A last Radar entry on the NFL Scouting Combine, not from the Indianapolis Convention Center because I’m back in New York now, having caught my flight back to JFK. It’s on just a few people I ran into during my four days in the shadow of the RCA Dome.
One was Neil O’Donnell, the longtime Jets, Pittsburgh and Tennessee QB. The last time I talked to him a few years ago, he was entrenched doing reporting on the Titans and other local sports topics for a Nashville TV station, plus getting the occasional NFL game assignment on Westwood One’s backup radio team.
O’Donnell was doing really well, from everything I heard and saw, in his career after football, so I was surprised to hear Friday that he is now a salesman — of FieldTurf.
"I got out of that last season," Neil told me. "I learned a lot in television. I never thought coming out of Maryland with an economics degree that years later I’d be editing my own reports for a TV station."
But, he said, the job was time-consuming, eating up his nights and weekends. He has two boys and a girl, ages 11, 8 and 5, and he wanted to watch them play football, cheerlead and do whatever other activities they’ll do as they grow up.
"Now I’m selling FieldTurf out of Nashville, and I’m also back in New Jersey for part of the year," said the former Madison HS star. "And I have a program that involves local players giving back to their high schools by arranging for the schools to get turf for their fields. It’s a win-win situation for the schools and the players. And I get more fulfillment now watching a high school player run out on a FieldTurf field."
I always liked Neil, and I thought when the Jets acquired him in 1996 that he would be the veteran free agent answer at QB. I had stood on the Three Rivers field the year before and watched him hit some sensational passes in the Steelers’ 20-16 AFC title win over the Colts to lift them into the Super Bowl. I think he still has the lowest interception rate in NFL history (although his rate of 2.106 percent is being challenged by Donovan McNabb’s 2.117 after this past season).
Things didn’t go smoothly with the Jets and he moved on to start one season for the Bengals before becoming a strong backup for Steve McNair on the Titans from 1999-2003. All things considered, he was a solid pro QB and a TV reporter and I expect he’ll excel in the synthetic turf field as well.
When I spotted O’Donnell in Indy, he was talking to Art Weiss, who devoted Green & White fans know was and is Wayne Chrebet’s agent. One of the great parts of my gig as editor-in-chief of newyorkjets.com the past year has been not having to deal with player agents anymore, but Art was the exception to that rule and it was good to see him as he made his annual rounds at the combine.
I also heard that Otis Smith was in attendance, although I didn’t see him myself and I don’t know what he’s doing since retiring as a well-traveled professional cornerback for several teams, among them the Jets. This past season Jets head coach Eric Mangini remarked when he worked with Smith on the Patriots, he was one of the best there was at putting the play that just happened behind him and focusing on the next play, an absolutely essential trait for any NFL corner.
And on my way to dinner in downtown Indy, I ran into another former Jets figure on the street. Ted Cottrell, the Jets’ defensive coordinator from 2001-03, was looking good and his laugh sounded just as big and joyful as always. It’s not odd that Ted was at the combine — he was wearing his Chargers jacket, after all, since he became San Diego’s DC last season and was part of the season-long effort of the ‘Bolts overcoming their 1-3 start to make it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before coming up short, 21-12, against the Patriots.
After all the renewal of acquaintances, I had my last good meal at Harry & Izzy’s, the retro-style, upscale restaurant owned by Peyton Manning. Peyton wasn’t there, although our server, the intriguingly named Kemrie, said he does occasionally show up and mingle with the customers at the circular bar.
I enjoyed the famous St. Elmo shrimp cocktail, famous because it was developed at the nearby steakhouse of the same name and uses such incredibly hot horseradish that even I couldn’t eat it without a few coughs, and followed that with an excellent veal chop in a lemon caper sauce, thus helping the older Manning’s bank account a little more.
Now I’m back from my flight from Indy and contemplating the exciting weeks ahead. We’ll continue to cover the Jets and the upcoming free agency signing period and the draft, both with reports from Eric Allen and myself and with contributions from Real Football Services. Thanks to all of you who checked us out for the last four days deep in the heart of Indiana.
A Fast Blast from the Combine
Chris Johnson, the RB from East Carolina, did an eye-popping 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash today, topping the more widely known Darren McFadden’s 4.33 by almost a tenth of a second. The wideouts run separately and Desean Jackson of Cal was the fastest there but his 4.35 didn’t catch either Johnson or McFadden.
Since 2000, according to NFLDraftScout.com, the previous fastest 40 was by WR Jerome Mathis of Hampton in 2005 at 4.28 and the fastest running back was Justin Fargas of Southern Cal in 2003 at 4.35 (followed by one-time Jet Derrick Blaylock’s 4.36).
Not surprisingly, Johnson also had the best time in the 20 (2.41 to WR Devin Thomas’ 2.52) and the 10 (1.40).
Tags: Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Neil O\'Donnell, NFL Scouting Combine, Otis Smith
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