Four Lions Sign as Undrafted Free Agents

Justin K. Aller

Although they didn't hear their names called this weekend, a bunch of Penn Staters hope to stick on an NFL roster.

Last weekend, a trio former Penn Staters saw a life-long dream come true when they heard their name called at Radio City Music Hall. For Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges, and Michael Mauti, they'll head into camp with the Seahawks and Vikings and know that they've the inside track on making the roster, and playing week one in September.

But for the rest of the now-graduated Nittany Lions, the dream doesn't end there. It might be a rockier one, but a handful of them hope to catch on as UDFAs, and show enough in the open tryout that is an NFL training camp that a team decides they're worth keeping around.

The Patriots appeared to make their bid to challenge the Buffalo Bills as the preferred AFC East landing spot of Penn Staters by picking up two former Lions, Stephon Morris and Matt Stankiewitch.

Morris never seemed to get the credit as an NFL prospect that his play and his speed deserved, but that's almost certainly a result of his small stature. At just 5-8, and under 170 pounds, most teams would worry about matching Morris up against bigger, stronger pro wideouts. But there's a lot to like for Morris, and he certainly has the one attribute that UDFAs need to have to stick around--he's got wheels. Both of his 40-times at Penn State's pro-day came in at under 4.4 seconds, and the former Honorable Mention all-Big Ten could be destined for a role as a special teams gunner or kick returning, if not a depth defensive back. Besides, the Patriots burn through corners like they're going out of style, so any reason to keep Morris around might be enough.

We talked about Stankiewitch at length last week, and while it's not exactly a surprise to see that he fell through the cracks for seven rounds, that's hardly a nail in the coffin for his pro career. It seems that a higher proportion of NFL linemen were undrafted, especially those who are just extremely technically sound and not superior athletes. Even if he's just stashed on New England's practice squad, Stank's pedigree, motor, and smarts should be enough for him to stick somewhere.

While those two--Stankiewitch, especially--will certainly have the system familiarity having played for a Bill Belichick disciple, Mike Farrell will find himself in an even more comfortable landing spot--the Pittsburgh native signed with his hometown Steelers.

Farrell thrived as a first-year starter in Bill O'Brien's offense, passing the more highly-touted Adam Gress and Eric Shrive to help anchor the offensive line. And despite Mac McWhorter trying to work those two in as part of a rotation, the difference was palpable whenever Farrell vacated his spot at right tackle. A constant solid presence, Farrell even did a solid job protecting Matt McGloin's blind side in the two games that Donovan Smith missed. Farrell might not have been on many NFL radars before impressing at Penn State's pro day, but he'll have to build on that in training camp if he wants to make even a practice squad. But his story, and even his physical attributes, is almost indistinguishable from those of Dennis Landolt, who's bounced around from practice squad to practice squad since graduating in 2010.

Lastly, Mike Zordich has found a landing spot in Carolina, which is actually a pretty terrific landing spot. The Panthers don't exactly run the most traditional of offenses, but their roster lacks a true fullback, with just big-running-back Mike Tolbert and tight end Richie Brockel on the depth chart at that position. Zordich is certainly a terrific lead-blocker in the run game, though his pass-catching and short-yardage run skills are likely eclipsed by Tolbert's. We also know that he'll be a key contributor on the special teams unit, which might be his key to gaining a foothold in today's NFL, where a fullback is a luxury that plenty of teams are willing to go without.

For three more former Lions, it seems like the dream of playing in the pros is just about dead. Both defensive ends, Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley, apparently have had their histories of injuries--serious and nagging, respectively--come back to bite them, despite both having the versatility to also play OLB in a 3-4 defense. If neither can sign on somewhere in the next few days, I'm pretty sure Massaro will be just fine--the two-time academic All-American graduated with a 3.87 GPA in finance and economics. If an NFL team doesn't come calling, an investment firm almost certainly will.

It's more than a little bit puzzling to see that no NFL team has thought Matt McGloin worthy of a signing even just to be camp fodder, but it looks like this his where his journey ends. Although McGloin had a terrific season under Bill O'Brien a year ago, the physical limitations he's worked so hard to overcome appear to have finally formed a glass ceiling. Despite excelling as a drop-back quarterback in an NFL system, his small stature and lack of elite arm strength seem to have scared off all 32 pro teams. McGloin's arrogant fiery demeanor, too, might not be something coaching staffs need from somebody they'd only project as a clipboard-holder, too--those tend to be more even-keeled guys who staffs think can fit as a backup. It would seem that it's off to Canada for Matt, if he wants to keep playing football.

EDIT: Monday Night Update--Dan spoke with Matt McGloin's agent, and far from the dire situation I'd presumed the quarterback found himself in, he actually finds himself in a pretty decent position. Rather than being unsigned because no NFL team wanted to take a shot on McGloin, he's in fact biding his time, deciding between as many as six NFL offers to come to training camp as a UDFA. He'll be working out with some team come Thursday with the hopes of keeping his dream alive, we're just not yet sure which. I was pretty off-base, but all things considered, this is not the worst mistake in my blogging career.

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