Ex-Pack Stars Battling for NFL Roster Spots

During NC State football coach Chuck Amato's tenure, one of his greatest successes has been putting players in NFL.

When Amato arrived in Raleigh in 2000, there were all of six Wolfpackers playing anywhere in the league: Torry Holt, Dewayne Washington, and Alvis Whitted stuck around... Tony Scott, Jason Perry, and Lloyd Harrison did not. Now in his sixth year, Amato has put 24 players in the National Football League. In addition to those six seasons at NC State, Amato has had numerous other players drafted by the NFL over the course of his coaching career.

Several of his former players are fighting for rosters spots in NFL training camps, and many more are already in the league looking to raise their profile this season. As NFL training camps grind on in preparation for the 2006 season, Pack Pride will keep you up to date on the progress of these Wolfpackers, beginning with the free agent hopefuls from last year's team.

In addition to the six recent draftees: Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, John McCargo, Stephen Tulloch, T.J. Williams, and Marcus Hudson; four other members of the 2005-2006 squad are training camps trying to prove their value: Brian Clark, Tramain Hall, Oliver Hoyte, and Derek Morris. While the draft ignored these four, they were fortunate enough to be offered invitations to training camps to compete for roster spots. So far, Clark and Hoyte seem to be making the best impressions.

Clark received 18 invitations to team camps, but ultimately chose the Denver Broncos, perhaps for their reputation for valuing players' talent over draft position or reputation. Neither former running back Mike Anderson nor current star receiver Rod Smith were drafted, but both have enjoyed great success in Denver.

Said Clark, "They've had guys who maybe weren't all that hyped or something, maybe they struggled a little, but they went on to do great things and help the team win. I felt like it was an opportunity for me to give it my best effort." Clark chose a team already stocked with a deep receiving corps, but has been quick to impress nonetheless.

Early in camp, Clark established himself as first-round pick Jay Cutler's favorite target, and made several acrobatic catches and scores that caught the staff's attention. "That's a great feeling knowing a guy like him -- as good as he is -- is looking for you and trusting you enough to make plays," said Clark.

Clark's efforts have caught the attention of fans and media as well. Colorado Springs local news station KKTV has called Clark "a pleasant surprise," and the Denver Post suggested that Clark has a good shot at making the team: "Brian Clark [is] pushing Darius Watts, David Terrell, Charlie Adams and Todd Devoe."

Brian Clark
A spectacular catch in practice also had many outlets chattering. Denver's CBS affiliate reported the following: "Among the best plays of the day: Brian Clark, a rookie from North Carolina State, made a sensational grab during a one-on-one passing drill. Jeff Shoate had tight coverage as they raced down the sideline. Clark had to dive for the ball on a 40-yard pass and he snatched it with one hand as they tumbled to the ground. That earned a roar from the crowd."

While Clark has turned heads in camp, he was unable to break the box score in either of Denver's first two preseason games, and still is not listed on the official depth chart. Clark, who averaged over 21 yards per catch at State, still has three games to prove his worth, and is likely to stick through the early cuts. At 6'2" and posessing track star speed, Clark fits the NFL receiver prototype, he just needs a few preseason breaks to beat out the bigger names on the team.

Whether it will be enough to make the team remains to be seen. Despite the expected loss of starting receiver Ashley Lelie, the Broncos drafted two receiver in the 4th round, Akron star Domenik Hixon and Central Florida playmaker Brandon Marshall, obtained star Javon Walker from Green Bay, and still return a deep corp of prospects, including former top-10 pick David Terrell and last year's gifted third-string receiver Darius Watts.

Tramain Hall was the more highly touted of last year's receiving duo, but the 5'10, 190 lb. Hall lacks Clark's height and long build, and suffered a similar dip in productivity as Clark last year, due in part to NC State's struggles at quarterback. As a sophomore catching passes from Philip Rivers, Hall tallied 69 receptions for 799 yards, more than both his junior and senior season totals combined.

While Hall also received several invitations to training camps, one offer had an NC State connection Hall hopes will work in his benefit. Hall signed with the Tennessee Titans, who last year hired former Wolfpack assistant Norm Chow as their offensive coordinator. After helping recruit the Deefield Beach, Fla. star to Raleigh, Chow saw an NCAA snafu steal two years of eligibility from Hall. Chow would leave for USC long before he ever got to see one of Amato's first five-star recruits take the field.

Reports from Titans camp have been quiet, though he did snag two catches for 17 yards in the preseason opener. Hall also is competing against a deep corp of receivers. However, he has earned time on the second team and shown the ability to go deep, connecting with Vince Young on several long touchdown grabs in practice. Hall's best chance to make the team may be as a punt or kickoff returner, and local fans and media have indicated he's looked good. However, Hall was not given an opportunity to field punts or kicks in the team's opening exhibition game, and is still seen as a long shot.

Oliver Hoyte

Another longshot is former fellow five-star recruit Derek Morris, who has landed with the Arizona Cardinals after declaring for the draft after his junior year. Morris was not drafted, but invited to try out for Kansas City shortly after. The Chiefs waived him just days after his aquisition, but Arizona, desperate for offensive line help, claimed him off waivers. State fans are hoping the massive Morris can make an impression and stick around in Arizona.

Oliver Hoyte seemed to be the only eligible player on defense who wasn't drafted. However, his hard-hitting and sure tackling from the linebacker position were noticed by the Dallas Cowboys, who have since been pleased with the performance of the 6'3" 250-lb Hoyte. In Dallas' first preseason game, Hoyte saw extensive action, and racked up three solo tackles and assisted on another.

Yahoo Sports called Hoyte a "perfect Parcells-type linebacker, with size (6-foot-1, 250 pounds), smarts and versatility." Hoyte's been scrappy as well, already getting into a scuffle with teammate D'Anthony Batiste where one player's helmet flew off, and it wasn't Hoyte's.

After leading the Wolfpack in tackles his junior year, Hoyte still failed to find the accolades so many of his peers did. However, his knack for timely tackles looks to have locked him up a roster spot in linebacker-needy Dallas, as he's already listed at third on the depth chart at middle linebacker.

Now, everyone knows all about first-round picks Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, and John McCargo. But late selectino Stephen Tulloch (fourth round), T.J. Williams (sixth round) and Marcus Hudson (sixth round) needed to prove their worth to make their teams, the Titans, Buccaneers and 49ers, respectively. For Williams, things couldn't have gone worse, as he tore his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout, and saw his rookie season vanish. Fortunately, the Bucs saw enough potential him to sign him and put him on year-long injured reserve. Things are brighter for Tulloch and Hudson however. Early returns for Tulloch and Hudson are sparkling, with Tulloch competing for a starting spot, and Hudson, drafted as a safety, winning the staff over as a corner, and now competing for the team's nickel spot.

Stay tuned next week for more about Tulloch and Hudson, and to learn how past draftees like Andre Maddox and Pat Thomas are progressing.

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