Illinois Football: Preseason begins for Illini rookies in the NFL

Lions safety Tracy Walker, left, and safety Kerby Joseph sign autographs for fans after open practice at Family Fest at Ford Field on Saturday, August 6, 2022.
Lions safety Tracy Walker, left, and safety Kerby Joseph sign autographs for fans after open practice at Family Fest at Ford Field on Saturday, August 6, 2022. /

We may still be three weeks away from the start of the Illinois football season, but Illini Nation still got to see some former players play this weekend.

Going into the opening weekend of the 2022 NFL preseason, 10 players from the Illini roster last season are finally getting their chance to fight for an NFL roster spot.

How did the Illinois football rookies perform in week one?

Kerby Joseph

Looking to climb up from the third-string strong safety spot, Joseph took advantage of his opportunity on Friday.  The third-round pick led the Detroit Lions with seven tackles – five solo – one of which was a touchdown-saving tackle.

The four-year Illini did have some struggles with coverage – getting beat on Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder’s first NFL touchdown – but will get another opportunity to work out the rookie kinks when Detroit visits Indianapolis next Saturday.

Tony Adams

Slotted as the New York Jets’ fourth rotation at strong safety, Adams is fighting for a job.  The safety recorded two tackles in the Jets’ 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday.

Adams’ next chance to make his case for a roster spot will come when the Jets take on the Atlanta Falcons next Monday.

Roderick Perry

Sitting at the Cleveland Browns’ third-string left defensive tackle spot, Perry did not see the field in the Browns’ opening exhibition game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday.

The defensive tackle will hopefully get his chance to fight for his job when the Browns take on the Eagles next Sunday.

Doug Kramer

Though Kramer is currently listed as the Chicago Bears’ third-string center, this could easily change before the start of the regular season.

Starting center Lucas Patrick is battling a thumb injury, leaving Sam Mustipher and Kramer as the Bears’ two healthy centers.  With Lucas out, Mustipher is the team’s current starter with Kramer backing him up.

Kramer had his “welcome to the NFL” moment in the Bears’ preseason opener vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.

Fortunately, the former Illini center still has two more preseason games and the rest of training camp to earn that second-string spot.

The Bears visit the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday for week two.

Jake Hansen

The former Illini captain is currently slotted as the Houston Texans’ third-string strong-side linebacker, but that could very well change.  Quickly.

Given his accomplishments at Illinois, not only do I think he will earn a roster spot, I could very well see him stealing a second-string spot.  While playing for the Orange and Blue, Hansen:

  • Led the nation with 14 takeaways in 2019 and 2020
  • Led the team in tackles in 2018 and 2020
  • Finished second in program history with 12 career forced-fumbles

Another advantage for the former Illini?  He is playing in the defense of his former Illini coach Lovie Smith.

Hansen made a strong first impression in his Texans debut on Saturday night – finishing second on the team with five tackles – two solo – vs. the Saints.

The Texans will next visit the Rams on Saturday.

Owen Carney

Earning a roster spot will be a challenge for Carney, slotted as the third-string right defensive end for the Miami Dolphins.

It seems the edge-rusher is doing everything he can at Miami’s training camp to set himself apart from the other undrafted free agents.

Carney had a nice Panthers debut on Saturday, recording two solo tackles.  He will look to add to his strong start when the Panthers visit the New England Patriots on Friday.

Brandon Peters

With an on-going battle for the Los Angeles Chargers’ QB2 spot between Easton Stick and Chase Daniel, it looks as if Peters is going to be the lone man out in LA, as it is highly unlikely the team keeps four quarterbacks.

The former Illini quarterback did not see the field in LA’s preseason opener vs. the Rams on Saturday.  With two exhibition games to go, Peters will hopefully get an opportunity to make one last impression to earn a roster spot.

James McCourt

Like Peters, it is likely going to be a long shot for McCourt to make the Chargers’ final roster given he is battling nine-year NFL veteran Dustin Hopkins for the starting kicker spot.  It is not common for a team to sign two kickers to its finalized 53-man roster, so McCourt will likely need to pull off a preseason miracle.

This is still a possibility, as the former Illini legend heroically defied the odds in front of a national audience back in 2019, nailing the game-winning kick over No. 6 Wisconsin. McCourt is also the record-holder for the most 50+ yard field goals in Illinois football history.

Both McCourt and Hopkins converted on their PAT attempts.  Neither attempted a field goal.

The Chargers will host the Dallas Cowboys next Saturday.

Khalan Tolson

In the Carolina Panthers’ first-released depth chart, Tolson is listed as the fourth-string left outside linebacker.  With the likelihood of Carolina retaining four LOLBs being slim-to-none, Tolson will need to play lights out in each of the Panthers’ three exhibition games.

Tolson got off to a positive start in the Panthers’ win over the Washington Commanders on Saturday – ending his day with two solo tackles.  This ranked fourth on the team.

The Panthers’ week two match vs. the New England Patriots will kick off on Friday.

Vederian Lowe

Listed as the Minnesota Vikings’ third-string left tackle, taking that second-string spot should be Lowe’s preseason objective.  It is likely a given for Lowe to make the final roster given they took him with their sixth-round selection in the draft.

The tackle seems to be taking in every ounce of the pro life, leading the “SKOL” chant and topping it off by hitting the “griddy” during the team’s practice on Thursday.

The Vikings will visit the Las Vegas Raiders today.

Next. 3 reasons to be optimistic about the Illini in 2022. dark