens’ practice squad, Johnson signed with the Saints in January of 2013 and was released late August, but was soon signed to the practice squad. He made his NFL debut on Sept. 7, 2014 against the Falcons, but suffered a knee injury Week 8 against Green Bay and was placed on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

Johnson has played in 10 games the past two seasons with the Saints and started twice. The former all-state player at Hickory (North Carolina) High came to Tennessee as a linebacker and played there his first two seasons (2008-09) under coaches Phillip Fulmer and Lane Kiffin before moving to middle linebacker his last two years under coach Derek Dooley. He led the Vols in tackles in 2011.

Rajion Neal

Running back, Pittsburgh Steelers

2014 free agent, Green Bay Packers

After signing with the Packers as a free agent, Neal was placed on injured reserve in August of 2014 and was signed to the practice squad that November. The Packers cut Neal on Sept. 5, 2015. He signed with the Dolphins practice squad on Sept. 7 and was released two days later.

Twelve days later, the Raiders signed Neal to their practice squad, and he was released last November. He signed with the Steelers’ practice squad last December and signed a reserve/futures contract in January.

The native of Fayetteville, Georgia (Sandy Creek High), earned the starting tailback’s job at Tennessee as a junior in 2012, Derek Dooley’s last year as coach, and rushed for 1,124 yards as a senior for coach Butch Jones.

Michael Palardy

Punter, Carolina Panthers

2016 free agent, Oakland Raiders

It’s been a roundabout NFL journey for Palardy, a punter/place-kicker for UT from 2010-13. He was in training camp with the Oakland Raiders in 2014, was released, and was re-signed to the Raiders practice squad for the last game of the season.

He was in the St. Louis Rams’ training camp last year, was released, and played one game in the Canadian Football League. In April, the Panthers signed Palardy to a one-year contract worth a reported $450,000.

Palardy began his UT career in 2010 as a part-time punter and kickoff specialist. He became the starting place-kicker the next year and as a senior in 2013 was on the All-SEC second team.

Matt Simms

Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

2013 free agent, New York Jets

Simms played two seasons for the Jets (2013-14) and saw action in four games, completing 19 of 39 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. He was claimed off waivers by the Buffalo Bills before the 2015 season, released, and signed to the Falcons’ practice squad.

Simms, the younger son of former NFL quarterback Phil Simms, had a spotty two seasons at Tennessee. The native of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, started his career at Louisville in 2008 and played in two games. He then went to El Camino (Calif.) Community College in 2009 before enrolling at UT in January of 2010.

He started the first eight games of 2010 before Tyler Bray took over as QB. As a senior, Simms played in seven games as Justin Worley’s backup and got two starts against the top two teams in the nation: No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama.

James Stone

Center, Atlanta Falcons

2014 free agent, Atlanta Falcons

Stone signed a three-year contract worth $1.5 million in May of 2014. He played in 12 games as a rookie with nine starts, but last season went down with a knee injury in December and was placed on injured reserve (he played in seven games with one start).

Stone came to UT from Maplewood High in Nashville and played his first three seasons under Derek Dooley and was a freshman All-American in 2010. He started the last 24 games of his career at UT, which ended in 2013, Butch Jones’ first year as coach.

Jordan Williams

Defensive end, Miami Dolphins

2015 free agent, New York Jets

Despite going undrafted, Williams signed with the Jets (three years, $1.577 million), and spent training camp and preseason in New York. He was one of the last roster cuts, but was signed back onto the Jets’ practice squad.

After being released from the Jets’ practice squad, Williams joined the Dolphins’ practice squad Oct. 6, 2015, and was signed by the team on Dec. 5, 2015. The Gainesville, Florida, native was a part-time starter at UT until his senior season when he started all 13 games under coach Butch Jones.

Dave Link is a freelance contributor.

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