With two Rice University alumni settling in as rookie tight ends on NFC West Super Bowl contenders, a total of eight different Rice players were on NFL rosters at some point in 2013.
San Francisco 49ers tight end Vance McDonald and Seattle Seahwks tight end Luke Willson are joined by Philadelphia Eagles fullback James Casey, Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo and former New York Jets linebacker Scott Solomon as Rice University players who have seen game action during the 2013 season.
In addition, defensive end Cheta Ozougwu is on the Chicago Bears practice squad. Former Owls Sam McGuffie and Jarett Dillard saw action in the NFL preseason.
Here’s a look at how five former Owls are faring through the first seven weeks of the NFL season.
- Vance McDonald has six catches for 86 yards in his rookie season with San Francisco. His longest reception was a 25-yarder against Green Bay in the season opener. He has a catch – and only one catch – in six of the seven games this season. He caught a 20-yard pass in Sunday’s win at Tennessee that was tipped by a Titans defender.
In an article by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said McDonald is making a strong impression.
“We’ve asked a lot of him the past couple weeks, really the past three weeks,” Roman said. “[We] couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s done and [we] really expect him to take those kinds of steps moving forward. The one thing you notice about players is everybody’s going to make mistakes as a rookie. That’s a fact. And do you repeat those mistakes? Thus far, he’s done a great job of learning from the good, the bad and the ugly and moving on a better football player. So, he’s done a really nice job and it needs to continue.”
- Luke Willson has 10 catches for 124 years for Seattle this season. Eight of the 10 catches have resulted in first downs. Willson has started three games, but his best game as pro came off the bench in a 45-17 win over Jacksonville Sept. 22. The Windsor, Ontario native had five catches for 76 yards, including a 35-yard gain. Willson did not have a catch in the San Francisco game, but his team had bragging rights over McDonald’s for now thanks to a 29-3 win in Week 2.
The other Wilson on the Seahawks roster has been happy with the tight end’s progression
“Luke Willson has done a tremendous job,” Seattle QB Russell Wilson said during a Sept. 26 interview with The News Tribune. “He’s so dedicated to the game; he’s very, very intelligent, he has all of the physical tools that you could ever imagine out of a tight end. You know, he’s 6’5, maybe 6’6. I don’t know how big he is; a lot bigger than me. But, he’s a 6’5 guy that has tons of running ability. He runs a 4.5 flat, he’s a strong kid too, and like I said earlier, he’s really intelligent. He steps up to the challenge and he’s made a huge difference for us this season as well.”
- Andrew Sendejo has 16 tackles at strong safety this season for the Vikings. He got his first career start against Pittsburgh in London, making four tackles in Minnesota’s lone win. Sandejo also started on Monday Night Football against the New York Giants Monday. He finished with a season-high six tackles.
“Sendejo played quite a bit against Pittsburgh and he did some good things at safety,” Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said after the London game. “He did good enough to make us feel like he can do a good job in the starting role.”
After spending time with the Cowboys and Jets, Sendejo seems to have found at home in Minnesota. The Vikings signed him to a three-year extension for $2.6 million last month.
- James Casey, a popular player for the Houston Texans the past four seasons, has one catch for 12 yards for the Eagles in 2013. He signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in the offseason. The reception came in a 52-40 loss at Denver in Week 4.
Casey hasn’t seen much playing time behind Brent Celek in Chip Kelly’s office. He was on the field for just eight snaps in the first three Eagles games.
“It’s not something that Casey is not doing," Kelly said told the Press of Atlantic City on Sept. 25. “It’s that we’ve got some competition there and the one guy that has really stepped up out of everybody on our offense has been Brent Celek.”
Casey was inactive for the Tampa Bay game Oct. 13 with a groin injury, but returned for the Dallas game Sunday. In fact, he may have been one play away from playing quarterback. With Michael Vick and Nick Foles hurt, Matt Barkley finished the Dallas game. Casey was the team’s emergency quarterback.
- Scott Solomon has spent time with the New York Jets this season after playing in 2012 with the Tennessee Titans. Ironically, Solomon played in the Jets 38-13 loss to Tennessee on Sept. 29. He was released from the team Oct. 4 when the Jets claimed tight end Zach Sudfeld off waivers. Several media source reported Solomon worked out for the San Diego Chargers last week.