Seven of the 17 undrafted free agents signed today by the Jets are defensive players. And the schools in the spotlight are Nebraska, South Carolina and Idaho.
The Cornhuskers now have three starters from their Gator Bowl-winning team on the Jets roster. Two of them are newly signed free agents from the defensive line — tackle Ty Steinkuhler (6'3", 280) and left end Zach Potter (6'7", 285) — and they join sixth-round guard Matt Slauson.
"That's cool, the way it worked out this way," Steinkuhler told newyorkjets.com Thursday evening. "We had a really close senior class and I'm real good buddies with Slauson and Potter. Maybe we can bring some of that togetherness, that thing we had a Nebraska."
Steinkuhler's dad, you may have heard or figured out, is former Nebraska offensive tackle Dean Steinkuhler, the 1983 Outland and Lombardi award winner and eight-year pro who was the second overall pick of the '84 draft by the Houston Oilers.
"My dad doesn't like to give big speeches," Ty said of any words of advice his father passed on to him for this weekend. "He told me the usual: Work hard, just work your butt off, and you won't regret anything."
Potter had some numbers for the '08 Huskers, including 5.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and two interceptions.
Both Steinkuhler and Potter started all 13 games for the Nebraska defense. They join Matt Slauson, the right guard starter whom the Jets made their sixth-round draft pick on Sunday. And all three join their former head coach, Bill Callahan, who is in his second year as the Jets' assistant head coach/offensive line.
South Carolina's on center stage because of Emanuel Cook (5'10", 214), regarded by many as one of the top safeties in this year's draft and, after going unselected, one of the top undrafted FAs available.
The reason such a good player slipped out of the draft had to do with two situations he had at USC. In 2007 he was arrested on a gun charge, but the charge was later dropped. Last year he was suspended by the Gamecocks for failing a class.
"They may think I'm a bad guy," Cook said of the media in a a sun-sentinel.com story last week. "Everybody who knows me knows I'm a good guy."
The Jets will give him a chance to show that on and off the field.
Idaho shares the stage in this story because of T.J. Conley, who converted from a quarterback who also handled the Vandals' punting chores into the full-time punter this season.
All he did was lead the nation with a 47.4-yard gross average. In fact, Conley has the best season average among all punters in all four NCAA divisions and in NAIA Division I in the last four seasons. Here are the four best college gross averages among qualifying punters since 2004:
On top of this distinction, Conley, a civil engineering major, earned Academic All-America second-team status this year.
"T.J. is a first-class kid who's done a tremendous job for us this season on the field, in the classroom and in the community," Idaho coach Robb Akey said on govandals.com. "He had a tremendous senior year. He paid attention to the things he needed to do to improve and he did them."
Also among the defensive free agents:
Jamaal Westerman, Rutgers' three-year DE starter, wasn't thinking of the draft when he tore his biceps in October but decided to play on as the Scarlet Knights roared back for their latest bowl appearance. First results from his rehab weren't promising, but by RU's pro day he was ready to perform again.
Matt Kroul, an Iowa teammate of Jets third-round RB Shonn Greene, started a school-record 50 consecutive games and was named permanent team captain for the Hawkeyes and won the Big Ten's sportsmanship award.
Keith Fitzhugh (5'10", 198) is a hard worker and a hard hitter from Mississippi State who had a strong week at the East-West Shrine Game and will seek to add depth to the Jets' deep middle and special teams.