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Undrafted Cougars Begin Their NFL Quests

30 April 2013 Brett Richins
Former BYU NT Romney Fuga. BYU PHOTO

Former BYU nose tackle Romney Fuga. BYU PHOTO

Six former BYU Cougars now begin the process of trying to make NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.

Braden Brown, Uona Kaveinga, Romney Fuga, Braden Hansen, Brandon Ogletree and Preston Hadley will all try to live the dream in the coming weeks and months as they try to latch on in the NFL.

Rather than be taken in the last round or two, some players would prefer to go the route of free agency because it allows them to sign on with a team that has specific needs that matches a player’s skill set or strengths.

While all the attention was on the NFL draft last week, its important to note that over a quarter of all players in the league last year we not drafted. A team’s ability to sign quality undrafted free agents is key to its success.

Here’s a look at each former Cougar and their prospects of making their respective teams:

LB Uona Kaveinga (5-11, 233) Denver Broncos

Kaveigna played mike linebacker for BYU in Bronco Mendenhall’s 3-4 defensive scheme. However, Denver has primarily run a 4-3 defense under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, meaning that Uona will be competing to make the roster as a middle linebacker in Del Rio’s defense.

Although there are significant differences between the 3-4 and 4-3, Kaveinga should be able to make the transition fairly well. In the 4-3, the middle linebacker is counted on to be a run stuffer and close down the center of the line, something Kaveinga excels at.

In pass coverage, the MLB usually plays zone defense in most 4-3 schemes. Man coverage isn’t really one of Uona’s big strengths, and Mendenhall rarely put him in a position to cover man-to-man.

The good news for the former USC transfer is that the door could be open for him to make the roster in the Mile High City.

Current middle linebacker Joe Mays is likely to be released or traded this summer. He is due $4 million if he is still on the roster come this July and reports are that Denver is unwilling to invest that kind of money on a player that is essentially a two-down type of player. Mays started last season before losing his starting job and then missed 10 games due to injury.

Nate Irving is expected to be the odds on favorite to win the staring job in the middle, but things are certainly up in the air in at the position. In addition to Kaveinga, the Broncos have signed Colorado linebacker Doug Rippy to a free agent deal to compete for the job.

DT Romney Fuga (6-2, 318) Denver Broncos

Fuga appears to have much more of an uphill battle to make the roster in Denver than does Kaveinga. As a defensive tackle, he’s more of a space eater than a disruptive force. His talents would appear to be much better suited to working in the 3-4 and controlling the gaps on either side of the center.

The Broncos also have good depth on the inside of the defensive line. They resigned Kevin Vickerson and drafted Sylvester Williams with their first-round pick last Thursday. Those two players will see considerable time, with Vickerson penciled in as a starter.

Del Rio also brought in Terrance Knighton as a free agent. Knighton was coached by Del Rio at Jacksonville and started 46 games in his four seasons with the Jags. Some are projecting that Knighton will come in and start in Denver as well.

Mitch Unrien, a gifted player that the Broncos are high on, and former Utah star Sealver Siliga are the other defensive tackles currently on the roster.

OT Braden Brown (6-6, 310) St. Louis Rams

Brown was hoping to be picked in the second half of the last weekend’s draft, but instead will be forced to go the free agent route. With the signing of franchise left tackle Jake Long from Miami, the Rams will move Rodger Saffold to right tackle—the spot where Brown hopes to make his mark in the league.

Joe Barksdale is the No. 3 tackle on the roster right now. He signed with the Rams during last season after being released by Oakland. Braden will likely have to beat out either 6-year veteran Chris Williams or 2012 rookie free agent and practice squad member Ty Nsekhe in order earn a spot on the roster.

Another development to keep an eye on is where fourth-round pick Barrett Jones ends up. Jones played every position on the offensive line for Alabama, but as a pro he will likely end up playing on the inside at guard.

There is also the possibility that Brown ends up at guard at the next level as well.

G Braden Hansen (6-6, 307) Oakland Raiders

The Raiders drafted one offensive linemen and have reportedly signed as many as five undrafted free agents. Oakland had problems running the football in 2012 and fired its offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who used a zone blocking scheme. New coordinator Greg Olson is expected to employ a power blocking scheme, and is looking for players that can fit his system.

Hansen showed last year that he can play both guard and center, filling in for the injured Houston Reynolds at center. His proven versatility is something that could help him at the next level. It’s sometimes tough for guards in college to make a roster in the NFL, because teams often convert players who were tackles in college to guard in an attempt to improve the overall athleticism along the offensive line.

Oakland drafted tackle Menelick Watson and have signed tackles John Wetzel (Boston College), Josh Leonard (Wyoming) and Logan Freeman (Central Michigan) to free agent deals. On the interior of the line the Raiders will bring in guard Lamar Mady (Youngstown State) and center Deveric Gallington (Texas Tech) in addition to Hansen.

Currently the Raiders have Stefen Wisnewski as the starter at center, and Mike Brisiel and Tony Bergstrom as their starting guards. There will be a number of offensive linemen in the Oakland’s camps this offeseason, but the door is open for Hansen to make the roster there.

LB Brandon Ogletree (5-11, 232) Miami Dolphins

The big question regarding Ogletree is where he will line up once he gets to camp in Miami. Although he played inside linebacker in college, he may not possess the size necessary to play middle linebacker in the Dolphins’ 4-3 defense. If he plays on the outside, there is the question of his being able to cover backs and tight ends in the NFL.

Brandon has been a tackling machine for BYU, leading the Cougars in tackles each of the last two seasons. He’s a lunch-pail kind of player who has been underestimated by many, but who just produces on the field. He may remind some folks of another undersized linebacker who played in Miami by the name of Zach Thomas. Of course, the Dolphins would be ecstatic if Ogletree turns out to be half the player that Thomas was as a pro.

There has been turnover at linebacker in Miami since the end of the 2012 season, with the team releasing Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby, and adding Danelle Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler.  Both Wheeler and Ellerbe were brought in with the expectation that they would start alongside outside backer Koa Misi. Jason Trusnick, Austin Spitler and Jonathan Freeny currently provide depth on the linebacking corps.

The Dolphins also spent two draft picks on outside linebackers in this weekend’s draft, moving up to get Oregon LB/DE Dion Jordan with the No. 3 overall pick, and then taking Florida’s Jelani Jenkins in the fourth round.

In addition to Brandon, Miami has also signed two other undrafted free agent linebackers in Michael Clay (Oregon) and Rob McCabe (Georgetown).

DB Preston Hadley (6-0, 200) Seattle Seahawks

Hadley will need to earn a contract in Seattle’s upcoming mini-camp. He caught the attention of the Seahawks with an outstanding Pro Day in Provo in late March.

Preston may have been the most underrated player on BYU’s No.3-ranked defense in 2012. Although he didn’t have any D-1 scholarship opportunities coming out of high school, he has developed himself into a player who now has a shot at making an NFL roster.

Seattle currently has a whopping 11 cornerbacks currently listed on its roster. However, Hadley’s more natural position at the next level may be at safety. The Seahawks currently list just one free safety on the roster in starter Earl Thomas. Cornerback Chris Maragos would likely fill in for Thomas if he were to go down, so there might just be a window of opportunity for a player like Preston to get his toe in the door at free safety.

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