Five former Badgers signed by NFL teams

By Sam Zastrow

Now that the NFL lockout has ended, front offices are scrambling to sign free agents and stock their teams’ rosters for training camp. The Badgers had four players drafted in April’s NFL Draft, and in the last 48 hours, five more have signed contracts with NFL teams:

Running back John Clay was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday. Here’s a (somewhat creepy) photograph of Clay wearing a Steelers hat: Clay’s power running could be an asset for the Steelers this season as they try to avoid overusing workhorse Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh has two other running backs on its roster, 29-year-old Mewelde Moore and third-year man Isaac Redman.

Quarterback Scott Tolzien was rumored Monday to be interested in signing with the Seattle Seahawks or Indianapolis Colts, but by Tuesday, he was officially a member of the San Diego Chargers. Interest in Tolzien around the league was rumored to be high, and senior analyst Pat Kirwan listed Tolzien as the second best undrafted rookie free agent quarterback this year. Philip Rivers is the only other San Diego quarterback under contract and Chargers head coach Norv Turner is known to be a solid mentor for young quarterbacks.

Wide Receiver/Kick Returner David Gilreath was signed by the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are probably looking for some help returning kicks, as they ranked among the league’s worst in that department in most statistical categories. Gilreath is the Big Ten’s all time leading kickoff returner, but he’ll have to impress the Indianapolis staff early to make the team.

Cornerback Niles Brinkley, who was also signed by the Steelers, is in perhaps the best position of any of the players signed in the past two days. The Steelers couldn’t stop Aaron Rodgers and the dynamic Green Bay Packers passing attack in Super Bowl XLV, so it was no secret they were looking for secondary help. Brinkley has a good shot at not only making the team, but earning some playing time in passing situations, as the Steelers have only three other corners under contract.

Undersized linebacker Blake Sorenson stepped up in a big way during his senior season at UW, and he was rewarded for his efforts Wednesday when he signed a contract with the Seattle Seahawks. Few expected much out of Sorenson after star OLB Chris Borland was sidelined with a shoulder injury, but the senior stepped up, making big plays for the Badgers and helping them earn a Rose Bowl berth. He faces an uphill battle to make the team in Seattle (or elsewhere down the road), but Sorenson has surprised us before.

Expect safety Jay Valai to get a look from a team in the near future, but as of 1:30 central time Wednesday, he is still unsigned.

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