Duke in the NFL: Cut-down day edition
NFL teams had to cut their rosters to the regular-season limit of 53 by 6 p.m. Saturday. That meant, in the middle of the first college football Saturday of the season, former college stars were learning their professional fates.
For Duke, that meant a mixed bag of news.
Former Blue Devils quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, acquired by Buffalo in a trade with Detroit earlier in the week, was placed on waivers by the quarterback-challenged Bills. Wide receiver Conner Vernon, who graduated from Duke earlier this year as the ACC’s all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yards, was let go by the Oakland Raiders.
Former Duke tight end Cooper Helfet received similar news from the Seattle Seahawks.
On the positive side of the ledger, former Duke safety Matt Daniels made the St. Louis Rams 53-man roster.
Lewis, Duke’s all-time leader in passing yards (10,065), isn’t likely to be off an NFL roster for long. The Bills, according to a source close to Lewis, have not ruled out bringing him back if he clears waivers. With projected starter Kevin Kolb being placed on injured reserve earlier in the week, Buffalo has two quarterbacks on its roster: E.J. Manuel and Jeff Tuel.
Manuel had knee surgery on Aug. 18 and has been rehabilitating since then. The Bills are hopeful the rookie from Florida State will be available this month. Tuel is an undrafted rookie from Washington State.
Unlike those two, Lewis has actually started an NFL game. That was for Cleveland in the Browns’ season finale at Pittsburgh last December.
Vernon caught four passes for 42 yards in Oakland’s four exhibition games. His longest catch was 29 yards. Should Vernon go unclaimed in the waiver process, he could head back to Oakland’s eight-main practice squad.
One other recent Duke player, quarterback Sean Renfree, was placed on injured reserve Friday by the Atlanta Falcons. Renfree, a seventh-round pick by Atlanta last April, suffered a shoulder injury during Thursday night’s exhibition loss to Jacksonville.
Renfree suffered a torn chest muscle in his final game with the Blue Devils, the 48-34 loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl last December.
The Falcons are keeping Matt Ryan and Dominique Davis as their two quarterbacks. Renfree will be under team control, and getting his full rookie salary, while recovering from this latest injury this season.
Speaking of injuries, Daniels has come a long way back from a physical setback to make the Rams roster. He tore the ACL in his knee last season while the Rams were playing New England in London.
He punctuated his comeback by intercepting a pass in the Rams’ exhibition finale on Thursday night.
One former Duke player who didn’t have to sweat cut-down day on Saturday was Vinnie Rey. A member of the Cincinnati Bengals since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Rey has become the team’s de facto special teams captain.
“Guys respect Vinnie because of how hard he works,” Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons told Bengals.com. “He may not be the most vocal guy, the guy that you follow because of what he says. But you follow him by what he does. He's got the respect of the younger players. He knows everything as well as I do. That's a calming thing.”
Rey is one of five linebackers on the Bengals roster.