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Undrafted Means Uphill Climb

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Undrafted rookie signee Ali Highsmith of LSU (right) is one of 13 new players hoping to make the Cardinals like Lyle Sendlein (left) did a year ago.

Lyle Sendlein will admit it -- he walked into the Cardinals' locker room a year ago and "I did kind of feel like a walk-on in college."

Sendlein, the Cards' second-year center, chuckled as he said it. That was a long time ago, when he was a little bitter about not getting drafted despite starting at national powerhouse Texas and was forced to sign an undrafted rookie deal.

But he became an undrafted success story, one that the 13 players the Cardinals announced Monday as their 2008 undrafted list of free agents hope to emulate.

Among the notable pickups were LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith, Mississippi Valley

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State tackle Thaddeus Coleman, West Virginia defensive tackle Keilen Dykes, Hawaii guard Hercules Satele and Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli. (Go here for the full list of undrafted rookies).

Interestingly, the Cardinals did not sign either a kicker or a punter, and will almost certainly need at least one extra leg heading into training camp.

 The players announced Monday will have a more difficult time making the team. Finding your way to the NFL after being undrafted is not rare – besides Sendlein, the Cardinals have seven-year veteran running back Marcel Shipp and third-year safety Aaron Francisco make it undrafted, while cornerback Rod Hood and quarterback Kurt Warner were also undrafted coming into the NFL – but it takes a certain amount of luck and patience.

Sendlein understands that.

Despite the benefits of being undrafted, like being able to choose the situation and team you play for, Sendlein acknowledged the dream was to be drafted. Nothing can take away that sting.

He came to the Cardinals not because he grew up in nearby Scottsdale but because the coaching staff was new and every player would be starting from scratch. That would help him, he thought, as would the chance to learn under former all-pro lineman Russ Grimm as his coach.

Then he got to the Cardinals, who had just signed free-agent Al Johnson as starting center and still had veteran Nick Leckey at the position.

"You kind of get used to (being in the background) being an o-lineman," Sendlein said. "You are always flying under someone's radar (being undrafted).

"It's an uphill battle. Your reps are real limited, so when you get in – if you get in – you don't want to make any mental mistakes. You have to learn the system quickly. I put a lot of effort into every play I was out there."

Grimm took a liking to Sendlein, which helped Sendlein's cause. But it took a break for Sendlein to truly benefit.

That's when Leckey sprained his knee early in training camp. Given more reps, Sendlein showed he could play. Eventually, Leckey was released early in the regular-season, after Sendlein had already won the backup center spot.

"When he got hurt, they got to see me more on film and on the practice field," Sendlein said. "It is weird how things work out. Something unfortunate happened to Nick, who is a great guy, but it helped me become part of this team."

Draft weekend was much less stressful for Sendlein in 2008. He kept an eye out on the Cardinals' picks, but was thinking more of workouts this week and the upcoming minicamp Friday.

Nothing is guaranteed, but he's not that undrafted "walk-on" anymore.

"I will just tell those (new undrafted) guys my story," Sendlein said. "I'll tell them if you can play, anyone can make the team, whether you are drafted or not."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 4/28/08.

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