Let's go camping with former Illini and area standouts

Let's go camping with former Illini and area standouts

Sports editor MATT DANIELS catches up on the 19 former Illini and two former area standouts who find themselves on an NFL roster ahead of the 2018 season:

Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans

Quick hit: The veteran outside linebacker will look to bounce back after an injury-shortened 2017. The 28-year-old native of Akron, Ohio, missed the final 11 games last season recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, meaning he only compiled 10 tackles, including one sack. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound standout pass rusher enters 2018 with 38 1/2 career sacks, all of which have come with the Texans since Houston picked him in the first round of the 2012 draft.

Trent Sherfield, Arizona Cardinals

Quick hit:The 22-year-old wide receiver didn't get drafted in April, but signed with the Cardinals shortly after the draft concluded. The Danville product starred in four seasons at Vanderbilt, hauling in 136 career receptions for 1,869 yards and nine touchdowns for the Commodores. Now, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Sherfield will get to learn from future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald while trying to make the 53-man roster.

Vontae Davis, Buffalo Bills

Quick hit: The 30-year-old cornerback is entering his first season with the Bills after signing in late February. He agreed to a one-year contract that could be worth as much as $8 million. The the two-time Pro Bowl selection spent his first three seasons with the Dolphins, who drafted him in the first round in 2009, before playing the next 5 1 / 2 seasons with the Colts. Indy released him in November after he opted for season-ending surgery.

Clayton Fejedelem, Cincinnati Bengals

Quick hit: The 25-year-old safety is about to embark upon his third season with the team that selected him in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. The Lemont native, who walked on at Illinois after transferring from St. Xavier, made five starts in 2017 and finished with 57 tackles. Fejedelem also contributed two pass deflections and his first career NFL interception, with the latter happening in a Week 4 win at Cleveland.

Hardy Nickerson, Cincinnati Bengals

Quick hit: The linebacker, who spent his final season at Illinois after transferring in from California, goes into his second year with Cincinnati after a solid rookie season. The 24-year-old played in 14 games, making two starts, and accumulated 18 tackles. The son of the Illinois defensive coordinator and former All-Pro linebacker who goes by the same name signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

Christian DiLauro, Cleveland Browns

Quick hit: The 23-year-old rookie is playing for his hometown team. The offensive lineman signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent in early May and goes into training camp vying for a spot on the 53-man roster. A four-year contributor at Illinois, DiLauro started 38 games with the Illini, seeing time at both tackle and guard. That versatility could serve the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Ohio native well going into his first NFL training camp.

Justin March-Lillard, Dallas Cowboys

Quick hit: This marks the first training camp with the Cowboys for the 25-year-old Danville native, who spent time last season with the Dolphins, Seahawks and Cowboys. The 6-foot, 222-pound linebacker has proven he can play in the NFL. He saw action in five games during the 2016 season with the Chiefs, the franchise that signed the former Akron product as an undrafted free agent in 2015, compiling 15 tackles in 2016.

Jihad Ward, Dallas Cowboys

Quick hit: The former Illini is about to begin his first season in Dallas after an offseason trade from the Raiders. Oakland selected the 6-foot-5, 295-pound defensive tackle in the second round of the 2016 draft, but he never seemed to catch on despite making 30 tackles and starting 13 games as a rookie. The 24-year-old Philadelphia native has a fresh start with the Cowboys after seeing his playing time diminish in 2017.

Matt LaCosse, Denver Broncos

Quick hit: The 25-year-old tight end enters his first training camp with Denver. He played in two games for the Broncos last year after signing late in the season, but did not record a catch. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound former Naperville North quarterback is with his second NFL team after the ex-Illini hauled in three passes for 22 yards during the 2015 season with the Giants and played in three games with them last season.

Tavon Wilson, Detroit Lions

Quick hit:The 28-year-old safety is around for his third season in Detroit. The 6-foot, 212-pound veteran, poised for his seventh season in the league, re-signed with the Lions this past March on a two-year contract worth up to $7 million. Wilson has played a major role with the Lions' defense in two seasons with 144 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions.

Geronimo Allison, Green Bay Packers

Quick hit: An undrafted free agent signee with Green Bay in 2016, the 24-year-old Florida native has found a role with Mike McCarthy's team. A frequent target of Aaron Rodgers the last two seasons, the 6-foot-3, 202-pound Allison hauled in 23 receptions for 253 yards last season. Of his 35 career catches, 21 have gone for first downs.

Josh Ferguson, Indianapolis Colts

Quick hit: The 25-year-old running back is in his third season with the Colts, the franchise which signed him to an undrafted free agent contract in 2016. Playing time has been limited for the former Joliet Catholic product, who ran the ball once for 5 yards last season and caught three passes for 16 yards, but will work under first-year coach Frank Reich.

Carroll Phillips, Jacksonville Jaguars

Quick hit: Signed by the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2017, the 25-year-old Miami native was a late-season addition to the 53-man roster. The defensive end — who saw time there and at linebacker during his time with the Illini — played in four games for the AFC champions, but didn't record any statistics as a rookie.

Dawuane Smoot, Jacksonville Jaguars

Quick hit: The third-round pick by Jacksonville in the 2017 draft, the 6-foot-3, 264-pound Ohio native played in all 16 games last season. The 23-year-old contributed along the defensive line as a rookie and on special teams, recording 20 tackles as Jacksonville was a win away from reaching Super Bowl LII.

Corey Liuget, Los Angeles Chargers

Quick hit: The defensive tackle enters his eighth season in the league, but the 28-year-old will sit out the first four games in 2018 to serve a performance-enhancing drug suspension. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Liuget made 21 tackles in 2017, including 1 1 / 2 sacks, and has 100 career starts, all with the Chargers.

Chunky Clements, Los Angeles Rams

Quick hit: The Rams are Clements' third NFL team after he initially signed with the Vikings prior to the 2017 season. The 23-year-old never played a game with the Vikings, who released him before the Texans signed him. Clements saw action in two games with Houston last season, recording half a sack.

Akeem Spence, Miami Dolphins

Quick hit: The 6-foot-1, 307-pound defensive tackle will enter his first training camp with the Dolphins after the Lions traded him in March. The 26-year-old Spence spent his first four seasons with the Buccaneers before registering a career-best 39 tackles and three sacks with the Lions in 2017.

Ted Karras, New England Patriots

Quick hit: Karras played in his second Super Bowl in as many years with New England. The 25-year-old played in all 16 regular season games and all three playoff games last year, making two regular-season starts at center.

Justin Hardee, New Orleans Saints

Quick hit: The former Illinois receiver carved out a special teams niche in his rookie season. The 24-year-old defensive back led the Saints with nine special teams tackles and also blocked a punt he recovered for a TD.

Michael Hoomanawanui, New Orleans Saints

Quick hit: The veteran tight end is starting his third season in New Orleans and eighth in the league. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound former Illini and Bloomington native caught six passes for 52 yards and a touchdown last season.

Gimel President, Tennessee Titans

Quick hit: A graduate transfer from Auburn for Lovie Smith's first season at Illinois, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound outside linebacker played in four games last year with the Texans before the Titans signed him in May.

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