The career of Kenechi Udeze was one that never fully lived up to the expectations set for a first-round pick. But, as news broke earlier in the week that he was going to retire, there was courage shown by the Vikings defensive end.
It wasn’t injuries or ineffectiveness that brought his career to an end. It was the side effects of the chemotherapy after his diagnosis with leukemia a year-and-a-half ago that cut Udeze’s career short.
On Thursday, the rest of the Vikings team was preparing for the official start of training camp practice this morning. Head coach Brad Childress addressed the Udeze issue, saying that he never gave up, but the pain in his feet was just too much of a burden for the rigors of the NFL. Childress said he spoke with Udeze numerous times over the past two weeks and that the decision came down to whether he could hold up under the strain.
“He made an effort to get back on the field,” Childress said. “We went back and looked at it and he had 26 plays through the OTAs trying to get himself back. It was clear he had some pain in his feet.”
The condition, called neuropathy, is one of the side effects of chemotherapy and hit Udeze hard – especially considering the top physical conditioning needed to play at a high level in the NFL.
“Chemotherapy does great things for people, like kill cancer,” Childress said. “But it kills other things as well. That is one of the side effects. He was just unable to sustain post, get leverage and stick his feet in (the ground) without pain. He’s most comfortable in clogs and can tie his shoes, but obviously you need support. It would be great to flip him over and tackle with his feet. It’s hard. He’s been through a tough battle.”
The final chapter of Udeze’s career was a sad one, but Childress said Udeze enjoyed his time back with his teammates during the offseason program and gave everything he had – maintaining his trademark smile.
“It was nothing but smiles,” Childress said. “His feet felt like cinder blocks. He fell over the bags. For him to get back to the football field, he was all smiles. You can do all the conditioning and weight lifting you want, but his feet betrayed him.”
The prayers of all of us at Viking Update are with Udeze in hopes that, while his football career is over, he continues to beat cancer and lead a long and productive life off the field.
As of early Friday morning, the Vikings had yet to sign first-round pick Percy Harvin. Hopes remain high that a deal will get finalized today and Harvin will join his teammates on the field at Minnesota State-Mankato, because many plays have been put in place specifically to get Harvin involved. The sooner that can happen, the better.
Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were both in Mankato Thursday to speak with the players and attend the pre-practice meetings.
Childress denied any interest in quarterback Michael Vick. A report on Fox Sports Radio claimed the Vikings had contacted Vick, but Childress said it wasn’t him and, as far as he knew, nobody from the Vikings has made contact with the free-agent QB. Childress’ comments were echoed by both Zygi Wilf and Rick Spielman, lending more credibility to the idea that the Vikings don’t have an interested in the recently-reinstated quarterback.
The Seattle Seahawks are prepared to sign former Vikings offensive lineman Cory Withrow, pending him passing his physical.
Randy Moss wasn’t on the field for Thursday’s practice for the Patriots, but it isn’t injury-related.
As of late Thursday, 11 of the 32 first-round picks have signed, including the pick directly in front of Harvin (Cleveland center Alex Mack) and the two picks behind the him (Baltimore OT Michael Oher and Atlanta DT Peria Jerry). The Raiders gave wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, the first wide receiver taken in the draft and seventh overall pick, a five-year deal worth a reported $36.5 million, with $23.5 million guaranteed. Harvin’s deal is likely to be less than half that amount.