Rockets begin quest to make NFL rosters

May 1, 2012 | News, UToday
By Paul Helgren

NFL teams will be evaluating their free agent signees at rookie mini-camps in the next two weeks, and as many as seven former Rockets likely will be among their ranks.

Offensive lineman Mike VanDerMeulen has signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Four former Rockets have signed free agent contracts, and three more could sign this week or at least get a tryout. All are pursuing the dream of joining nine other former Rockets on National Football League rosters.

The four who have signed contracts are wide receiver Eric Page (Denver), offensive lineman Mike VanDerMeulen (Tampa Bay), defensive back Desmond Marrow (Houston) and offensive lineman Phillipkeith Manley (Atlanta).

Players who may yet sign or will be trying out for clubs are tight end Danny Noble, running back Adonis Thomas and wide receiver Kenny Stafford.

Here is a quick look at the college careers of all seven, as well as an overall update on their NFL status:

Phillipkeith Manley (Atlanta)

Despite being a two-year starter at left guard, Manley did not receive major accolades during his Rocket career. However, he added 20 pounds of bulk since the end of his senior season (he’s up to 330 now), and suddenly teams began to take notice.

“The whole thing has been pretty mind-blowing,” said Manley, a native of Hamilton, Ohio. “Atlanta was interested in me the whole way. They said they might draft me. They were constantly calling me in the week leading up to the draft. As soon as the draft ended, they called me. So I really felt they wanted me. I’m happy to be going to Atlanta.”

Manley will be heading to the Falcon’s rookie mini-camp May 10, just three days after his 22nd birthday.

Desmond Marrow (Houston)

Marrow was a six-year player who recovered from numerous injuries, including a serious knee injury, to become one of the top cornerbacks in the Mid-American Conference. A first-team All-Mid-American Conference pick as a senior, Marrow led the Rockets with 83 tackles, intercepted three passes, and ranked fourth in the nation with 15 passes broken up.

Despite not being selected in the draft, Marrow is excited about joining the Texans. Rookie mini-camp is May 10-13.

“Houston is a great organization with great coaches,” said Marrow, whose uncle also played in the NFL. “I went for a visit down there and it just felt right. They said if they had a seventh-round pick they might have drafted me, so I feel like they really wanted me. It’s a great situation.”

Eric Page (Denver)

Page originally announced via Twitter he would be signing with Tampa Bay, but apparently the possibility of catching passes from Peyton Manning was too good to pass up. Page ultimately signed with Denver, which recently signed Manning as its quarterback.

Page may have been the most disappointed Rocket not to be selected on draft day. He left college at the end of his junior season following a stellar career as perhaps the greatest Rocket wide receiver of all time. While that may have not been enough to convince NFL teams to take a shot and draft him, Page now can focus on what he does best — catching a football and avoiding tacklers.

He finished his UT career with 306 receptions, the most in NCAA history for a three-year career. He also earned All-America honors as a kick returner in 2010, and made first-team All-MAC at three positions in 2011.

Mike VanDerMeulen (Tampa Bay)

One Rocket who did end up in Tampa Bay is offensive lineman VanDerMeulen. “Vandy” had a great college career, starting in 50 consecutive games at left tackle and twice earning All-MAC honors.

“I’m very excited to be going to Tampa,” VanDerMeulen said. “They showed a lot of interest in me. I’m happy with my choice.”

At 6-7, VanDerMeulen has the frame to add to his 304 pounds. The Buccaneers see him as a tackle, but VanDerMeulen wants to learn the guard position as well to increase his chances of making the team. “The more positions I learn, the better,” said VanDerMeulen, who flies out to Tampa Thursday for this weekend’s mini-camp.

Other Rocket unsigned free agents

Danny Noble, 6-5, 248-pound athletic tight end, will try out with Tampa Bay in hopes of signing with the Bucs. He only played six games in his senior season before going down with a broken leg. He caught 26 passes as a sophomore and 18 as a junior.

Kenny Stafford, a wide receiver, is still weighing his options with a couple of teams. He caught 21 passes as a senior, and has the size (6-4, 202 pounds) and speed to interest teams. He also has good bloodlines; his uncle is former NFL star Chris Carter.

Adonis Thomas
also is reportedly talking with a few teams and could sign this week. He was a dynamic running back for the Rockets, gaining more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, earning All-MAC honors both years. Thomas is small, just 5-10, 185 pounds, but very shifty and tough. He’s consistent, too, leading the MAC in each of the past two season with 6.3 yards per carry.

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