UK Football

Undrafted Cats get to pick own NFL teams

Alfonso Smith, Justin Jeffries and Zipp Duncan didn't get their names called in the NFL Draft last month like they had hoped.

In the big picture, that might not have been all that bad.

Smith, Jeffries and Duncan were among four former University of Kentucky football players who signed free-agent contracts shortly after the draft.

As free agents, players get to pick and choose which team to sign with. Smith, Duncan and Jeffries studied the depth charts of teams around the league to get a feel for where there would be a need at their positions. Agent Greg Linton found homes for Smith (Arizona) and Jeffries (San Diego), while Duncan's agent, Kevin Robinson, got Duncan a contract in Philadelphia.

The three UK players all will be going to teams who didn't draft a player at their respective positions.

"To not get drafted, obviously it's disappointing," Duncan said. "You've worked all that time and you'd like to hear your name called. But at the same time, you can pick a team that's interested in you and is willing to work with you. As a free agent, you already know it's going to be a tough road to try and make that roster. To be able to go into a situation where they don't have guys in front of you who are young, for me that was the most attractive part about it."

Jeffries, who will report to San Diego's mini-camp this weekend, said, "If a team drafts you, and they've already drafted three other offensive linemen, you're kind of sitting on the back burner a little bit.

"I think things worked out for the best. Now I've just got to show them what I've got."

Former Wildcat Corey Peters is in a different boat. As a third-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons, he'll be expected to not only make the team, but contend for a spot in the rotation. Peters said he won't let the expectations affect him when he reports to mini-camp this weekend.

"I look at it as a blessing," he said. "All of my career I've wanted to be the guy the coaches are talking to. Being one of the guys who more is expected of is going to make me a target, and that's going to make me a better player. When we're running sprints, I want the coaches looking at me. I want them getting on me if I'm falling back."

Duncan and Smith attended mini-camp last weekend, and both players had some interesting stories to tell. The hot topic in Philly was the absence of quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was traded to the Washington Redskins. Being a rookie free agent, Duncan was spared from having to talk about McNabb.

"Some of the older guys who had been there a long time, they were getting questions about it," Duncan said. "But I think everybody's excited about Kevin Kolb (McNabb's replacement). It's a business, and they understand that and they know that."

Duncan's first play in practice came with the second-team offense. The quarterback for that first play? None other than Michael Vick.

"He comes in there and calls a play, and I just wanted to call a timeout and ask for an autograph and introduce myself," Duncan said. "It was fun. You're around so many guys you've seen playing in college or playing in the NFL."

Duncan did see one familiar face in camp, former UK teammate Trevard Lindley, who was a fourth-round draft pick of the Eagles.

"It was good having someone there who you've played with the last four years that you could talk to," Duncan said. "We spent a lot of time eating a lot of meals together."

Smith also had his moments.

"I was sitting down and I looked up and saw Joey Porter," Smith said. "I'm looking and I'm like, 'Is that who I think it is? Then in the next couple of days I heard we were in the same fraternity (Phi Beta Sigma), so I went up to him and said something to him about it. Then I see Larry Fitzgerald. It's crazy. You're kind of star-struck."

Smith, a Louisville native who has made no secret of his dislike for the University of Louisville program, will have to get used to being a Cardinal. He purchased his first Arizona Cardinals hat shortly after the draft.

"I'm a Cardinal now, so I have to represent," he said. "I dislike the Louisville Cardinals, but not Cardinals (in general). I even went out and bought a Cardinals hat. It felt weird."

With the hat, people think I play for Louisville, and it doesn't even look like a (Louisville) Cardinal."

It was also a good week for another former Wildcat, Dicky Lyons Jr., who signed a free-agent deal with the Denver Broncos after a tryout last weekend.

Linebacker Micah Johnson attended the New York Giants' mini-camp last weekend on a tryout basis and was reportedly expected to sign a contract on Monday, but nothing official had been confirmed by the team as of Tuesday afternoon. Two other former Wildcats, Sam Maxwell and Christian Johnson, both had tryouts with the Cincinnati Bengals recently but were not offered contracts and will try and get into a training camp in the fall.