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Three Tigers head to Bears

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:55 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

If the nickname “Windy City” isn’t enough for residents of Chicago, perhaps “Missouri North” would be a suitable replacement.

With the NFL Draft completed, six former Tigers went looking for NFL teams to play for as undrafted free agents. Three of them, Rob Droege, A.J. Ricker and Zack Abron, chose to attempt to join another former Tiger, wide receiver Justin Gage, and the Bears.

Abron and Ricker didn’t sign contracts with Chicago, but they will attend the Bears’ rookie minicamp this weekend. That gives them an opportunity to see what kind of talent is in place and make an impression on the coaching staff.

Harold Lewis, the agent for Ricker and Abron, said it made sense in the long-term for his clients to pass on contracts to play for teams that have rosters filled at tailback and center.

“We just think the opportunity with the Bears for both of those guys is greater than with some of the other teams that have approached us,” Lewis said.

Ricker, who started for four years and 47 consecutive games at center for MU, received contract offers from Jacksonville and Buffalo.

Ricker could compete for the backup center spot behind Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz. Ricker might also get an opportunity to play one of the guard positions in addition to center.

“Ricker has a great opportunity in Chicago,” Lewis said. “They didn’t draft any (linemen) and they have a couple of guys back from last year that we feel A.J. has the opportunity of beating out.”

Abron, Missouri’s career rushing leader with 3,198 yards, joined a crowded Bears’ backfield. Chicago has Anthony Thomas, Rabih Abdullah, Brock Forsey and Thomas Jones, among others under contract at tailback. Abron chose the Bears over Baltimore.

Lewis said Abron, who weighs 230 pounds, would have a good opportunity to make the switch to fullback and earn a roster spot. Bryan Johnson is the only fullback on the Bears’ roster.

“Zack is a tweener between a running back and a fullback in the NFL’s eyes,” Lewis said. “So, we think that opportunity is excellent for him.”

Lewis said it might be a blessing in disguise for his clients to be undrafted free agents.

“When you look down the depth charts and you talk about free agency, sometimes it is better for these kids to go that route than get drafted at the end of the draft,” Lewis said.

Droege completed his contract with the Bears on Sunday evening. After starting at offensive tackle for three years, Droege said the thought of playing with his close friends and former teammates is exciting.

“It will be nice,” Droege said. “Knowing Justin and Craig Krenzel (Ohio State’s quarterback) will help. It seems like a real good organization anyway.

“It would be so great. As close as A.J. and I are, that would be an easy choice for a roommate.”


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