Ex-Cats

Linebacker U? Five of eight former UK players in NFL play that position.

Danny Trevathan, who was part of the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl champion squad for the 2015 season, is heading into his third year with the Chicago Bears.
Danny Trevathan, who was part of the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl champion squad for the 2015 season, is heading into his third year with the Chicago Bears. AP

There are eight former Kentucky football players on NFL rosters ahead of the season, which kicks off Thursday night when the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons.

The bulk of UK’s recent NFL production has been linebackers with five of the eight playing that position, including Bud Dupree, Za’Darius Smith, Danny Trevathan, Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard. Another former UK linebacker, Farrington Huguenin, is on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad.

Catch up will all eight of the former Cats here:

Randall Cobb

Cobb will start the season as the Green Bay Packers’ No. 2 wide receiver behind Davante Adams, and the eighth-year pro will be trying to counter pundits who say his career is on the decline. Cobb totaled 1,287 yards and 12 TDs in 2014 and 829 yards and six scores in 2015, but injuries have slowed him the past two seasons. Those numbers: 610 yards and four TDs in 2016 and 653 yards and four TDs in 2017.

There were even internet rumors and reports that suggested the Packers were trying to trade Cobb or perhaps release him ahead of the season. His $8.6 million contract made trading him highly unlikely.

“I just think there’s a lot of football left in Randall Cobb,” Packers wide receivers coach David Raih said, according to a report this summer by Forbes.com. “This guy is one of the most tenacious people I’ve been around, and I’m talking about all the time.”

Season opener: Bears at Packers, 8:20 p.m. Sunday (NBC)

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Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb is coming off back-to-back subpar seasons. Matt Ludtke AP

Bud Dupree

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker has shown improvement in all three seasons — four sacks in 2015, 4.5 in just seven games in 2016 and six in 2017 — but he needs to increase his production to reach his goal of double digits.

The team picked up his fifth-year option for more than $9 million during the off-season with the hope that moving him from the left side to the right, the quarterback’s blind side, will lead to a breakthrough season.

“This year, it will be different,” Dupree said, according to a report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month. “Last year I missed five sacks. I could have had double digits easy. The opportunities were there. This year I’ll have more opportunities to rush. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Post-Gazette also reported that the Steelers practiced with Dupree at inside linebacker some this summer.

“Free me up,” Dupree said, according to the report. “It’s a game of matchups. ... When I’m in mismatch situations I feel like I should win. They believe in me. I believe in myself. This is the year for me to make it happen.”

Season opener: Steelers at Browns, 1 p.m. Sunday

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Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree totaled six quarterback sacks last season. Gail Burton AP

Corey Peters

The Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle is heading into his ninth season in the league. As an interior lineman, Peters doesn’t put up a lot of stats but he is well regarded around the league.

USA Today reported: “According to Pro Football Focus, he led the league in an interesting metric. He had the highest rate of first contact at or behind the line of scrimmage, something that is ideal for any player on the defensive front. On 50 percent of the instances when he made first contact with a ball carrier, it was at or behind the line of scrimmage.”

In December, the Cardinals gave Peters a three-year contract extension through 2020.

“I think the system here is a perfect fit, and I’m really enjoying playing with the guys I’m playing with,” Peters said after the deal was announced, according to the Arizona Republic. “Those are all things that made it easier to say yes.”

Season opener: Redskins at Cardinals, 4:25 p.m. Sunday

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Corey Peters (98) worked against offensive guard Mike Iupati during Arizona Cardinals training camp. Peters signed a three-year contract extension with the Cardinals last December. Ross D. Franklin AP

Za’Darius Smith

The fourth-year linebacker will start the season second on the Baltimore Ravens’ depth chart at edge rusher behind Terrell Suggs. Smith made 3.5 quarterback sacks in 2017 to give him 10 in three seasons.

This is a contract year for Smith.

“He’s been a terror in the preseason and he’ll need to keep that going in the regular season, especially late in games when the Ravens need to get off the field on third down,” Russell Street Report’s Carey Stevenson said, according to a report on the Ravens’ website.

Near the end of last season, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said he saw Smith as an “ascending pass rusher,” the Baltimore Sun reported.

“I personally love his work ethic, love his attitude, I love being around him every day. It’s the kind of guy he is. We want to see more of that,” Harbaugh said.

Season opener: Bills at Ravens, 1 p.m Sunday

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Baltimore Ravens linebacker Za’Darius Smith hit Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill during an exhibition game at Miami last month. Smith recorded 3.5 quarterback sacks last season. David Santiago TNS

Danny Trevathan

The seventh-year linebacker has missed 11 games to injuries in his two seasons with the Chicago Bears, but he has been effective when healthy. He made 89 tackles, including two sacks, and had an interception in 12 games last season.

“We want to be the best defense in the league,” Trevathan told reporters this summer, even before the Bears added former Oakland Raiders star Khalil Mack to the roster. “There’s no settling. We want to get back to it. We had a glimpse of it last year. We ended up being one of the top 10 defenses. Now, we’re more hungry.”

Season opener: Bears at Packers, 8:20 p.m. Sunday (NBC-18)

Larry Warford

The right guard, who starred at Madison Central before playing for UK, is a key part of a New Orleans Saints offensive line that is ranked No. 2 in run blocking by Pro Football Focus going into the season. Drew Brees threw for 4,334 yards last season, and Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for 1,852 yards and 20 rushing TDs.

Warford, heading into his sixth NFL season, earned a spot in the Pro Bowl in 2017 and was the Pro Football Focus offensive rookie of the year in 2013.

Warford was named to Pro Football Focus’ All-Preseason Team on Monday. “The highest graded offensive lineman in the NFL this preseason, Warford was dominant up front for the Saints,” Gordon McGuinness wrote. “From 33 pass-blocking snaps, he allowed just one hurry, with no sacks or hits, and delivered some big blocks in the run game, too.”

Season opener: Buccaneers at Saints, 1 p.m. Sunday

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Larry Warford (67) earned a spot in the Pro Bowl last season. The New Orleans Saints lineman is entering his sixth NFL season. Jeff Haynes AP

Avery Williamson

The fifth-year linebacker will be playing his first season for the New York Jets after spending four years with the Tennessee Titans. Williamson, who totaled 376 tackles, 11.5 sacks and two interceptions with Tennessee, is expected to fill a three-down role with New York.

Williamson made 13 tackles in preseason play as he got acclimated to a new system and playbook with the Jets.

“It’s just second-nature, man,” Williamson told the New York Post after forcing a fumble against the Giants. “You feel that ball, you go for it. The goal is to not just get tackles, you’ve got to make the big play. That’s what wins games. Sudden change like that can flip a whole game. The more turnovers, the better.”

Season opener: Jets at Lions, 7:10 p.m. Monday (ESPN)

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The Chiefs acquired linebacker Darron Lee (No. 58) Wednesday in a trade with the New York Jets. Julio Cortez AP

Wesley Woodyard

Last year marked a resurgence for Woodyard, who will be playing his 11th NFL season. The Tennessee Titans linebacker made a career-high 124 tackles after posting just 57 the prior season. It was the most tackles he had made since 117 with the Denver Broncos in 2012. Woodyard also had five QB sacks, defended five passes and recovered two fumbles in 2017.

Woodyard, who was named a team captain on Monday, has been a captain every year of his NFL career.

He credited his career year in 2017 to more playing time and a better diet and sleeping habits.

“Honestly, I’ve just had the opportunity to get on the field more,” Woodyard said after piling up 20 tackles, according to the Titans’ statistics, against the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 5. “The way I look at it, I was getting about 20 snaps a game last year and still coming out with halfway decent snaps. The key is to just get opportunities and take advantage of it. ...

“I tell guys this all the time, ‘I’m an undrafted guy. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity you get, and not complain’ about when you’re not in the game.”

Season opener: Titans at Dolphins, 1 p.m. Sunday (Fox-56)

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Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard recorded a career high 124 tackles last season. James Kenney AP

Practice squads

Three former Kentucky players were added to NFL practice squads after cutdown day this past Saturday. Wide receiver Jeff Badet joined the Minnesota Vikings, linebacker Farrington Huguenin is with the Pittsburgh Steelers and center Jon Toth is back with the Philadelphia Eagles.

This weekend’s NFL games on TV

Thursday

8:20 p.m.: Atlanta at Philadelphia (NBC-18)

Sunday

1 p.m.: Cincinnati at Indianapolis (CBS-27)

1 p.m.: Tennessee at Miami (Fox-56)

4:25 p.m.: Dallas at Carolina (Fox-56)

8:20 p.m.: Chicago at Green Bay (NBC-18)

Monday

7:10 p.m.: New York Jets at Detroit (ESPN)

10:20 p.m.: L.A. Rams at Oakland (ESPN)

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