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Tucsonans, ex-Wildcats going strong as NFL season hits second half
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EX-CATS, LOCALS IN THE NFL

Tucsonans, ex-Wildcats going strong as NFL season hits second half

Texans defensive tackle Roy Lopez battles the Cardinals during their Oct. 24 game. The former Arizona Wildcat and son of former Sunnyside High School football coach Roy Lopez has carved out a role on the Houston defense as a rookie.

The second half of the NFL season is officially in full swing, and Tucson natives and former Arizona Wildcats dot NFL rosters throughout the league.

Here’s a player-by-player rundown of Tucson natives and ex-Cats in the NFL — and which team they’re playing next:

Blake Martinez, LB, New York Giants

Tucson connection: Martinez is a graduate of Canyon del Oro High School.

The rundown: Martinez is in his second year of his three-year, $30.7 million contract in New York, but the Giants’ defensive captain is out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in September. Martinez will make a base salary of $8.4 million in 2022.

Up next: Giants at Buccaneers, 6:15 p.m. Monday.

Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills

Tucson connection: Wallace is a graduate of Tucson High.

The rundown: Wallace, an Alabama product, has emerged as the Bills’ complementary cornerback opposite of Pro Bowler Tre’Davious White. Over nine, Wallace has 33 tackles and two interceptions.

Up next: Bills vs. Colts, Sunday, 11 a.m. Sunday

Gary Brightwell, RB, New York Giants

Tucson connection: Brightwell is a former UA running back.

The rundown: Brightwell, a sixth-round pick in the 2021 draft, has one carry for four yards in two games.

Up next: Giants at Buccaneers, 6:15 p.m. Monday

Dane Cruikshank, CB, Tennessee Titans

Tucson connection: Cruikshank is a former member of the Wildcats’ secondary.

The rundown: The special teams contributor suffered a knee injury last week and is expected to miss the next two games. Cruikshank has 32 tackles and a pass deflection this season.

Up next: Titans vs. Texans, 11 a.m. Sunday

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tucson connection: Gronkowski is a former Wildcats star.

The rundown: Following an offseason that included setting a world record for catching a football dropped over 600 feet from a helicopter at Arizona Stadium, Gronkowski returned to Tampa Bay as the Bucs look to defend their Super Bowl. “Gronk” suffered a rib injury Week 3 against the Rams. “I’ve never been shot but that’s how I felt,” told reporters. Gronkowski has 16 catches for 184 yards and four touchdowns this season. He’s returning to Tampa Bay’s lineup this week.

Up next: Buccaneers vs. Giants, 6:15 p.m. Monday

J.J. Taylor, RB, New England Patriots

Tucson connection: Taylor is a former UA running back. 

The rundown: In five games this season, Taylor has 37 yards on 19 carries. His season-high was a 21-yard, two-touchdown performance against the New York Jets. 

Up next: Patriots vs. Titans, 11 a.m. on Nov. 28.

Nick Foles, QB, Chicago Bears

Tucson connection: Foles is the Wildcats’ all-time leading passer.

The rundown: The Super Bowl MVP is Chicago’s third-string quarterback behind the rookie Justin Fields and the veteran Andy Dalton. Foles has one more season on his three-year, $24 million contract with the Bears.

Up next: Bears vs. Ravens, 11 a.m. Sunday

Patriots kicker Nick Folk, right, is still going strong after more than a decade in the NFL. Last week, Folk played in his 190th NFL game, the most of any former Wildcat in the league.

Nick Folk, K, New England Patriots

Tucson connection: Folk is a former Arizona Wildcats placekicker.

The rundown: Folk was the difference-maker for the Pats in Thursday night’s 25-0 win over the Falcons, as the former UA kicker was 4 for 4 in field goals and was 1 for 2 in PATs — 13 points. Folk is a 4 for 6 from over 50 yards; he’s made at least one 50-yard field goal in every season he’s played in the NFL since 2007.

Up next: Patriots vs. Titans, 11 a.m. on Nov. 28.

Roy Lopez, DT, Houston Texans

Tucson connection: Lopez is a former Wildcats defensive lineman whose father, also named Roy, is the former head football coach at Sunnyside High School.

The rundown: Lopez, a rookie backup to defensive tackle behind DeMarcus Walker, has 14 tackles. He recorded his first sack the Texans’ Nov. 7 game against the Miami Dolphins.

Up next: Texans vs. Titans, 11 a.m. Sunday.

Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, LB, San Francisco 49ers

Tucson connection: Flannigan-Fowles attended Tucson High and Mountain View High School and played at the UA.

The rundown: The linebacker-safety hybrid has eight tackles as the backup “Sam” linebacker behind Azeez Al-Shaair.

Up next: 49ers vs. Jaguars, 11 a.m. Sunday.

Lorenzo Burns, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Tucson connection: Burns is a former UA cornerback.

The rundown: Burns was waived by the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent and has signed with the Jaguars’ practice squad.

Up next: Jaguars vs 49ers, 11 a.m. Sunday.

Matt Bushman, TE Las Vegas Raiders

Tucson connection: Bushman is a Sabino High School graduate.

The rundown: The former BYU star signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent. Bushman was activated to the Raiders’ active roster in October.

Up next: Raiders vs. Bengals, 2:05 p.m. Sunday.

P.J. Johnson, DT, Las Vegas Raiders

Tucson connection: Johnson is a former UA defensive tackle

The rundown: Johnson was waived by the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks, but signed with the Raiders earlier this week. Johnson is listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 324 pounds.

Up next: Raiders vs. Bengals, 2:05 p.m. Sunday

Jace Whittaker, CB, Arizona Cardinals

Tucson connection: Whittaker is a former UA cornerback.

The rundown: Whittaker is with the Cardinals’ practice squad and played in one game this season against San Francisco, recording three tackles.

Up next: Cardinals vs. Seahawks, 2:25 p.m. Sunday

Jeff Cotton, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

Tucson connection: Cotton is a graduate of Mountain View High School.

The rundown: The ex-Idaho Vandal shined in the preseason, but has spent the entire season with the Jaguars’ practice squad.

Up next: Jaguars vs. 49ers, 11 a.m. Sunday

Contact sports producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or jspears@tucson.com. On Twitter: @JustinESports


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Sports producer

Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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