NFL: Rams dig deep on Suh’s pro day in Lincoln
By Bryan Burwell
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
LINCOLN, Neb. — By the time the plane from St. Louis landed at the airport early Thursday morning, the thick fog and ugly white-out conditions that had swirled around the University of Nebraska’s indoor football practice facility just past sunrise already had begun to improve dramatically. But let’s get real here. It would have taken a lot more than a potential blizzard to have kept Rams general manager Billy Devaney and his new road partner Steve Spagnuolo from another excellent football adventure like this.
There’s no place on earth quite like Lincoln in the early spring, when the snow, slush, freezing rain and fog make it just a little slice of football heaven. Consider this Stop No. 3 on Billy and Spag’s Excellent Adventure, a carefully scripted road trip that is crisscrossing the Midwest, from St. Louis to Indianapolis, from St. Louis to Norman, Okla., to Lincoln, then back to Norman again next week.
Billy and Spags are here, there, everywhere as part of their quest to determine who is not only the best player in college football, but also who will be the future face of the Rams franchise. When you have the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft like the Rams do — and when your franchise has sunk to the depths of back-to-back 2-14 and 1-15 seasons — you better be sure you draft the Real Deal.
So two weeks ago it was the NFL scouting combine, earlier this week it was Gerald McCoy’s pro day at Oklahoma, and on Thursday it was Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s pro day in Lincoln with more than 25 NFL scouts, general managers and coaches in attendance. Even though Suh spent barely 10 minutes of a 2 ›-hour session on the field in drills, it was crucial for Devaney, Spagnuolo and college personnel director Tony Softli to be here scrutinizing Suh’s every movement.
The fact they were here doesn’t automatically mean the Rams have decided to go with Suh with the No.1 pick in the NFL draft no more than a trip to Norman on March 25th means it’s a cinch that they’ll draft Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. What it means is that by the evening of April 22, the Rams will know everything about him from the shoe size of their No.1 pick to his 40-yard time, work ethic and personal temperament.
So here they were on Thursday afternoon, at the end of their adventure on campus, and you had to wonder what Devaney and Spagnuolo could have possibly learned about Suh the football player in six hours that they don’t already know from studying stacks of game video?
“The on-field stuff? Zero,” said Devaney as he stood along the edge of the practice field as the workout was winding down. “You look at him out there today in 15 minutes on the field and you know what you see? ’Wow, he moves great!’ Well, we already knew that. What we came here for is to drill down deep to make sure we have the right guy off the field, too. We do that with him, we did that with McCoy, and we’ll do that with Bradford, too. It’s the first pick in the draft, it’s a lot of money. You want to make sure it’s the right guy. You want to be sure that the person that you see now will be the same person four or five months from now.”
So while most of his fellow senior teammates, including former Hazelwood East wide receiver Chris Brooks, went through a full range of testing (40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, cone drills, bench press) and position drills, Suh just roamed the field most of the afternoon mingling with teammates and coaches. More than 1 hour, 45 minutes into the proceedings, Suh finally put on his football cleats, a workout shirt and shorts and ran through three defensive line drills that confirmed what Devaney and the rest of the football world already knew.
Even at 6-foot-3, 300-pounds, Suh glides across the field like an extremely large wide receiver. He even caught a few passes in a drill. I don’t want anyone to think this is the counter-offensive for the Suh parade (yeah, yeah, everybody knows if there was a parade for Suh, I’d be the drum major). But, officially, this is not a plea to make Suh the only sensible choice for that No.1 pick for the Rams.
All I want to know is that Devaney, Spags and the rest of the Rams personnel department arrive at that decision by the intelligent process of fully vetting all of those potential No.1 picks. Today, the Rams are just one step closer to being able to make an educated decision on April 22. They need to know everything possible about Suh, then compare the data gathered on him with the intelligence collected on McCoy and Bradford.
On Thursday, while Softli, armed with stop watches, rosters and a clipboard full of notes, was busy gathering all the important data on the other Nebraska players’ workouts, Devaney and Spagnuolo were working the room gathering every little clue they could gather on Suh. The GM and head coach arrived on campus shortly after 9 a.m., then went to every corner of the Tom Osborne football complex talking to anyone they could. Spagnuolo had a 35-minute one-on-one meeting with Suh.
“In Indy, I was only able to spend 15 minutes with him and it wasn’t enough time because there were a bunch of us in the room and he was going from one meeting to the next with other teams,” said Spagnuolo. “Today, it was just me and him, and I was able to see more of the person.”
They talked to coaches, teammates, trainers, secretaries in the football office and anyone else who had even a remote connection to Suh.
I did a little digging myself, cozying up to a film crew from NFL Network that has been working on a “Path to the Draft” series on the big fella for the past few weeks. They told me pretty much the same thing that I’ve been hearing from Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and other folks from the program; Suh is a serious, no-nonsense sort of guy who is extremely focused on the business of football.
“That’s exactly what we’ve found, too,” said Devaney. “He’s very focused. He wants to be great. He’s not satisfied with just being drafted.”