Finish Line

Finish Line

Several Canadians made the cut as NFL teams trimmed rosters to 53 players.

Two Quebecers who played last season in the CIS, Universite de Montreal’s David Foucault (OL, Panthers) and McGill’s Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (OL, Chiefs) both earned NFL jobs.

Ottawa’s Christo Bilukidi (DT) also performed well enough in training camp to stick with his team, the Cincinnati Bengals.

Oshawa’s Stefan Charles (DT) earned a roster spot with the Bills, and Winnipeg’s John Urschel, a rookie OL from Penn State, remains with the Ravens.

Several Canadians weren’t as fortunate.

Despite strong performances for the in a final preseason game against the Bears, Calgary’s Nate Burleson (WR) and Toronto’s Jamaal Westerman (DE/LB) were released by the Cleveland Browns.

Veteran Israel Idonije (DT) was released by the New York Giants, and Toronto’s Philip Blake (OL) was released by the Arizona Cardinals.

One Canadian whose roster spot was never in doubt was Lasalle Ontario’s Luke Willson (TE). A star rookie with the Seahawks in 2013, Willson recently spoke with Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth about what he hopes to accomplish this season. Willson helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl as a rookie tight end in 2013:

It wasn’t until Willson returned home to Canada that it struck him how big a deal it was to win a Super Bowl title in his first year in the NFL. Whether it was the signs or banners saying this was the hometown of a Super Bowl champion, it took that visit for the accomplishment to fully be appreciated.

And that was after a season where Willson caught only 20 passes and had one touchdown in the regular season. What will happen if Willson makes the jump Seattle’s coaching staff expects in year No. 2?

“He’s looking really fast; this is one of the assets that he has,” Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He’s coming along in the blocking game as well, so he would be our player that we would think could take a big step for us this year.”

When Willson was selected in the fifth round out of Rice, it was thought he would have time to learn behind veterans Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy. But McCoy was lost for the season to an Achilles injury soon after the 2013 draft and Willson’s role instantly increased.

“I felt like I did a pretty decent job,” Willson said of the transition. “Of course there is a lot more, a lot more I can learn. I felt like as the season went on I started catching a few more balls and being more a part of the offense, getting a little more trust with Russell and the offensive coaches and I’m just trying to build on that this camp.”

“The game seems a lot slower to me right now with guys flying around everywhere, making sure I know what I’m doing,” Willson said. “And now I really approach the game a little differently in the sense of, Hey, I know what I’m doing. I know where I’m supposed to be and I can go and execute and I can really think about doing a better job, whether it’s creating more separation, whether it’s a better job in the run game, rather than just knowing what to do.”

Luke Willson

Luke Willson

The outlook for the upcoming season isn’t as rosy for Winnipeg, Manitoba native TJ Jones.’s Tim Twentyman reports that Jones, be on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) list when the regular season begins:

Jones must sit out the first six weeks of the season. After that, the Lions have a five-week window in which to allow him to begin practicing. The day he begins practicing, the team has an additional 21-day window to decide to activate him to the 53-man roster.
“You find that young guys heal pretty quickly and hopefully he’ll be in a position to help us out and see where he is at that time,” head coach Jim Caldwell said.

“We have a window after he’s released to practice and those kind of things to make that determination, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Jones had offseason shoulder surgery from a preexisting injury suffered in college. It got progressively worse in OTAs and the Lions decided to fix the problem once and for all.

This might actually be the best thing for Jones, who would have been in a very tight competition with the likes of Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Corey Fuller to make the roster.

“It has its pluses and negatives,” Jones said of the designation. “I think it’s a positive thing to give me a chance to heal up and show what I can offer and bring to the table. But at the same time I’m sitting out another six weeks, so it’s another kind of stressful factor to deal with.”

Nate Burleson

Nate Burleson