Big Sky Conference

Sixteen former Big Sky stars make active NFL rosters, four more join practice squads

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For years, the NFL had two sets of cuts during its preseason. As of last season, teams can now bring 90 players to training camp and execute just one round of cuts. The deadline for final 53-man rosters came on Saturday evening.

A total of 16 former Big Sky Conference standouts made active rosters. Four more signed to NFL practice squads. A total of 18 more hopefuls were released over the last few weeks.

Eastern Washington leads all Big Sky schools with four players on active rosters and a fifth on a practice squad. With veteran safety Colt Anderson expected to re-sign with the Buffalo Bills after getting released on Monday, Montana will be next with four active players in the NFL. Former Buck Buchanan Award winner Tyrone Holmes and former All-Big Sky linebacker Jordan Tripp also have good chances to get picked up to a 53-man roster after abrupt cuts.

Southern Utah is tied with Montana with three former players on active rosters, including LeShaun Sims, a slated starter for the Tennessee Titans at cornerback. Former Griz corner Trumaine Johnson of the Los Angles Rams, Sims, former Sacramento State linebacker Todd Davis of the Denver Broncos and former UC Davis punter Colton Schmidt of the Buffalo Bills are the only players with Big Sky roots slated to start in the NFL on opening day.

Below, you can find the various statuses of players with ties to the Big Sky, including all 16 active players.

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BIG SKY CONFERENCE NFL DRAFT SELECTIONS (click here for full story)

Kupp garnered rave reviews from new coach Sean McVay instantly. The coach said  “Cooper is a guy that consistently shows up,” early in camp.  Kupp was the first name McVay mentioned when asked by reporters for standouts from the first two practices with the LA Rams earlier this summer.

“I think it was always good to see some of those guys that we drafted that we’re counting on to be contributors show up,” McVay said. “I thought Cooper Kupp showed why we like him so much. (He’s) savvy. He’s a polished route runner (with) good aggressive hands.”

EWU DE Samson Ebukam chases down Richmond QB Kevin Johnson/ by Jason Bacaj

EWU DE Samson Ebukam chases down Richmond QB Kevin Johnson/ by Jason Bacaj

To Ebukam, one of the draft’s most meteoric risers after running an astounding 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash at EWU’s pro day, the standout performance was must more of what he saw in Cheney over the last four years from his four-time first-team All-American teammate.

“He’s still being Coop,” Ebukam told the media Saturday. “He’s still catching balls and making people look silly, so I’m not really surprised at all. That’s just what he does.”

Ebukam himself performed admirably in his first showing playing true outside linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder earned first-team All-America honors as a Buck defensive end/outside linebacker his senior season.

“I’m in a different situation because it’s a new position for me so it’s a lot but I think I can handle it, honestly,” Ebukam said. “It’s only like five plays. If I can’t, I don’t need to be in the NFL (laughs).

“Being in a two-point stance, being able to do it all, that’s the challenge.”

FORMER BIG SKY CONFERENCE PLAYERS ON ACTIVE ROSTERS

Former Montana Grizzlies

  • Brock Coyle/ photo by Morgan Braby

    Brock Coyle/ photo by Morgan Braby

    Former Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson is slated to start this season for the Los Angeles Rams. Johnson, a three-time first-team All-Big Sky selection and three-time All-American, led the league with seven interceptions in 2015. He has been the Rams’ franchise tag player for two years, earning more than $31 million during that time. His single-season salary this season is the highest of any cornerback in the NFL

  • Former Montana linebacker Brock Coyle is on the San Francisco 49ers active roster and is listed as Navorro Bowman’s backup at middle linebacker. This will be the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder from Bozeman’s fourth year in the NFL.
  • The Buffalo Bills cut but are expected to resign Tuesday former Montana All-American safety Colt Anderson late on Sunday to make room for wide receiver/quarterback Joe Webb. Anderson, a three-time first-team All-Big Sky selection, is entering his ninth NFL season despite walking on to Montana and going unselected in the NFL Draft. He has spent the last three weeks on Buffalo’s physically unable to perform list. Once he clears waivers, the Butte native will sign with the Bills for the veteran’s minimum.
  • Former Montana offensive lineman William Poehls signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars after spending the entire preseason with the Chicago Bears. Poehls has bounced around since signing with the Tennessee Titans a an undrafted free agent in 2014.

Former Montana State Bobcats

  • Former Montana State cornerback Bryson Keeton is not on the New York Jets’ depth chart but remains on the active roster entering 2nd season. The former Nevada transfer spent two seasons at Montana State, starting 24 total games but never earning All-Big Sky recognition.

Former Eastern Washington Eagles

  • Former Eastern Washington running back Taiwan Jones is expected to be a special teams standout once again for the Buffalo Bills. Jones was the 2010 Big Sky Co-Offensive Player of the Year after leading EWU to its first and only national championship.
Former SUU safety Miles Killebrew/ by Brooks Nuanez

Former SUU safety Miles Killebrew/ by Brooks Nuanez

Former Southern Utah Thunderbirds

  • Former Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew is slated to serve as Tavon Wilson’s backup at strong safety for the Detroit Lions. He is a former two-time All-Big Sky selection, former All-American and 4th-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft after helping SUU to its first Big Sky title the previous fall.
  • Entering his second season, former Southern Utah cornerback LeShaun Sims is slated to start for the Tennessee Titans. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder is a former 5th-round draft pick.

Former Portland State Vikings

  • Former Portland State tight end Julius Thomas is still listed as the starter for the Miami Dolphins. He is entering his seventh NFL season, including his first with the Dolphins. Thomas caught 30 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns last season with Jacksonville. He has 33 touchdown catches in his career.
  • Former Portland State safety Patrick Onwuasor is listed as Kamaelei Correa’s backup at inside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Onwuasor, a former Arizona transfer, led the FCS in interceptions with nine in 2015. He helped Portland State to nine wins and a six-seed in the FCS playoffs his senior year and was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award.
  • Former Portland State defensive back DeShawn Shead is on the Seattle Seahawks’ active roster but not on the depth chart.

Former Idaho State Bengals 

  • Former Montana State CB Bryson Keeton

    Former Montana State CB Bryson Keeton

    Former Idaho State offensive lineman Evan Smith is listed as the backup right guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 6-foot-2, 308-pounder is entering his eighth season in the NFL.

  • Former Idaho State tight end Josh Hill is entering his fifth season with the New Orleans Saints. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder is currently Colby Fleener’s backup. He has nine touchdowns in his career.

Former Cal Poly Mustangs 

  • Former Cal Poly linebacker Nick Dzubnar is listed as Denzel Perryman’s backup at middle linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers. The 6-foot-1, 242-pounder is entering his third season with the organization.

Former Sacramento State Hornets

  • Former Sacramento State linebacker Todd Davis is slated to start this season for the Denver Broncos. The 6-1, 230-pound fourth-year NFL veteran made 97 tackles in his first year as a starter last season.

Former UC Davis Aggies

  • Former UC Davis punter Colton Schmidt remains the starter with the Buffalo Bills. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has been in the league since 2013.

BIG SKY PLAYERS WHO SIGNED WITH PRACTICE SQUADS

  • Montana State offensive lineman J.P. Flynna four-time All-Big Sky selection who earned first-team honors as sophomore and senior, signed a free agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers and frequently played during the pre-season. He made it to the final cut before being released on Saturday night. The 6-5, 320-pounder signed with the 49ers’ practice squad on Sunday.
  • J.P. Flynn prepares for a power clean before his pro day/ by Colter Nuanez

    J.P. Flynn prepares for a power clean before his pro day/ by Colter Nuanez

    Northern Colorado Kyle Sloter quarterbackan honorable mention All-Big Sky selection in his one year as a starter at UNC, signed a free agent deal with the Broncos, choosing Denver over offers from the Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders. The Broncos nearly used the last pick of the seventh round of the draft on Sloter but instead selected Ole Miss standout quarterback Chad Kelly. Sloter started Denver’s final preseason game and looked solid but was cut on Saturday. He immediately signed a practice squad deal with the Minnesota Vikings. He will make $22,000 a week, more than three times the average practice squad salary.

  • Former Eastern Washington offensive guard Aaron Neary signed with the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad after being cut by the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday.

PLAYED IN THE PRESEASON BUT WERE RELEASED

  • UM defensive end Tyrone Holmes/by Brooks Nuanez

    UM defensive end Tyrone Holmes/by Brooks Nuanez

    Former Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes initially made the Cleveland Browns’ active roster. Less than 24 hours after tweeting the news he had made the 53, the Browns released the 6-4, 253-pounder. The former Buck Buchanan Award winner and former sixth-round NFL Draft pick remains unsigned.

  • The Green Bay Packers cut former Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp on Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 236-pounder earned first-team All-American honors in 2013 and first-team All-Big Sky honors his final two years at UM before getting selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins.
  • Former Montana State offensive lineman Mike Person, a 7th-round draft pick by the 49ers in 2011, is entering his eighth season in the NFL. But the Kansas City Chiefs released the Glendive native on Saturday. Person is trying to compete for his eighth season.
  • The Green Bay Packers have put former Montana State tight end Beau Sandland on injured reserve. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder was an FCS All-American in 2015, his only I-AA season after spending time at a California junior college and Miami. He was a seventh round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers.
  • Eastern Washington wide receiver Shaq Hill,a first-team All-Big Sky selection last season, signed a free agent deal with the Houston Texans but was cut shortly after. The 5-10, 185-pounder signed with the Tampa Buccaneers but was released on Saturday.
  • Southern Utah cornerback Josh Thornton, a second-team All-Big Sky selection as a senior, signed as a free agent with the Lions on May 12, joining former SUU safety Miles Killebrew in Detroit. Thornton is not listed on the depth chart following rookie mini-camp. He was cut by the Lions after the third week of the preseason.
  • Southern Utah tight end Steven Wroblewski, an honorable mention All-Big Sky pick last fall, signed a priority free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals but was cut before the preseason.  The 6-foot-7, 265-pounder signed with the Indianapolis Colts before being cut at the end of the preseason.
  • Former Southern Utah athlete Raysean Pringle/by Jason Bacaj

    Former Southern Utah athlete Raysean Pringle/by Jason Bacaj

    Southern Utah’s Raysean Pringle received a rookie mini-camp invite from the Green Bay Packers. Pringle played wide receiver and running back at SUU. He practiced for three days as a cornerback and was signed as a free agent by the Packers after the mini-camp’s conclusion on May 7. The 6-1, 184-pounder made it to the final cut before finally being released.

  • Cal Poly outside linebacker Josh Letuligasenoa received an invite to rookie mini-camp by the Green Bay Packers. He made the 90-man roster and played through four weeks of the preseason. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was released on Saturday.
  • Portland State cornerback Xavier Colemana two-time All-Big Sky selection and first-team pick as a senior, signed a free agent deal with the New York Jets. The 6-foot-1, 193-pounder made it to the final cut before being released.
  • Portland State offensive lineman Cam Keizur, a three-time All-Big Sky selection who landed on the first team as a senior last season, signed a free agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons but was released halfway through the preseason. The Falcons replaced him with former All-Big Sky center Cornelius Edison, a 2015 PSU alum. The Falcons released Edison on Saturday.
  • Weber State linebacker Tre’Von Johnsona two-time All-Big Sky selection and a first-team pick as a senior in 2016, signed a free agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder was cut on Saturday.
  • The Arizona Cardinals released former Northern Arizona All-Big Sky defensive lineman Peli Anau on Saturday. After battling injuries for the duration of his career, the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder earned first-team All-Big Sky honors after leading the league with 6.5 sacks.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved. 

About Brooks Nuanez

Brooks Nuanez, Director of Operations — Brooks is the co-founder, senior photographer and Director of Operations for Skyline Sports. He is a life-long athlete who enjoys the fierce nature of sports as much as he enjoys the sweet harmony of music. Brooks first gained an interest for photography at a young age, and grew that passion into a craft. Brooks has spent most of his life in Montana, instilling a love for the mountains and the wildlife. The University of Montana alum spent parts of three seasons as a safety for the Grizzly football team while earning a degree in business management, honing his passion for craft beer, people and his entrepreneurial spirit. In July of 2015, Brooks married his lifelong love, Kaila. The couple lives happily in Bozeman with their son Ellis.Brooks can be reached at Brooks.nuanez@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @Brooksnuanez and @SkylineSportsMT.

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