Numerous top-level NFL tight ends spent their college years playing basketball and not much football

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Jon Gruden wouldn’t budge. His Tampa Bay Buccaneers were weeks removed from winning the Lombardi Trophy in early 2003, and one of his players was asking for a favor.

Cornerback Dwight Smith wanted his childhood friend to get a tryout with the Super Bowl champs, even though his pal had played basketball in college, not football.

No dice.

“I said, ‘What do you think this is, Dwight, the YMCA?’ ” recalled Gruden, who can laugh about the rejected request now.

You see, that basketball buddy was Antonio Gates, a probable first-ballot Hall of Famer for the San Diego Chargers. With two visits to the end zone last Monday night, Gates joined Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in NFL history with 100 touchdown catches.

“Gates caught his 50th touchdown pass against me in 2008, the year I got fired,” Gruden said. “When I talked to Dwight I said, ‘Hey, listen. Sorry, man.’  ”

What was once inconceivable — a college basketball player making the transition to the highest level of football — is now not so bizarre.

Arizona tight end Darren Fells, who caught his second touchdown of the season last week, was a 6-foot-7 forward at UC Irvine who hadn’t played football since his days at Fullerton High.

Quentin Rollins, a Green Bay defensive back who intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown last week, played point guard for four years at Miami (Ohio). He tacked on one season of football to his college career.

Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham was a college basketball player at Miami (Fla.) with one season of Hurricanes football. Jacksonville’s Julius Thomas — who played four seasons for the Portland State basketball team and one for its football team — made his much-awaited debut for the Jaguars last week after sitting out the first four games because of a hand injury. He has caught 24 touchdown passes from Denver’s Peyton Manning the past two seasons.

“They used to play basketball because some of them didn’t like getting hit,” said Gruden, the “Monday Night Football” color analyst. “But now, since the rules have changed in the middle of the field, and people are looking for jump-ball artists in the red zone in passing situations. Why not?”


• Washington has downgraded wide receiver DeSean Jackson to out because of a left hamstring injury.

• The Titans have placed linebacker Deiontrez Mount on injured reserve and promoted linebacker Justin Staples.

• The Eagles’ Nelson Agholor will miss his first game Monday because of an ankle injury.

• The Patriots placed cornerback Tarell Brown on season-ending injured reserve because of a foot injury. Brown, 30, had 14 tackles this season.

• The Raiders have signed wide receiver Walt Powell off the Bills’ practice squad.

Ego Ferguson (knee) became the second defensive lineman to be placed on injured reserve by the Bears this season. Bruce Gaston, who played at Purdue, was signed off the practice squad of the Packers.

• Running back Kapri Bibbs was promoted off the practice squad for the Broncos.