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Five Badgers join NFL teams

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Jeff Potrykus
July 28, 2011
— The No. 1 benefit for a player not taken in the NFL draft is the ability to choose the team that might offer the best opportunity to win a roster spot.

For former Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, that team is the San Diego Chargers.


Tolzien, 21-5 in two seasons as UW’s starter, signed a free-agent contract with the Chargers on Tuesday.


Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Tolzien could not be reached.


Starter Philip Rivers is the Chargers’ only quarterback under contract, and coach Norv Turner is known for his work with the quarterbacks.


Rivers is entering his eighth season in the league, all with San Diego. He has started all 80 regular-season games over the last five seasons.


Backup Billy Volek is an unrestricted free agent.


Last season Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given annually to the nation’s top senior quarterback.


He set school records for season completion percentage with a minimum of 100 attempts at 72.9 percent and efficiency rating with a minimum of 200 attempts with a rating of 165.8 points.


Tolzien passed for 2,459 yards last season, the No. 4 mark in school history.


Four other former UW players have signed or are expected to sign free-agent deals.


Tailback John Clay and cornerback Niles Brinkley signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost to the Green Bay Packers, 31-25, in the Super Bowl.


Wide receiver/return specialist David Gilreath signed with the Indianapolis Colts.


Linebacker Blake Sorensen, from Eden Prairie, Minn., has signed a free-agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.


Clay was the offensive player of the year in the Big Ten Conference as a third-year sophomore in 2009 after rushing 277 times for 1,517 yards (5.5-yard average) and 18 touchdowns.


However, he struggled with injuries and controlling his weight last season and finished with 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns in 187 carries (5.4-yard average).


The Steelers No. 1 tailback is Rashard Mendenhall. The former Illinois star rushed for 1,273 yards (3.9-yard average) and 13 touchdowns last season. He lost a crucial fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter in the Super Bowl, with the Steelers trailing by 21-17 but driving for a possible score.


Backups Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore rushed for 247 and 99 yards, respectively. Redman is entering is his third season. Moore is entering his eighth.


Brinkley started 26 of 43 games at UW. He recorded a total of six interceptions, including four in 2008.


The Steelers struggled in pass coverage in the Super Bowl loss to Green Bay and surrendered 304 yards and three touchdowns to Aaron Rodgers.


Gilreath set two Big Ten records and two school records as a return specialist at UW. He holds the Big Ten record for all-time kickoff returns (135) and kickoff-return yards (3,025) and UW records for kickoff-return yards in a season (967) and in a game (189).


Four players had at least 12 kickoff returns for the Colts last season.


Sorensen started 11 games as a senior last season and played all three linebacker positions.


“The thing that made Blake great for me was how versatile he was,” former UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, who is entering his first season as head coach at Northern Illinois, said Wednesday morning before NIU’s media day. “You’re looking at a small roster so if you have a linebacker that can be on every special team, play one linebacker position really well and back up the other two mentally, that gives you a lot of value.”


Former Homestead High School standout Brad Thorson, who was at UW for two seasons before transferring to Kansas, has signed a free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals.


Thorson played center, left guard and right tackle at Kansas. He expects to work at center or guard with the Cardinals.


“I was disillusioned because I thought the lockout was going to come to a quick end,” Thorson said by phone Tuesday night. “Thankfully it is over now.?.?.?.?The most important part is to be in a camp and that has been fulfilled.”


Former South Dakota State tight end Colin Cochart, from Kewaunee, signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.


Two other players with state ties signed free-agent contracts with NFL teams.


Nick Bellore, a graduate of Whitefish Bay High School who played linebacker at Central Michigan, signed with the New York Jets.


Jared Jenkins, a graduate of Milwaukee King who was a standout wide receiver and punter at Division III UW-Stevens Point, signed with the Detroit Lions.


Bellore started all four seasons at Central Michigan. He was a first-team all-Mid-American Conference performer three times and finished with 472 tackles.


Jenkins finished with 273 receptions at Stevens Point, the No. 2 mark in program history. He was an All-American punter as a senior, averaging 43.9 yards per punt.


Jenkins is the first player from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to be signed as a rookie free agent since 2007, when receiver Jesse Wendt of UW-Stout and tight end Pete Schmitt of UW-Whitewater both signed with Washington.



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