Irish Alumni Settling Into NFL Life

Most National Football League teams have completed the first two phases of the offseason under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and started the third Tuesday with the beginning of Organized Team Activities (OTA). Rookies mingle for the first time with veteran players, and the teams begin practicing without contact.

Robert Blanton gets some work in earlier this month at Minnesota's rookie minicamp

The four former Irish players drafted last month didn’t all make it this far, with outside linebacker Darius Fleming, who was selected 165th overall by San Francisco in the fifth round tore his ACL in rookie minicamp earlier this month. Little news has come out of the NFL cities where the four Notre Dame alumni that signed undrafted free agent contracts landed. But here are a few updates after scanning various team media outlets and speaking to a couple players:

Expectations high for Smith and Blanton
Minnesota’s first-rounders Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith, third-round pick Josh Robinson and fourth-round selection Rhett Ellison are the four players out of the Vikings’ 10 draft picks that have yet to sign contracts.

This certainly isn’t out of the norm, and organizations should have little difficulty getting deals done soon with the new rookie pay system that’s been in place since the 2011 season. All drafted players get four-year contracts, with first-rounders carrying a club option for a fifth season.

In a story earlier this month in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, beat writers Dan Wiederer and Mark Craig agreed “the door is open” for Smith (safety) and former Irish defensive backfield teammate Robert Blanton to start as rookies.

“Smith has an inside track on a starting spot. And Blanton could fight his way into the mix, likely needing to show he can outplay Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, the duo that started together for the final five games of 2011.

“If you take a look at where we ended the season at the safety position, it’s open competition,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “Those guys returning are good players. But we want to really have an open competition.”

Smith was selected 29th overall in the first round and Blanton, a cornerback at ND but expected to play at safety for the Vikings, was the 139th overall pick.

Ethan Johnson absent yesterday
According to Bob Gretz at, defensive End Johnson was one of two players not on the field Thursday for Kansas City’s third OTA session. Head coach Romeo Crennel said Johnson was missing because of a personal situation. It’s not clear if the situation is related to Johnson’s father, a disabled veteran whose condition required Johnson to make nearly weekly trips since the end of his senior season at Notre Dame back home to Oregon.

It was that personal matter that kept Johnson from being able to compete at Irish Pro Day on April 3 and had many people wondering if the defensive end was pursuing an NFL career. Johnson was one of seven undrafted rookies signed by the Chiefs.

Gary Gray still dealing with groin
The same nagging groin injury that slowed cornerback Gary Gray this past offseason and at Irish Pro Day, cost him while auditioning earlier this month in Detroit. The Lions invited the undrafted free agent to Lions’ rookie minicamp but Gray re-injured himself and his time in Motown was cut short.

“I’m just trying to get healthy again so I can tryout when a team calls,” Gray told Friday afternoon.

Jonas Gray still sidelined
Running back Jonas Gray, who went undrafted before signing a free agent contract with Miami, has not participated in OTA thus far as he continues to rehabilitate a torn ACL suffered near the end of last season.

Ruffer anxious for a shot
Former Irish place kicker David Ruffer still hasn’t received a phone call from an NFL team. He said Thursday in a text message that he’s “still ready.”

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