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Let's Go Camping: Several former Jayhawks set for first taste of life in the NFL


Tanner Hawkinson, OL
Like several other NFL teams, the Bengals open rookie mini camp Friday, when fifth-round draft pick and former Kansas University standout Tanner Hawkinson officially will begin his pro career. Because he was drafted, there is a lot less pressure on Hawkinson at mini camp than there is on the rest of his former KU teammates who are trying to make their respective rosters as undrafted free agents. Still, Hawkinson is competing for playing time and, in some ways, the coaches might be harder on him than the rest of the Jayhawks trying to break into the league. Hawkinson will begin his Bengals career wearing the same number (72) he wore in college.

• CHICAGO BEARS — May 10-12
Tunde Bakare, LB
Josh Williams, DE
The Bears gave free-agent contracts to 10 undrafted players following last month's draft, and, because they are a team that doesn't often load up on these types of players, that does not bode well for the chances of former Jayhawks Bakare and Williams. What the duo does have going in its favor is this: None of those 10 free agent contracts went to players who play their position. Bakare, though a bit undersized, brings a unique skill set to camp. He's a physical monster with good speed and an even better motor. Williams started his career at Nebraska and I've heard on more than one occasion that sometimes guys are picked up or given chances because of the coach or the program they played for.

• DETROIT LIONS — May 10-12
Trevor Marrongelli
Marrongelli is one of a handful of players invited to the Lions mini camp without a contract. The good news is the versatile and intelligent lineman got the invite. The bad news? The Lions actually signed three undrafted free agent offensive linemen and drafted one in the third round. As was the case going in, Marrongelli seems like a long shot to make the Lions' roster.

Duane Zlatnik, OL
The former KU guard was one of nearly 50 rookies in attendance at the Jaguars rookie mini camp last week. Given those numbers alone, Zlatnik faced a tough challenge of standing out in a crowd that included No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel. He got his reps, though, and did so wearing No. 68 (he wore 67 in college). Zlatnik has the size, strength and skill to get noticed but must show consistency. I talked to more than one person during Zlatnik's KU career who said the Rossville native was the best O-Line prospect on the team. If Zlatnik sticks around, his next chance to prove that is at the Jags' OTAs, which begin May 13.

Dayne Crist, QB
Bradley McDougald, S
Toben Opurum, DE/FB
For the second year in a row, a member of the KU football team participated at the by-invitation NFL combine yet went undrafted. Although wide receiver turned safety Bradley McDougald fully expected to hear his name called during the seven rounds of the draft, landing in Kansas City as an undrafted free agent signee puts him in pretty good position. The Chiefs are thin at safety and McDougald has the skills and confidence needed to make a quick impact. Two of McDougald's KU teammates will be joining him at K.C.'s mini camp, and both Crist and Opurum offer interesting story lines to keep an eye on. We all know that Crist's lone season at KU was a disappointment, but he still has the tools — size, smarts, arm strength, maturity — that NFL coaches look for at the game's most important position. Considering the fact that he's competing for a roster spot with two career back-ups (Chase Daniel and Ricky Stanzi) and another undrafted free agent in Tennessee's Tyler Bray, Crist, with a good camp, could find himself getting a chance behind Chiefs starter Alex Smith. As for Opurum, it remains to be seen whether he'll work as a defensive end/linebacker, a fullback or both. That, alone, is worth tracking and his versatility could keep him around long enough for the coaching staff to get a look at him in both capacities.

Greg Brown, CB
Like McDougald, Brown was impressive enough during his career and his pro day to earn a free-agent contract from the Chargers after this year's draft. That doesn't guarantee him anything other than a chance. And it might get him a couple. Not only does the contract indicate that the Chargers see something in Brown that they like, but San Diego also has a rich history of success with undrafted free agents, with names like Antonio Gates, Malcolm Floyd, Mike Tolbert and Kris Dielman going from draft castoffs to NFL starters.


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