NFL prospects getting second chance through Alumni Academy

Fri Nov 20 3:16pm ET
AP Pro Football Writer

In normal times, NFL teams sometimes must scramble to find players during the season when a wave of injuries or other issues hit. In 2020, multiply those needs exponentially because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Helping out the 32 teams on a limited scale - for now - is the NFL Alumni Academy, run by Dean Dalton, who coached in the league for seven seasons and, as he says, ''every time I have tried to leave the game, I've been pulled back in.''

The academy is located at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, right next to the hall itself. Its first class has included 29 players cut in the preseason, and since early October has undergone the kind of intensive work seen in training camps. An impressive array of teachers such as Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz, and veteran coaches including Mike Tice and Dalton are working to provide another chance for these players, as well as aiding NFL clubs who repeatedly have found themselves shorthanded this season.

''The fundamental thing is we needed to have better NFL-ready players available,'' says Dalton, who was with the Vikings from 1999-2005 and is well connected throughout the league. ''In all other pro sports, there is some sort of feeder system or minor or junior league. All the college programs are our feeder system into the draft, but we don't have an in-season model.

''It is tough to have a good pipeline of depth in season. The saying is true, that `championship teams have championship depth.' The bottom of their roster is a little more talented. When you have the next-man-up program, if your guy is better, you have a chance to play longer into the playoffs.''

Historically, many of the next men up didn't initially make it onto an NFL roster. Some of the players who were released after training camp this year are getting the chance to jump the line, in essence, by working at the academy.

For 2020, only offensive and defensive linemen and running backs have been invited. That has proven wise during the pandemic, when the academy is using a bubble approach for all its players, and a modified bubble for the coaches and other personnel.

There's a player-specific hotel, transportation and catering for them. One locker room at the stadium, which usually hosts the Hall of Fame game in August and a variety of high school and college events, has become a weight room. The others are now meeting rooms, with ample social distancing.

Dalton and staff make available video workouts of each player to a portal exclusive to NFL personnel departments. It's not how things were originally planned, but what is during 2020?

''We would have allowed scouts and personnel people from all 32 teams, we didn't plan on the quarantining, etc.,'' Dalton says. ''They would have been able to come on campus to do interviews with players just as they do with the draft on college campuses. But this time they are scouting for their team for this week.

''Our players are evaluated in real time every day, and teams know they are healthy and in shape. And so when they bring them in, they know they are getting guys who football-wise, they are at a higher level.''

Thus far, eight players have been signed to practice squads, though several more have been brought in for workouts by NFL clubs. Everyone at the academy recognizes that being active for a game is a tougher task, what with the different roster rules this year in which teams can have veterans on their practice squads who routinely get the first opportunities to suit up for games.

''The work here is legit,'' says Tavien Feaster, a running back who played at Clemson and South Carolina. ''The NFL knowledge from the coaches and the intensity of the training make me even more confident that I will succeed in the NFL. I appreciated how quickly the players all bonded during our workouts and how the coaches really teach us about going to the next level.''

Ah, the next level. Dalton is hopeful that the long-term plan for the academy will reach fruition and it will provide players at every position the opportunity to impress NFL folks. Having the resources of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village and the NFL Alumni Association certainly provide optimism.

''We look forward to adding more positions and more players to serve this win-win-win scenario,'' he says. ''To have an excellent caliber of players who are more prepared and NFL ready, we win. The players win because this is their opportunity.

''And the win for the game, it sounds altruistic, the game will have a better quality of product. Oftentimes, we see players who are supremely talented but they fail because of, say, off-field issues, and the whole thing we work on is the life skills aspect. That is a big value proposition for a team. We teach the guys and talk about that on a daily basis.

''We are modeling this after what a team does, and it is in season. We want the guys to have the same rigors of what goes on in an NFL week.''

Dalton laughs as he adds: ''And we don't have any game planning; we are teaching and coaching even more football.''

Player Notes
New York Giants Dec 1 9:50pm ET

The New York Giants placed starting outside linebacker Kyle Fackrell (calf) on Injured Reserve on Tuesday with a calf injury. Fackrell will miss at least the next three games, leaving the Giants very short-handed at the position. He was tied for second on the team with three sacks and was playing close to 100 percent of the defensive snaps before suffering the injury in the Week 12 win over the Bengals. No outside linebacker on the active roster has more than one sack this year. Linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines are also on IR. Jamaal Sheard and rookies Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown could start in Week 13 against the Seahawks, making the New York defense one to avoid for fantasy managers after they were a popular streaming defense against Cincy.

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Drew Lock Dec 1 9:40pm ET

The Denver Broncos activated quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday after all three had PCR tests come back negative on Monday. They will all be eligible to play in Week 13 against the Chiefs. So barring additional team discipline, the Broncos won't be forced to use a practice-squad wide receiver under center against their division rivals. If Lock returns as the starter for this offense, it'll be excellent news for receivers Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler and tight end Noah Fant. Denver will likely be forced to throw often to keep up with the Chiefs high-octane offense, too, but Lock's inconsistency this season keeps him as a low-end QB2. The 24-year-old was 24-for-40 for 254 yards and two interceptions in the first meeting against KC back in Week 7.

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Olamide Zaccheaus Dec 1 9:30pm ET

The Atlanta Falcons placed wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (toe) on Injured Reserve on Tuesday after he left the Week 12 win over the Raiders with a toe injury. In a corresponding move, the team activated receiver Laquon Treadwell from the Reserve/COVID-19 list and added him to the 53-man roster. Zaccheaus popped up for a couple decent games this year, but it his production was inconsistent on a weekly basis and he was too far down the team's receiving depth chart to be a viable fantasy option in most leagues. The second-year wideout's best game came in Week 9 against the Broncos when he had four receptions for 103 yards and his first touchdown of the season. If he doesn't make it back this year, he'll finish with 20 receptions (32 targets) for 274 yards and the one touchdown. Christian Blake and Brandon Powell could see some more playing time as the No. 4 wideout with Zaccheaus out.

From RotoBaller

J.K. Dobbins Dec 1 9:20pm ET

Baltimore Ravens running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II are both eligible to be activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list prior to the Week 12 game against the Steelers on Wednesday, but it's not a given that either will play. Both players have been isolated since testing positive for the virus on Nov. 22 and aren't allowed to fly on the team plane on Tuesday night. At this point, if you have Dobbins or Ingram on your roster, you've likely benched them for other running backs that already played in Week 12. Even if they both play, Gus Edwards could see the majority of backfield touches and will be the best fantasy play of the trio. Those that picked up Edwards in order to start him this week are hoping that neither Dobbins nor Ingram suit up in the tough matchup against the undefeated Steelers.

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Brandon Williams Dec 1 9:10pm ET

The Baltimore Ravens activated defensive tackle Brandon Williams, quarterback Trace McSorley, nickelback Tavon Young and cornerback Khalil Dorsey from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday. They could activate more players from the list before kickoff against the Steelers on Wednesday. McSorley should be the backup to Robert Griffin III on Wednesday with Lamar Jackson testing positive for COVID-19 and being unavailable this week. The return of Williams will be good news for Baltimore's defensive line, who will again be without Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell. The Ravens Defense is more of a gamble in DFS and season-long leagues against the undefeated Steelers, but inclement weather is expected and could make things tougher on both offenses.

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Dalvin Cook Dec 1 7:53pm ET

Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (ankle) is 'just kind of beat up,' according to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Fantasy Spin: Cook briefly left the Week 12 game against the Carolina Panthers but returned to finish with 83 total yards and 22 touches. He leads the league with 1,385 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns on the season. The Vikings' schedule gets much tougher following the Week 13 home date against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he'll remain a matchup-proof RB1 due to his heavy usage.

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Jordan Willis Dec 1 7:43pm ET

San Francisco 49ers DT D.J. Jones, DE Jordan Willis and practice squad TE Daniel Helm will be activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list and practice Thursday, Dec. 3, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Jaylen Watkins Dec 1 7:13pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers TE Matt Sokol and DB Jaylen Watkins were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Chris Smith Dec 1 7:03pm ET

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Chad Hansen Dec 1 6:53pm ET

Houston Texans WR Chad Hansen, DT Corey Liuget, WR Steven Mitchell Jr. and WR Damion Ratley were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Aldrick Rosas Dec 1 6:53pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Terry Godwin, DB Josh Nurse, DT Caraun Reid and PK Aldrick Rosas were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Rashard Robinson Dec 1 6:33pm ET

Dallas Cowboys DB Deante Burton, OT Jordan Mills, DB Rashard Robinson and OT William Sweet were named protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Troy Fumagalli Dec 1 6:33pm ET

Denver Broncos RB LeVante Bellamy, TE Troy Fumagalli, DB Alijah Holder and LB Josh Watson were made protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Kyle Lauletta Dec 1 6:23pm ET

Cleveland Browns OT Michael Dunn, QB Kyle Lauletta, PK Matthew McCrane and OT Alex Taylor were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Joe Webb Dec 1 6:13pm ET

Free-agent WR Joe Webb (Lions) is visiting the New York Giants Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Tyler Bray Dec 1 6:13pm ET

Chicago Bears QB Tyler Bray was designated as a protected practice squad player for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Kevin Hogan Dec 1 6:13pm ET

Cincinnati Bengals QB Kevin Hogan, WR Stanley Morgan, RB Jacques Patrick and TE Mitchell Wilcox were named as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Darron Lee Dec 1 6:03pm ET

Buffalo Bills DE Bryan Cox Jr., C Jordan Devey, C Jonotthan Harrison and LB Darron Lee were chosen as protected practice squad players for Week 13 on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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Will Fuller Dec 1 5:53pm ET

Houston Texans WR Will Fuller and CB Bradley Roby were officially placed on the Reserve/Suspended list Tuesday, Dec. 1. The Texans also activated DT Andrew Brown from the Exempt/Commissioner Permission list.

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D.J. Foster Dec 1 5:53pm ET

Arizona Cardinals TE Seth DeValve, DE Michael Dogbe, RB D.J. Foster and WR A.J. Richardson were chosen as protected practice squad players for Week 13 on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

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