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Reports: Dan Vitale to join Buffalo Bills

by Max Gelman 0 Comments
Reports: Dan Vitale to join Buffalo Bills
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

Former Northwestern superback Dan Vitale has landed with the Buffalo Bills just a few days after being cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ProFootballTalk and ESPN reported Sunday.

Buffalo claimed Vitale on waivers after he failed to make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster in the preseason. The Buccaneers had selected Vitale in the 6th round (197th overall) of April’s NFL Draft.

With the Bills, Vitale will likely serve as the backup fullback to Glenn Gronkowski, younger brother of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Should Buffalo coach Rex Ryan choose to utilize the ex-Wildcat at tight end, Vitale would fight for playing time with Charles Clay, Jim Dray and Nick O’Leary.

Reports: Ex-Wildcats Dan Vitale, Kain Colter cut from 53-man rosters

by Max Gelman 0 Comments
Reports: Ex-Wildcats Dan Vitale, Kain Colter cut from 53-man rosters
(Daily file photo by Jacob Swan)

Dan Vitale, Northwestern’s leading receiver in 2015, has been cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Times reported Friday morning.

Vitale was selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft (197th overall) by Tampa Bay as a fullback, but had shifted to tight end during the preseason. Undrafted free agent Alan Cross, a former walk-on at Memphis, beat out Vitale for a roster spot.

As a Wildcat, Vitale totaled 135 catches for 1427 yards. His 11 career receiving touchdowns are tied for 10th-most in program history.

UPDATE (11:45 a.m.): Former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter has been released by the Buffalo Bills, the NFL Network reported.

Colter gained national fame after moving to unionize NU’s football team in January 2014. Two months later, the National Labor Relations Board for Region 13 ruled in favor of Cats players, establishing the College Athletes Players Association as a union and claiming the players are employees of the University.

However, the NLRB dismissed Colter’s petition by declining to rule on the case in August 2015, effectively declaring that student-athletes are not university employees.

With NU, Colter thrived in dual-QB system. He threw for 2,160 yards and 18 touchdowns against nine interceptions, rushed for 2,180 yards and 28 touchdowns, and amassed 683 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He had transitioned to wide receiver and bounced around the NFL for a few years, including stops with the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams, before signing with Buffalo at the beginning of August.

2016 Football Preview: Receivers look for impact player after loss of Vitale

2016 Football Preview: Receivers look for impact player after loss of Vitale
(Daily file photo by Jacob Swan)

The Wildcats’ receiving corps has lost a vital component.

Former superback Dan Vitale graduated in the spring and joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving a gap in the passcatchers’ lineup that will be difficult to fill. Northwestern’s receivers struggled last year, ranking 115th in receptions and 120th in receiving yards in the FBS, making his loss that much more crucial. Vitale led the team by comfortable margins in both those categories last season.

With Vitale out of the picture, senior Austin Carr, who had the second most receiving yards last season and the highest average yards per reception, is pretty much guaranteed the top spot on the depth chart. Carr started in four games last season and saw playing time in nearly every contest. He also has had time to develop a strong rapport with sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson, which will squarely position him as the leader of the receiving pack this fall.

The ensemble cast, however, proves a bit trickier to trace, especially with the graduation of former starting receivers Christian Jones and Miles Shuler.

It seems likely that junior Garrett Dickerson will find a home at superback, a position devised by NU coaching that combines the roles of a fullback and tight end into one all-purpose offensive powerhouse. Dickerson is largely untested on the field, although he appeared in flashes in nearly every game last season and caught at least one pass in nine of those games. Senior Andrew Scanlan, who appeared in nine games last season, also seems a likely contender for one of the three starting wide receiver slots.

In February, Coach Pat Fitzgerald announced some position changes that brought in juniors Solomon Vault and Marcus McShepard, and redshirt-freshman Steven Reese, at the wide receiver position in attempt to shore up depth.

Vault, formerly a running back, has had some experience with Cats passing plays and could prove an interesting asset. His speed earned him two touchdowns on kickoff returns last season — the most return touchdowns any NU player has had in a single season. His three career touchdown returns also make him the all-time program leader in the category. Considering the talent he’s already displayed, and that Vault saw playing time at the wide receiver position during the Outback Bowl, it seems likely Vault will be tapped to start this fall. He’ll fit in well out of the slot as the Z-receiver as a speedy and evasive route-runner.

McShepard and Reese, formerly defensive players, face a steeper learning curve and are unlikely to make much of an impact, at least immediately, on the offense.

Without Vitale, and to a lesser extent Jones and Shuler, the Cats’ receiving corps is pretty thin. Look to Carr for reliability and a glimmer of receivers’ past, and watch Vault for an explosive play or two, but generally, Wildcats fans should expect to hear a lot of “Justin Jackson the ball carrier!” this fall.

Morning Roundup: May 11, 2016

Morning Roundup: May 11, 2016
(Daily file photo by Jacob Swan)

Northwestern’s sports seasons have hit a lull before their respective finales, but The Daily still has plenty of content to keep you busy:

  • Joe Wilkinson penned the latest entry in the Curtain Call series, a feature about Josh Jamieson and his career with the men’s golf team.
  • Northwestern President Morton Schapiro talked Wildcats football, reflecting on the 2015 campaign and looking ahead to 2016.
  • The recently-drafted Dan Vitale went retro in regards to his role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And here’s a look at Wednesday’s back page:

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Dan Vitale’s new role with Buccaneers evokes throwback term

Dan Vitale’s new role with Buccaneers evokes throwback term
(Daily file photo by Jacob Swan)

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Dan Vitale in April’s NFL Draft, it guaranteed a shot at a professional career for the former Northwestern superback. But his role as a professional was still very much in the air. Vitale was best known for his pass-catching work throughout his career and was the Wildcats’ leading receiver last season, but he spent the pre-draft process highlighting his willingness to block out of the backfield as a fullback.

With a player so versatile, it’s impossible to know how the Buccaneers will use Vitale until the pads are on. But an article on the Buccaneers’ team website gave some insight into the possibilities, including dropping a term that will make fans of retro football proud.

You won’t hear the word “wingback” on many NFL broadcasts these days. Those familiar with football history are most likely to use it in order to evoke memories of players like Johnny Rodgers, the Heisman Trophy winner at Nebraska in 1972.

Though the term wingback originated out of arcane offensive formations like the single-wing, today it is used to describe a hybrid role like the one Vitale is projected to play for the Buccaneers.

The story goes on to explain that the modern “wingback” role will involve much greater responsibilities in the passing game than it would have back in the day, and Vitale is currently listed as a tight end on the Buccaneers roster. After serving as the archetype of one unique position at NU, it would only be fitting for Vitale to bring back another one in the pros.

Analyzing the NFL homes of Northwestern’s latest draft picks and signees

Analyzing the NFL homes of Northwestern’s latest draft picks and signees
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

Defensive end Dean Lowry and superback Dan Vitale on Saturday became the latest Northwestern football players to be drafted, and joining them in the pro ranks as undrafted free agents are defensive end Deonte Gibson and safety Traveon Henry.

With the dust settled on the NFL’s rookie class, we can take a closer look at which Wildcats have a chance to be contributing performers for their new teams.

Lowry, selected in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers, seems to have landed in an ideal situation. The Packers are a stable organization, and as a fourth round pick Lowry is very likely to make the cut for the 53-man roster. Green Bay also only has two true defensive ends currently on the team, meaning Lowry should have an early chance at cracking the defensive line rotation and seeing some playing time outside of special teams.

Vitale, drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is much more likely to make an impact on special teams than he is on the offensive side of the ball. The Buccaneers list him at fullback, and being able to play special teams is a big part of the job description for the few fullbacks left in the NFL. Special teams play was also a big part of Vitale’s pitch to teams during the pre-draft process. If he does see the field on offense, it will most likely be whenever Tampa Bay decides it needs an extra blocker out of the backfield.

Gibson and Henry have much more tenuous futures in the NFL as undrafted free agents, as making the 53-man cut is far from guaranteed.

The Detroit Lions, who signed Gibson, drafted two other defensive linemen this year and currently list another 11 on their roster. It simply isn’t likely there will be a spot left for Gibson come the end of August. The same goes for Henry, who will have to climb past four safeties and eight cornerbacks on the Buccaneers’ roster.

It’s possible, but Gibson and Henry will each need a very impressive training camp — along the willingness to play special teams — in order to stick around.

Morning Roundup: May 2, 2016

Morning Roundup: May 2, 2016
(Daily file photo by Nathan Richards)

Northwestern sports had a busy weekend. Let’s catch you up to speed…

  • Two Wildcats were drafted by NFL teams on Saturday. Dean Lowry was taken by the Green Bay Packers and Dan Vitale was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  • Additionally, Deonte Gibson and Traveon Henry each signed as undrafted free agents, Gibson with the Detroit Lions and Henry with the Buccaneers.
  • Per coach Pat Fitzgerald on Twitter, wide receiver Miles Shuler and quarterback Zack Oliver were each invited to tryouts with NFL teams as well. Shuler will work out with the New York Giants while Oliver will get a shot with Washington.
  • Dan Waldman recapped a crucial win for the lacrosse, keeping the team eligible for the NCAA Tournament.
  • Benjy Apelbaum reviews a disappointing Big Ten Tournament loss for the men’s tennis team.
  • Mike Marut discusses the women’s tennis team falling in the Big Ten Tournament as well.
  • Bites from the weekend: Dean Lowry reacts to being drafted, Luke Donald visits Evanston, Selena Lasota notches hat trick

And here’s a look at Monday’s back page:

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ICYMI: Two Wildcats drafted by NFL teams, two sign free agent deals

ICYMI: Two Wildcats drafted by NFL teams, two sign free agent deals
(Daily file photo by Jacob Swan)

The final four rounds of the NFL Draft took place Saturday afternoon, and two Wildcats heard their names called. Defensive end Dean Lowry was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 4th round and superback Dan Vitale was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 6th round as a fullback.

Additionally, defensive lineman Deonte Gibson and safety Traveon Henry each signed contracts as undrafted free agents following the completion of the draft. Gibson signed with the Detroit Lions and Henry inked a deal with the Buccaneers.

There is still time for other Wildcats to sign with NFL teams and defensive back Nick VanHoose is expected to sign somewhere, although the timing of a potential deal is not known.

Dan Vitale drafted by Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dan Vitale drafted by Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(Daily file photo by Luke Vogelzang)

Superback Dan Vitale was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 22nd pick in the 6th round (197th overall) of the NFL Draft on Saturday. He is the second Wildcat to be drafted, after Dean Lowry was taken by the Green Bay Packers near the end of the 4th round.

Vitale led Northwestern in all receiving categories during his senior campaign, hauling in 33 catches for 355 yards and 4 touchdowns. Over his Wildcat career, the Wheaton, Illinois native totaled 135 catches for 1,427 yards, and his 11 career receiving touchdowns are tied for tenth-most in program history. Additionally, Vitale picked up second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015.

The Buccaneers had shown interest in Vitale leading up to the draft, hosting him for a private workout earlier this month. He also visited privately with the New England Patriots.

As the superback position does not exist in the NFL the Buccaneers drafted Vitale as a fullback, but he could also find snaps at tight end. He joins a Tampa Bay squad that finished 6-10 and in last place in the NFC South last season.