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Oakland Raiders tight end Brian Leonhardt (89) runs in front of Chicago Bears linebacker Patrick Trahan (59) during the second half of an NFL preseason football game in Oakland, Calif., Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

BEAVERS FOOTBALL: Leonhardt makes Raiders practice squad

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BEMIDJI -- Brian Leonhardt will be playing on the Oakland Raiders practice squad at the start of the new season -- at least for now.

The former Bemidji State tight end was released from the Raiders active roster on Aug. 31 -- the final day for teams to make cuts and finalize their active 53-man roster.

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But the team liked him enough to re-sign him to the seven-man practice squad.

Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch talked to Leonhardt after he made the practice squad. He said the former Beaver was disappointed he didn't make the team but liked his prospects for catching on with the Raiders in the future.

"You can move from the practice squad to the 53-man active roster and he feels, from the feedback he's gotten from the coaches, that in a couple weeks if he's healthy, his goal is to climb back up there."

Leonhardt injured his shoulder during the Raiders preseason game against the Chicago Bears -- a game that saw him catch two passes for 37 yards -- and was not able to travel with the team to their final preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Tesch said that while the injury was minor, the team didn't want to risk further injury so they left him out of the game. It may have hurt his chances of sticking on with the team.

"He thought he was maybe healthy enough to play in the Seattle game but they decided to just let him heal," Tesch said. "There might have been some politics there in the whole thing. But he's back practicing now and feeling a lot better."

Right now the Raiders have four tight ends on the active roster: David Ausberry, Jeron Mastrud, Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa. Rivera and Kasa were drafted this year; Leonhardt was signed as an undrafted free agent shortly after the draft.

Tesch also mentioned that the New England Patriots contacted Leonhardt shortly after he was waived by Oakland -- teams can sign players 24 hours after they are waived.

The Patriots' tight end situation is in flux, as Aaron Hernandez is off the team after being indicted on murder charges and Rob Gronkowski will miss the beginning of the season.

That could have given Leonhardt a better chance to make New England's active roster. But in the end, Tesch said Leonhardt liked where he was in Oakland.

"Obviously their tight end situation is a little bit of turmoil (in New England)," Tesch said. "He thought about it, it's a great program, but the Raiders were very loyal to him, signed him and he feels he has a great relationship with the coaches there. Just the fact that he's getting that, he feels he can have an opportunity to contribute on the 53-man roster."

If Leonhardt were to make the Raiders active roster, he'd be just the second former Bemidji State football player to make it to the NFL. Al Wolden, an NAIA All-American for BSU from 1983-86, played three games for the Chicago Bears during the 1987 season. He totaled two rushing attempts for eight yards and brought in one reception for 26 yards

The Raiders open the season Sept. 8 against the Colts in Indianapolis.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
(218) 333-9772
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