INDIANAPOLIS – Media access at the NFL Scouting Combine has concluded. Here are a handful of items after the final day of availability.
1. A boatload of Badgers are in Indy: Jack Cichy, Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs didn’t get the chance to play together this past season after a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended Cichy’s senior year before it really started.
However, the trio of Wisconsin linebackers is making up for lost time this week at the combine.
The three Badgers, who were all stationed at the same media table, hadn’t seen each other much since the Badgers’ 34-24 win over Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl, but they quickly fell into their old routine.
“We all kind of went our separate ways after the bowl game training, but it was great to see these guys again,” Cichy said. “We’re able to joke around with each other. Seeing them on the bench press was awesome, being able to be there for them cheering them on, and they could do the same for me. It’s good to have that camaraderie back again.”
A native of Somerset, Wis., Cichy was an emotional leader for the Wisconsin football team. After a pectoral injury limited him to only seven games in 2016, the 6-foot-2, 234-pound linebacker was looking forward to making his presence felt during his senior year.
The knee injury Cichy suffered in camp changed all of those plans and created a massive void in the heart of the Badgers’ defense.
“I’m not going to lie. For the first week, it was definitely a struggle,” Dooley said. “We lost a bit of energy as a defense and linebacker group because he was one of our senior leaders.”
Cichy’s absence caused a shift among the linebackers. It required new leaders to emerge and build on the tradition that’s been established by the likes of T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert in recent years.
Dooley, a redshirt senior who didn’t start until midway through his junior campaign, enjoyed a breakthrough year and led the Badgers with a career-high 7½ sacks.
Jacobs, who had played outside linebacker (twice), inside linebacker and fullback during his five years in Madison, started opposite Dooley and totaled 60 tackles and 3½ sacks in 14 games. This weekend, the 6-2, 245-pound linebacker led his former teammates with a 4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash and 26 bench reps.
“Something I think everyone knows that separates him from others is the fact he’s a physical specimen,” said Dooley of Jacobs. “I mean the guy is created in a lab. His physicality and his athleticism he brings to the table is something that made him stand out this year and I think that’s a reason why he’s here.”
Meanwhile, Cichy served almost like an assistant coach this past season. Whenever he wasn’t in rehab, Cichy could be found next to the coaching staff during practices.
Seven months removed from surgery, Cichy estimates he’s currently about 85-90 percent. While he’ll sit out of this week’s on-field testing, Cichy said he hopes to be cleared to participate in more drills during Wisconsin’s pro day later this month.
Cichy had the option to apply for a medical hardship waiver and attempt to return to Madison for a sixth year, but instead chose to enter the NFL Draft. Emotionally, he was ready for a new challenge and this new chapter almost feels like a fresh start to his football career.
“Obviously, I loved Wisconsin. I love everything it’s been able to give me,” Cichy said. “There was a time after I tore my ACL I kind of knew my college playing days were over. It definitely was a tough pill to swallow. I won’t say it wasn’t. It was.
“Once I could accept that, I had to put all my eggs in one basket moving forward and that was the journey to the NFL. I was lucky enough to get an invite here and I’m just here trying to prove myself.”
The Badgers also had two defensive backs, Nick Nelson and Natrell Jamerson, at the combine in addition to tight end Troy Fumagalli.
2. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the godfather of Alabama safeties: It’s been more than four years since Clinton-Dix last suited up for the University of Alabama, but the current Packers safety continues to shepherd several members of the Crimson Tide’s secondary.
Last year, eventual Bears safety Eddie Jackson recounted at the combine how Clinton-Dix provided words of encouragement after Jackson broke his leg during his senior year at Alabama.
This year, the Crimson Tide has another safety prospect – junior Ronnie Harrison – who considered Clinton-Dix a close friend and confidant in the pre-draft process.
“Ha Ha is like my big brother,” said Harrison, a junior entry who had 177 tackles and seven interceptions in Tuscaloosa. “He and I talk a lot. He gives me a lot of advice on what to expect. He’s one who helps me out a lot.”
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a jack of all trades, but don’t call him a master of none: The Alabama safety, a potential top-five overall pick, is out to prove what most scouts already know.
“That I have the hips and feet of a corner, and the IQ and tackling ability of a safety,” Fitzpatrick said.
He can do it all as a defensive back – lining up in the slot, in the box, on the outside, or in deep centerfield – and he loves any assignment thrown his way in such a multi-faceted role.
“You can make the calls like a safety, you can rush, you can fill the holes, and then you get to cover man-to-man,” he said.
That last item is what he ranks as his greatest strength, and he credited his daily battles in practice with top Crimson Tide receiver Calvin Ridley for honing his coverage skills. Fitzpatrick had six interceptions as a sophomore in 2016.
4. Derwin James can move around plenty, too: The Florida State DB says his knee is 100 percent after an injury cost him all but two games two seasons ago, and NFL teams have been talking to him about playing both safety and slot corner as well.
James confirmed he had a formal meeting with the Packers in Indy, but the social media world has linked him strongly to the Cowboys, showing memes with James wearing Dallas gear.
“That’s a good compliment, but I don’t think I’ll go that late,” James said, referring to the Cowboys having the 19th overall pick in the draft. “I’m going to go top 10.”
As for which of the highly touted versatile safeties is better, him or Fitzpatrick, James answered with a smile.
“Of course I’m going to say me,” he said.
5. Ka’Raun and Kyzir White have NFL ties: West Virginia’s Ka’Raun and Kyzir White had perhaps the best resource of any players attending the combine could ask for.
Their older brother.
Three years ago, Kevin White posted a blazing 4.35 time in the 40 and put up 23 bench reps of 225 pounds at the combine en route to becoming the Chicago Bears’ first-round pick at No. 7 overall.
Born into a family with seven children, the redshirt senior receiver Ka’Raun and senior safety Kyzir chose to follow Kevin to West Virginia.
While they don’t know how many families have had three siblings play in the NFL simultaneously – the Fullers and Watts come to mind – it’s their goal to make it happen in their own family.
“It’s meant everything to us,” said Ka’Raun of football. “My parents are retired now because of it. My and Kyzir’s plan on hopefully getting drafted and helping my parents out as well (will be) taking the stress off of Kevin.”