The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

March 17, 2013

Nehlen, Braun hoping for a shot in the NFL

MORGANTOWN — When West Virginia University held its Pro Day on Thursday of this past week before the peering eyes of coaches, executives and scouts from 29 NFL teams along with unblinking eyes of NFL Network and ESPN cameras, it was no surprise that quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver Tavon Austin performed flawlessly.

But, in truth, the day really wasn’t about them, for they had showed off their goods at the NFL Combine.

Instead, this was a do-or-die day for the other Mountaineers who carry the same dreams as do Smith and Austin, but needed a chance to prove themselves worthy.

“I always said this is more for them than for me,” Smith said. “Everyone is going to watch the tape and do their homework. But there are guys like Ryan Nehlen, who didn’t play as much but he tests with the best of them. J.D. Woods is another guy who runs great routes and has great hands.

“To have the scouts get a feel for those other guys is extremely gratifying for me because I appreciate what they did for me when I was on the team with them.”

Perhaps the best two examples of who benefitted most from Pro Day were Nehlen, a gifted athlete whose chances were limited at WVU, and offensive lineman Jeff Braun, a versatile, dedicated player whose athletic skills may have been underrated.

This is how the day went for the two of them and their reaction to it.

Ryan Nehlen

“Everything went good. I was happy with my time. I was happy with the way I caught the ball and my jumping ability,” Nehlen said after impressing all the scouts who were in attendance.

How could he not be?

Nehlen was the top performer among the athletes who went through the timed and measured drills.

His 4.53 time in the 40 was tied with defensive back Cecil Level for the day’s fastest, a hundredth of a second faster than cornerback Pat Miller. He was faster than both of them in the cone drills and the 20 and 60 shuttles.

When it came to jumping, he nearly jumped off the charts. His vertical jump was 39 inches, the next best being 34.5 inches; his broad jump 11-1, four inches farther than the next best.

Other than Tavon Austin, who let his Combine 4.35 stand, there wasn’t an athlete out there who could match Nehlen, which was something everyone kept hearing from the coaching staff all the time he was playing a backup role to some really fine WVU receivers who went or will go on to the NFL.

That he pulled it off on this day, the only day the NFL got to see him up close and personal, may have changed his life.

“It’s huge,” he admitted. “This is so important for guys who don’t have as much time on the field.”

There isn’t a lot of Ryan Nehlen film to see.

He caught only 12 passes in his career, gaining just 101 yards and scoring a couple of touchdowns.

It didn’t scratch the potential that his athleticism hints at, but he understands that was yesterday and what he did on Pro Day was aimed at tomorrow.

“After college it’s a new start,” he said.

He took the start seriously. Like most kids, his younger days were spent trying to figure out what game he wanted to play. He was out of a football family, of course, his grandfather being Don Nehlen, the Hall of Fame coach from WVU who was a quarterback as a player at Bowling Green.

His uncle is a pretty fair former player, too, being one-time WVU quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants.

Nehlen was a four-year starter and All-State receiver for coach John Kelley at University High in Morgantown and may have been, considering his vertical leap, an even better basketball player.

Football, though, was where he would wind up, and he was one of those individuals who made the most out of his college life both athletically and academically. He was a Dean’s List student in exercise physiology with a near 4.0 grade-point average.

This, of course, gives him something to fall back on if the football thing doesn’t work out, but Nehlen isn’t thinking along those lines.

He has the NFL in his sights and, as a realist, believes there is a spot for him.

 “In the NFL there is always a spot for a guy who can consistently catch the football,” he said.

He compared himself to Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson out of Kansas State, who caught 46 passes for the Packers last year.

“He’s a receiver who won’t blow by the defenders, but he’ll curl up and catch the ball,” Nehlen said.

This venture that he has embarked on now has him excited.

“I love living life and not knowing what will happen next,” Nehlen said.

Jeff Braun

Mission accomplished!

That was how the 305-pound Braun felt after going through the grueling day of drills and interviews.

“Woke up feeling a lot better about my situation. But satisfaction kills many people, back 2 work!!” he tweeted on Friday morning.

And why not?

His tests were far better than anyone expected, included a day-high 29 reps on the bench press, four more than the next highest. He also ran a 5.26 40, which isn’t Nehlenesque but which is satisfactory, and his agility drills also were acceptable.

Certainly, he made the most out of a pressure situation.

“You really want to perform well,” he said. “For a guy like me, it’s my opportunity. I didn’t get to go to the Combine, so you circled this date. Every day of training, you focused on this. This was my Combine. To perform the way I did, I was quite happy.”

Braun is throwing a lot into his NFL dreams. Like Ryan Nehlen, he is a solid student with a degree who has a bright future ahead of him if being an NFL player doesn’t work out … but he refused to look at it that way.

“I don’t think it changes things. I really know what I want to do in life and the goals I want to achieve. This obviously is the top goal. I want to be able to play in the NFL,” he said.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t realistic about it.

“I also know the statistics of what the chances are and that it’s not a long career,” he said. “I’m getting older every day, and they don’t like guys that are old. Your football clock is ticking all the time.”

But, in the end, he wants to be involved in football on some level.

“Once football is done as a player, I want to get back in the game. That’s how much I love it,” he said.

And what does Braun offer?

He is brainy, a player who showed marked improvement over the years, and he is versatile, able to play anywhere on the offensive line, and that was something he tried to get across at the Pro Day tryouts.

“That’s what I wanted to show. That’s the biggest selling point I have,” he said. “My agent has broken it down, and I have film on all four positions. I tell scouts I can play whatever position you want me to play. It doesn’t matter. It’s not going to faze me.

“That’s why in drills today, some snaps I went in a right-hand stance, sometimes in a left-hand stance. I wanted to show my versatility.”

Can he make it?

As with Nehlen, it’s a long shot.

“I’ve heard late rounds to free agency from my agent and from other sources,” he said. “The biggest knock on me was my athleticism. They didn’t think I could move very well, so I had to show them, and I think I did.

“I ‘leaned up’ and I went out to prove ‘Look, I’m an athlete, too.’ The goal is to get into camp,” he continued. “You can be a third-, fourth-, fifth-round draft pick and get cut. I just want to get to camp. Once you get there, it’s a different game.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: NCAA football is thriving in the digital age

    The other day Baylor football coach Art Briles walked into his graduate assistants’ office and had to laugh at what he saw.
    “There’s five guys sitting in there — a couple of GA’s and some office personnel — and they all are within a foot and a half of each other and not a one of them is talking to each other,” Briles said, describing the scene “Every one of them is on the phone.”

    April 24, 2014

  • O’Brien leads WVU baseball past Marshall

    Catcher Cam O’Brien made a bid at becoming only the second West Virginia University player to hit for the cycle as the Mountaineers jumped on Marshall early and routed their in-state rival, 10-3, behind strong pitching from Corey Walter and a pair of relievers.

    April 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU faithful again have a reason to root against Vick

    It would be one final indignation, that’s what it would be if Michael Vick were to beat out Geno Smith and win the starting quarterback job with the New York Jets.

    April 23, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Luck open to WVU fans’ suggestions

    West Virginia’s fans have spoken, perhaps not verbally but nonetheless have had their voices heard, over the past few years as attendance has fallen at the Mountaineers’ football and basketball games.

    April 22, 2014

  • Mountaineers ready for slate of rivalry games

    Looking to put together a late-season run to get into the NCAA championships, West Virginia faces a pair of midweek rivalry games in a crucial five-game week coming off winning two of three games at Oklahoma.

    April 22, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Summer, Alabama will be used to get WVU’s mind right

    The ink had barely dried on the final reports out of West Virginia’s spring practice when thoughts turned forward toward the lazy, hazy days of late summer, days that will bring us into football season with a game that can either change the entire image of WVU football or sour it even further.

    April 21, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Watson tees off a new century at The Greenbrier

    You knew this was going to be one of those unpredictable, memorable days when you drove into the Greenbrier Resort and headed to the Old White Golf Course and found the best parking place in the joint.
    As Bob Uecker would say, right there in the front rooooow.

    April 20, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Under pressure, NCAA decides to change rules

    At first glance, it appears that they do not go hand-in-hand, a pair of rules changes the NCAA’s Legislative Council approved this week, sending them off for what seems to be smooth sailing toward becoming rules.

    April 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU gymnast hopes to stick her final landing

    The reaction, one suspects, was the same as most people who see either a picture of West Virginia University gymnast Hope Sloanhoffer or meet her for the first time in person — a quick double take, maybe even stumbling over the first few words of an introduction.

    April 17, 2014

  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
    It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.

    April 16, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads