April 30, 2012

But Bryant, Allen To NFL As Free Agents

The NFL draft came and went, and for a second straight year, no James Madison football players were selected. But that doesn't mean the Dukes' pro hopefuls won't get a shot.

Defensive end D.J. Bryant and cornerback Mike Allen each received free-agent offers Saturday night, with Bryant signing with the Houston Texans and Allen agreeing to sign with the Cleveland Browns.

"We have good kids going through our program," JMU coach Mickey Matthews said Sunday. "We'll have 32 teams watch us practice during the year, and several NFL teams will send more than one scout, so we'll have 40-50 scouts watch us. The NFL's aware we have good players."

But as of Sunday evening, wide receiver Kerby Long's future still was up in the air. He said both the Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans have shown interest, with the Titans coming into the picture Sunday. Neither team, he said, has offered a contract and he still was waiting to hear back from his agent, capping what has a been a very confusing Sunday that started with him assuming he was going to the Redskins.

Compounding the confusion for Long - who also has spent Sunday studying for a finance exam today - is numerous websites have him listed as going to the Redskins, even though, he said, the team has not contacted him personally.

"It's been nerve-wracking," said Long, who added that he even threw up during the draft Saturday.
Before the draft, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Bryant seemed to draw the most interest of any of JMU's prospects. He said he visited the Baltimore Ravens' facilities and worked out for the Oakland Raiders. Among the other teams, he said, to make overtures were the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers.

In its draft preview, The Sports Network, a media outlet that covers Division I-AA football, had Bryant listed as potential draftee. But none of JMU's prospects were highly ranked by ESPN.

Bryant said he selected the Texans over offers from the Panthers and Raiders because of Houston's 3-4 defense.

Likely an outside linebacker in the NFL, Bryant said the Texans' four-linebacker scheme gave him the best the chance at making the team because of numbers. Playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 also should make the transition from end - where he had 48 tackles and 6.5 sacks for JMU last season - easier.

"It's the same thing," said Bryant, who graduated from Madison in the winter and spent the offseason training to play linebacker. "You're just playing standing up."

Signing with the Texans capped a stressful day for Bryant - along with the other JMU players hoping for an NFL shot.

"It was nerve-wracking to see the names going off the board and not really knowing what's going on with the future," Bryant said. "I wanted to just stay optimistic and keep my faith."

But Allen, Bryant and Long still have a long way to go to make it in the NFL. Only 90 players - expanded this month from 80 - are on a training-camp roster and just 53 make the final roster. JMU's free agents also have to compete with established players, other free agents and drafted rookies to get a chance.

Their shots are with surprise teams. Bryant signed with the Texans, who hadn't really made any overtures before the draft, which started Thursday and ended Saturday night with the completion of the seventh and final round.

Allen said he had been talking to the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles, only to end up with the Browns. And he's OK with that.

"I was excited," said the 6-foot, 183-pound Allen, who had 43 tackles and two interceptions last season for JMU. "My agent broke down their depth chart. … He said it was a good fit."

Long said he had been in contact, primarily, with the Eagles before the draft. He said the New England Patriots also showed interest.

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