Three quarterbacks with experience as starters in the NFL are crossing the Atlantic to play in the 2005 NFL Europe League season.
They are joined by a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback making the conversion to defensive back, and the son of an NFL legend
NFL teams have allocated a record 265 players to play in Europe this spring. Of those, 102 were assigned to NFLEL teams, with 141 more selected in the annual NFL Allocated Player draft. Additional players, including kickers and punters, will be assigned later.
Heading for defending World Bowl champion Berlin Thunder is Houston Texans play-caller DAVE RAGONE, a former third-round NFL draft pick from Louisville who started two games for the Texans in 2003.
The Chicago Bears' KURT KITTNER will play for the Amsterdam Admirals after starting four games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2003. Free agent AKILI SMITH, who started 17 games in four seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals after being the third player chosen overall in the 1999 NFL draft, has been assigned to the Frankfurt Galaxy. Those players are part of a group hoping to add to the list of 27 quarterbacks that have gone on to start games in the NFL after playing in the NFL Europe League.
They are joined by a player who carries one of the most illustrious names in NFL history - running back JARRETT PAYTON, son of former Chicago Bears legend Walter. Payton, allocated by the Tennessee Titans, will play for Amsterdam.
Heading to Europe as a defensive back, allocated by the Kansas City Chiefs, is ERIC CROUCH, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2001 after outstanding performances as a quarterback at the University of Nebraska. He was selected in the seventh round of the NFL Allocated Player draft by the Hamburg Sea Devils.
Commenting on the record number of allocated players, NFLEL Director of Football Operations MIKE CHAN said: "This is a fantastic show of support for our league by the NFL teams and it demonstrates the value of NFL Europe to the NFL.
"We have a very deep pool of talent heading to Europe this season, with some big names and some exciting young players - including many with considerable NFL experience. The fact that 266 players with NFLEL experience appeared on NFL rosters during this past season is an indication of the quality of play in the NFLEL"
Competing with Kittner for the starting position at quarterback for Amsterdam will be GIBRAN HAMDAN, who was on the Admirals roster last year and is allocated by the Seattle Seahawks, and the St Louis Rams left-hander RUSS MICHNA. Kittner, the leading passer in University of Illinois history, started four games for the Falcons in place of the injured Michael Vick in 2003.
In Berlin, Ragone will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of 2004 NFLEL Offensive MVP Rohan Davey. He started two games in his rookie season at the Texans after being a three-year starter at Louisville. Also bidding for the starting position will be Pittsburgh Steeler JEFF KROHN, from the University of Massachusetts, and Oakland Raider BRETT ENGEMANN, who spent time as a backup with Frankfurt and Rhein in 2004.
The Cologne Centurions will welcome one of the leading quarterbacks in University of Stanford history in CHRIS LEWIS of the Arizona Cardinals, a two-year college starter. Joining him in Cologne will be four-year University of Tennessee starter CASEY CLAUSEN, whose 9,707 passing yards for the school ranks behind only Peyton Manning. Claussen has been allocated by the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Buffalo Bills' KEVIN THOMPSON is back for a second NFLEL stint after playing for Frankfurt in 2001.
Frankfurt's starting quarterback position will be the target of Smith, who will be the highest NFL draft pick ever to play in the NFLEL. He passed for 2,212 yards for the Bengals after an outstanding college career at Oregon. He will be joined by the Houston Texans' B.J. SYMONS, holder of many quarterback records from Texas Tech, and the New York Jets' KEVIN EAKIN, a two-year starter at Fordham.
The honor of being the first starting quarterback in Hamburg Sea Devils will be keenly contested. The Cincinnati Bengals' CASEY BRAMLET is the all-time passing leader at Wyoming, while RYAN DINWIDDIE of the Chicago Bears showed his big-play potential at Boise State.
They are joined by the Indianapolis Colts' TOM ARTH, who started one game last season for the Scottish Claymores under new Hamburg coach Jack Bicknell, and New Orleans Saint CHRIS FINLEN.
The Rhein Fire quarterback position will be contested by the Green Bay Packers' SCOTT McBRIEN, who played his college football at Maryland, the Philadelphia Eagles' ANDY HALL, a sixth round NFL draft choice in 2004 out of Delaware, and the Minnesota Vikings' JASON FIFE, who succeeded Akili Smith as the starter at Oregon.
Team assignments for 21 kickers and punters, plus German defensive lineman CHRISTIAN MOHR - allocated by the Seattle Seahawks - will be confirmed during training camp, which opens in Tampa Bay early next month.
Overall, 19 players have been allocated by the Green Bay Packers, a record for any NFL team in a single NFLEL allocation, with 16 from the Pittsburgh Steelers, 13 from the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs and 12 from the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks.
The NFLEL head coaches selected an additional 45 players between them in the annual Free Agent draft, with Hamburg selecting defensive end RON JOHNSON, from Shippensburg University, with the first pick.
Among other selections, Cologne took BOBBY BROOKS, an all-NFLEL linebacker last season, while the Fire chose safety CLARENCE LeBLANC, who made the all-NFLEL team in 2001 after returning a record three interceptions for touchdowns.
The thirteenth NFLEL season kicks off on the weekend of April 2-3 and concludes with the Yello Strom World Bowl XIII at the LTU Arena in Düsseldorf on Saturday June 11.