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Jack Hittinger Forum News Service, Published August 18 2013

Former BSU football standout Leonhardt climbing Oakland's TE depth chart

BEMIDJI, Minn. - Brian Leonhardt’s former Bemidji State teammates like what they’re seeing from the former Beavers tight end so far.

They especially like the fact that they can watch him at all.

“Oh yeah, we all watched him that first game,” BSU senior fullback Brent Kondziolka said of Leonhardt’s NFL debut for the Oakland Raiders, a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 9. “He maybe had four pancakes in the time that he played. I was screaming at the TV, saying, ‘Throw it to Brian! throw it to Brian!’”

“It’s very exciting to see him on TV,” added senior defensive back Larry Miller. “It also gives us hope that other guys can make it to the next level after the season.”

Leonhardt, who was signed as an undrafted free agent earlier this season by the Raiders, has played in both of Oakland’s preseason games – against Dallas last week and on Friday against the New Orleans Saints.

While he didn’t catch any passes in either game, Leonhardt – who wrapped up his BSU football career last season – seems to be quietly moving his way up the depth chart.

BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said everything he had heard has been positive.

“He had some nice feedback,” Tesch said. “From what he told me, after the Dallas game he got moved up on the depth charts and has been getting some reps with the No. 2 offense.”

In Friday’s game – a 28-20 loss to the Saints in New Orleans – Tesch and BSU offensive coordinator Eric Medberry thought Leonhardt was once again solid. Leonhardt came into the game in the third quarter and got some playing time with the No. 3 offense.

“He sent me a text after the game and said, ‘No great plays, no bad plays, but it was a good game,’” Medberry said. “It sounds like he’s getting an opportunity to climb the depth chart a little bit.”

Although he still hasn’t caught a pass at the pro level – he hasn’t had one thrown at him – Tesch thinks Leonhardt, who is from Blaine, Minn., is blocking well and doing the little things right.

“I thought he played solid,” Tesch said. “He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, but didn’t do anything wrong.

“In my opinion, he looks like he belongs out there. He doesn’t look overmatched.”

For Leonhardt to make the team, though, he’s going to have to climb another rung or two.

In April, the Raiders took two tight ends in the NFL draft in Colorado’s Nick Kasa and Tennessee’s Mychal Rivera. Also on the roster are veterans Richard Gordon, Jeron Mastrud and David Ausberry. Leonhardt was listed as the No. 6 tight end on the initial preseason roster, but after the game against Dallas, Medberry and Tesch said the team moved him to No. 5.

“He climbed ahead of one guy,” Medberry said. “We’re hoping he can climb the ladder again this week and get another chance to show them what he can do.”

NFL rosters must be cut to 75 players by Aug. 27. The Raiders play one more game before the cut date – Friday against the Chicago Bears.

The Beavers are hoping he gets more than one more chance to show the Raiders what he can do.

“It’s crazy to see him on TV,” Kondziolka said. “To watch someone you played with on the big-time level, it’s fun to see.

“Hopefully he gets a catch this preseason so they can call his name and say ‘Bemidji State’ too,” Kondziolka added.

Hittinger writes for the Bemidji Pioneer