NFL Europe Free Agents...

Angry Pope

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I still like Lorn Mayers out of the list....

Forgotten free agents with possible NFL futures

By Mike Carlson

(May 25, 2006) -- Although the prime function of NFL Europe is as a development league, and the number of allocated players has remained large, free agents continue to play an important part for many teams. The days of teams retaining players like Frankfurt's Mario Bailey or Scotland's Siran Stacy or George Coghill, who were popular with the fans over multiple seasons, are long gone. But still, coaches appreciate being able to sign at least some players who aren't affiliated with NFL teams.

There are a few reasons. These players may be better motivated than others who believe, that as an allocated player, his NFL Europe job is safe. And, often falsely, that an NFL career automatically awaits. Free agents may be players the coach feels are better suited to his system, and, as Bart Andrus demonstrated this year with Amsterdam, bringing back experienced players makes the learning curve a bit less steep in the short, and sometimes alien, European season.

Speaking realistically, a good number of the players allocated by NFL teams are, in reality, free agents signed just before the allocation period and destined to be released after a period as camp fodder. Of course, some will use the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and supply tape to the whole league, not just their team, to their ultimate advantage. But ask any NFL Europe coach and he'll tell you there's nothing he appreciates more than a free agent who works hard to play at this level.

Every year there are a few players who've made the NFL Europe rosters without NFL affiliation and who have shown enough over the course of the season to make them attractive to teams looking for a free-agent bargain. The odds are always bad that they will make a team, but among these 10 players, don't be surprised if more than a couple surface on NFL rosters or practice squads in the fall. Ranked in approximate order, here are the top 10 free agents from this season, and virtually all of them play on the defensive side of the ball.

Ronyell Whitaker, CB, Rhein: He's hardly an unknown, as he's actually started in the NFL before. Whitaker has delivered big plays for Rhein all season.

Bryan Save, DT, Cologne: He made Pro Football Weekly's All-League Team in 2005, and though he's always going to be an injury worry, Save is the kind of active tackle that could suit a team needing a one-gap player inside.

Kevin Harrison, LB, Berlin: Best suited to play inside. He may be a little small at 6-foot and 245 pounds, but he's a hitter.

Earl Cochrane, DE, Amsterdam: In his second year with the Admirals, he's been steadily effective. Perhaps not explosive enough, but at 6-5 and 285, he could spark interest in a 3-4 defense.

Travis Harris, LB, Frankfurt: The Florida product led the Galaxy in tackles, which is what the system wants from its MLB. He's a bit undersized at 6-2 and 240, but he can make plays.

James Lee, DT, Amsterdam: Another guy with both NFL tape and some injury worries, but the 6-5, 325-pound Lee brings something to the table that can't be coached -- size. He could stir up interest for a team needing a two-gap space eater in the middle.

Terrence Robinson, LB, Rhein: Another two-year European player who's just a little small and slow by NFL standards, but has shown he can play enough to be valuable on the bench and special teams.

Derrick Strong, DE, Rhein: Strong is a pass-rush specialist who needs a little bit more explosiveness in his rush, but gave good effort, and in the right system could be useful.

Tyler Lenda, C/G, Amsterdam: A sentimental choice because he's played well at both positions over two seasons. He's always going to be small for an NFL line, but a zone-blocking team needing an overachiever that can back up at two spots might bring him to camp.

Noriaki Kinoshita, KR, Amsterdam: The Japanese product from that football powerhouse Ritsumeikan University would have a huge adjustment to make, but he's got the ability to make the first tackler miss and averaged 27.9 on kickoff returns and almost 15 yards on just a few punt returns.

Just off the list are Hamburg WR Scott McCready, who took a while to get back to full speed after last year's knee injury, but might be worth a look as a special teamer/sixth receiver. There's also cornerbacks Joselio Hanson (Frankfurt) and Rayshun Reed (Hamburg), who face that usual problem of size/speed, which is so difficult to overcome at corner, and running back Marty Johnson of Berlin, who's a bit of a tweener at 5-11 and 225, but offers some power.

Teams really wanting to take a flyer might look at two big national linemen that suffered injuries this year. Lorn Mayers, the English defensive tackle who went to the Raiders camp last season, is at 6-3, 350 pounds, is only 20 years old, has the right attitude, and given another camp and a full season in Europe, he would be well ahead of most college sophomores. A longer shot might be Mexican OT Ramaro Purneda. He was injured in training camp and didn't play, but line coach Don Lawrence reckoned he might be Cologne's best lineman. At 6-6½ and 320 pounds, he's got size, decent footwork and uses his hands well. Keep an eye on him for next season.

Of course, another aspect of NFL Europe is that teams will have scouted the league and possibly marked players allocated by other teams on the theory that one man gathers what another man spills. They'll watch the waiver wire, and maybe you should too.
 
Here is an article from earlier in the year on Mayers....

Inside the Huddle with Lorn Mayers

February 17, 2006
By Henry Hodgson
NFL Europe



Lorn Mayers has gone from amateur football to the NFL in 18 months. (NFL Europe)

Berlin Thunder defensive tackle Lorn Mayers has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of American football. In 2003, the 18-year old Londoner first discovered football – two years later he was in training camp with the Oakland Raiders, as the youngest player ever signed to an NFL roster.

At 6-3 and 350 pounds, Mayers is certainly not a small man, but his age has earned him the nickname ‘Big Baby’ among his teammates. That size was what prompted a teacher to get him to try out a new sport – although football was not at the top of the list.

“I used to play every sport under the sun, but with my size I was told by one of my teachers to try rugby,” remembers Mayers. “At the time, I didn’t really find rugby that interesting, and a friend of mine told me to have a think about playing American football. The first team I found on the internet was the London Blitz, and after playing one game for them I was invited to be in the English youth team. At the time I was shocked with how quick things were happening.”

Mayers was lucky to have been seen by scouts from the British youth team in that first game for his amateur team in London, but it was not long before NFL Europe began beating down his door to persuade him to test at the combine of the top players in Britain. Needless to say, his results there were more than enough to earn him an invitation to go first to train with the top European players at a combine in Germany, and then come to national camp in Tampa Bay, Florida, prior to the 2005 NFL Europe training camp.


“Playing with the best European players in Germany before I came to Tampa last year was an eye opener itself,” says the genial Mayers. “Then coming in and seeing the players from all around the world, that was another level.”

Mayers’ good showing in training camp was expected by the national coaches who had watched him physically dominate in the national combines. However, it took a chance sighting of him in action by newly appointed Oakland Raiders head coach Art Shell – then NFL Vice President of Football Operations – to move Mayers’ career to the next level. Shell persuaded the Berlin Thunder to bring Mayers in for the 2005 season – as a developmental project – and the next chapter of his rise began to take shape.

“It shocked me when they told me that they were interested in bringing me in for the season, because I knew they liked what I did in camp, but I thought they would leave it for a year before I got my chance,” admits Mayers.

When he arrived in Berlin, Thunder defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula made it clear that while some saw him as a project, he believed that the youngster could contribute immediately.

“When I got to Berlin, coach Tomsula told me that although nobody expected me to play during the season, from what he had seen on tape of my work habits, he could see me playing in the league right then,” Mayers remembers. “Five weeks into the season, there I was.”


With Mayers on board, the Thunder made it to the World Bowl in 2005, eventually losing to Amsterdam in a thrilling title game. However, for Mayers, being part of a team with so much of a bond was a unique experience, and one that he will never forget – no matter where his career goes from here.

“Getting to World Bowl was so exciting. You can watch a big game like that – a World Bowl or a Super Bowl or a Rose Bowl game, but actually playing in it and being part of a team that has got there, is completely different,” he explains. “It is a great feeling and it brought the whole team together – I still keep in touch with them all now, and I know I will cross paths with a lot of those guys in the future.”

Despite only playing a handful of snaps in the 2005, the biggest shock of his brief career came in the week after the World Bowl. Mayers received a call from the Oakland Raiders inviting him to take part in training camp – making him, at the age of 19, the youngest player ever to be signed by an NFL team.

“Getting a call from the Raiders was the biggest surprise of all! We were told throughout the season that all our practice tape got sent to the teams so they could keep an eye on their allocated players. I always practice hard and with enthusiasm, and as I didn’t get many snaps through the season I know that they must have given me a call purely off what they saw of me on film in practice. I really did think someone was playing a prank on me when they called.”

This was no prank, though, and in late July he flew out to Oakland to begin the next part of a ride that had seen him first strap on a pair of shoulder pads just 18 months earlier.

“When I walked in to the Raiders office and saw the logo there and my locker and all the players, it suddenly sunk in how far I had come,” Mayers remembers with a smile.

Going from amateur football to the NFL in such a short space of time means that his learning curve had been sharp, but to his surprise, the jump to the NFL did not daunt him as much as he had expected in terms of the physical adjustments. However, the work involved in learning the Raiders’ playbook left him occasionally mystified.

“The speed in the NFL is quicker, but the jump up is not that much – not compared with going from European amateur football to NFL Europe. I didn’t take that long to adjust to the speed.

“I think the biggest adjustment, for me, was coming to terms with the playbook. I hadn’t been around football for that long, so when coaches were going through things I was saying ‘Hang on a minute – what does that mean.’ Every other player in an NFL camp knows all this stuff; and coaches in the NFL just don’t have time to go over the basics with anyone - they have to work to get their team into the playoffs, their jobs are on the line. I knew I had to catch up by myself.”

Fortunately for Mayers, just when he began to feel out of his depth, a pair of Raiders players stepped in to bail him out. Super Bowl winning defensive linemen Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton worked with Lorn on the basics – such as his technique – and explained some of the problematic elements of the Oakland playbook. His unique story and background meant that he swiftly won over his teammates – including Warren Sapp, who would call him ‘London’.

“A lot of players helped me out. Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton were two guys who really helped me, though,” explains Mayers. “Both of them really showed me so many things I needed to learn. Oakland play the 3-4 defense, so it was completely different to what I had learned in NFL Europe with a 4-3 in Berlin.”

His inexperience meant that it was no surprise to him when he was released at the end of training camp, having participated in all of Oakland’s preseason games. Despite guessing it was coming, he couldn’t help but wish he could stay with the team.

“In a way the pressure was off, because I knew I was a long shot to make the roster,” Mayers says. “Once I was there, though, I was wishing I could stay out and just learn for a whole year. If I work hard I hope that can happen after this season.”

On his return to London, Mayers found that he had become something of a celebrity. Newspapers had run the story of how he had gone from being a furniture removal man (his job prior to entering NFL Europe) to the Raiders. Pretty soon he was part of Channel Five’s UK NFL broadcast team, meeting William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry in an interview for Sky Sports, and making radio appearances on the BBC.


“Doing the TV and radio stuff was another big learning curve for me,” admits Mayers. “It helped that the first thing I did was a game with the Raiders in it, because it was so recent that I had been playing with those guys that I was able to say ‘Hey, I practiced with him’, and recognize the plays that were coming in.”

2006 brings a whole fresh set of challenges for Mayers, as he looks to consolidate what he has achieved in the past two years. Winning a starting job and continuing his improvement are his main goals, and from there, he hopes to stick with an NFL team on a permanent basis.

“I have set goals in getting stronger, and just trying to learn as much football as I can. My main aim is to get to another training camp and stick with a team this time,” he says. “I have had a taste of it now – next time I want it to be permanent. To be the first British (non-kicker) player to be in the NFL would be an amazing achievement, and I know I can do it.”

If he continues at his current pace, Mayers would be heading for the Pro Bowl in Hawaii in 2008. While it may take longer than that, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, there is no doubt that he is capable of achieving whatever he puts his mind to.
 
Here is Whitaker...his uncle is Pernell Whitaker, the boxer...

Ronyell Whitaker

Position: Cornerback
College: Virginia Tech
Height: 5-9
Weight: 196
Hometown: Norfolk, Va.


ANALYSIS

Positives: Has a lean, muscular upper body and legs … Has above-average quickness and agility … Smooth in his backpedal, planting and driving with no wasted motion … Has the acceleration needed to recover and catch up on deep routes … Does a good job in press coverage, using his hands to jam and redirect the receiver … Understands zone concepts and is quick to pick up the opponent in his area … Has good vertical ability, going up to compete for the ball at its highest point … Shows good hands and concentration on the ball … Gives a good, tight cushion in man coverage.

Negatives: While smooth in his backpedal, he stands too tall in transition and uses the shuffle technique, which negates his sudden explosion … Has the speed to recovery, but would not have to do it so much if he did not spend so much time eyeing the quarterback and spending those efforts maintaining contact with his man … Levels off and allows the receiver to get by him in zone coverage … While he has good leaping ability, his timing appears to be off, losing it in the air … Gets overpowered in run support due to his size … Durability is also a concern (see injury report).

CAREER NOTES

One of the nation's most talkative cornerbacks, he never backs down from a challenge and frequently drew an opponent's top receiver … Is tough and physical and studies the game and opponents … Has the potential to be a dominating corner, but needs to concentrate on every play … The nephew of boxer Pernall "Sweet Pea" Whitaker, he finished his career with 190 tackles (114 solos) in 44 games.

2002 SEASON

Played in the final 12 games, starting 10 contests at boundary cornerback … Made 47 tackles (28 solos) with a 56-yard interception return and 6 pass deflections … Caused a pair of fumbles.

Arkansas State and Louisiana State - Did not play.
Marshall - Caused a fumble.
Texas A&M - Registered 3 tackles and deflected 3 passes.
Boston College - Posted 3 tackles (2 solos).
Temple - Benched by the coaches.
Pittsburgh - Returned to the starting lineup with 4 tackles and a pass deflection.
Syracuse - Followed with a 6-tackle effort.
Virginia - Had his breakout game for 2002 as he totaled 10 tackles (7 solos) with a pass deflection.
Miami (Fla.) - Made 3 tackles and returned an interception 56 yards to set up a touchdown.
Air Force (San Francisco Bowl) - Closed out his career with 5 tackles, a fumble recovery and 2 pass deflections coming off the bench.

2001 SEASON

Named to the Virginia Division I All-State Team by the state sports information directors … Played in 10 games, recording 53 tackles (27 solos) with 2 stops for losses of 4 yards … Intercepted a pass and deflected 10 others.

2000 SEASON

Second-team All-Big East Conference choice … Opened the season as the Hokies' starting field corner … Moved to the boundary cornerback position when teammate Larry Austin suffered a season-ending injury at Boston College … Moved back to the field side for the final two games … Finished with 61 tackles (37 solos) and 2 stops for losses of 3 yards … Intercepted 5 passes for 76 yards in returns and deflected 9 passes … Returned 17 punts for 245 yards (14.4 average).

1999 SEASON

Saw playing time in all 12 games … Contributed just 2 tackles in his first four appearances, but finished with 29 tackles (22 solos) and a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage for the season.

1998 SEASON

Redshirted as a freshman.

INJURY REPORT

Suffered a left shoulder sprain and clavicle contusion in 1998 fall drills … Sprained his left ankle in a 1998 mid-October scrimmage with the scout team … Suffered a right shoulder sprain (AC joint) in 1999 fall drills … Had a right quadriceps muscle contusion in the 1999 James Madison game … Suffered a right middle finger sprain in practice prior to the 1999 Clemson game … Strained his right biceps in the 2000 Temple clash.

CAMPUS AGILITY TESTS

Timed at 4.53 in the 40-yard dash … 330-pound bench press … 550-pound back squat … 270-pound power clean … 35½-inch vertical jump … 29¾-inch arm length … 9-inch hands … Left-handed.

HIGH SCHOOL

Attended Lake Taylor (Norfolk, Va.) High … Lettered four years as a running back, defensive back and return man for coach Dan Newell … Was the seventh-leading rusher in South Hampton Roads history … Ran for 3,458 yards and 44 touchdowns during his career … All-America pick by PrepStar, which listed him the No. 6 running back in the ACC Region … First-team all-state pick by the Associated Press and second team by the coaches … Rated one of the top five players in Virginia by the Charlottesville Daily Progress … Ranked the ninth-best prospect in Virginia by the Roanoke Times and 10th by SuperPrep … Ran for 970 yards and scored 17 touchdowns in 1997 … Eastern District Offensive Player of the Year … Named the All-Tidewater Player of the Year … Three-time All-Tidewater selection … Had 68 tackles and 5 interceptions for the season … Contributed 180 yards rushing, a 60-yard punt return for a TD and 2 interceptions for touchdowns of 45 and 75 yards in a 21-20 win over Western Branch … Turned in a game-winning 89-yard kickoff return against Maury … Posted 84 tackles, 3 sacks and 5 interceptions his junior year … Rushed for over 1,000 yards … Added 2 punt returns for touchdowns and 1 kickoff return … Had 18 career interceptions and over 35 touchdowns.

PERSONAL

Physical Education major … Son of Sylvonia Whitaker … Nephew of pro boxer Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker … Born Ronyell Deshawn Whitaker on March 19, 1979, in Norfolk, Va.
 
James Lee...

JAMES LEE

Position: DT
Class: Sr
School: Oregon St.
Conference: Pac-10
Ht., Wt.: 6'4½, 327
40 Time: 4.98
Grade: 3.45

Selected by Green Bay Packers
Round 5, pick 12 (147 overall)

BIO: Junior college transfer and part-time player the past two seasons at Oregon State. Finished his senior campaign with 29 tackles and seven tackles for loss after posting nine tackles and two tackles for loss the prior year.

POSITIVES: Big, imposing defender with tremendous physical skills. Quick off the snap, gets leverage on opponents and forceful up the field. Displays powerful leg drive, pushes the pocket up the field and knocks opponents backwards. Works hard and shows a quick burst of closing speed.

NEGATIVES: Not quick locating the action nor is he efficient. Displays minimal techniques with his hands, lacks the quick change of direction and overall playing balance.

ANALYSIS: Strong and athletic but must learn to do more than duck his head, put his shoulders down and drive up the field. A project in the works and not as good as many perceive him to be after Combine workouts.

PROJECTION: Early Sixth Round
 
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