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Some Familiar Faces at the Combine

Posted by Randy Lange on February 24, 2008 – 6:10 pm

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).

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Posted in Randy Lange | 39 Comments »

39 Responses to “Some Familiar Faces at the Combine”

  1. By Drew on Feb 24, 2008 | Reply

    Glad you’re back home in Jetland… I saw Mcfadden run a 4.27. This is great news for Jet fans. Let Al Davis and better yet Jerry Jones go crazy over him and try and move up.. As much as I like Gholston who is a legit #10 pick I have been watching this Q Groves out of Auburn who I think the Jets interviewed in Indy. This is guy runs a 4.4, 6’3- 255 OLB!! Compared to D Ware. Too high us at 6 though

  2. By Drew on Feb 24, 2008 | Reply

    The most impressive guy at the combine was the Illinios RB. This monster ran a 4.37. I have seen this guy play and he is the next AP. He is a one year production guy but he did well against big defenses in the Big Ten….I really hope Mcfadden falls to six and we can fleece the Cowboys. He did run a sick 40 today which has created some buzz..This draft is deep in OL and RB. We stockpile picks now!

  3. By Howard on Feb 24, 2008 | Reply

    glad you enjoyed your trip randy and gave us jet fans plenty to think about and write about,cant wait till friday to see who goes where

  4. By Ira on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Randy, St Elmo’s is the best. Same blast from the past you ran itto for sure.I always liked O.Smith. Still can’t believe parcells messed with O’Donnell vs the Lions in 97. Never should’ve taken him out for Lucas to throw an INT and need i say anymore about the L.Johnson option pass. Those 40 times are great but this isn’t a track meet. Randy you now my feelings about all this. EG. D.Blaylock!

  5. By Gregorio on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    4.24 for this Johnson kid from East Carolina is pretty impressive, but I keep on hearing that McFadden is blowing people away out in Indy. With McFadden’s stock back on the rise I doubt he’ll be there for the Jets at 6, oh well it was nice to dream for a minute.
    Randy are you hearing about any other buzz regarding the Jets and who they like so far at the combine, any names we haven’t heard yet?

  6. By Tom Spicer on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    We need to draft McFadden this guy is a STUD he is the type of player that the Jets can build there team around I think he could rush for 1,500 yards & 15 total touchdowns. 10 rushing, 3 catching & 2 throwing HE IS THAT GOOD !

  7. By Randy Lange on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Gregorio, I’m not in the buzz business, but this is one of the weeks to monitor the Jets beatwriters because they’ll be hearing plenty from agents and other teams in advance of the 12:01 a.m. Friday start to the free agency signing period.

  8. By Jese Vile on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    why don’t they have Coles resigned give him a long contract he worked a lot harder then he had to last season

  9. By Tom Spicer on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    I read McFadden ran a 4.27 forty in regular running shoes that you & I own & all of the other guys ran with light weight spiked cleats. WHAT WOULD HE HAVE RUN IF HE HAD THERE NAPKIN LIGHT SHOES ON ? PICK THIS GUY !

  10. By joe badalamentu on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Randy, what’s going on with Coles? I do not want a similar situation to occur (Kendall). Does Jets management understand, when they do things like this it will be hard to resign there own players and free agents will be less than willing to sign.

  11. By K.C. on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    FIRST of all Tom,with the offensive line the way we have it MCFADDEN would never rush for 1500 and 15 TOUCHDOWNS! I think we had THREE rushing touchdowns ALL LAST YEAR! And JESE….COLES is making ELEVEN million this year! Hes NOT EVEN one of the top TEN receivers in the LEAGUE!! Oh yeah,one more note…….He worked just as hard as EVERYONE ELSE on the TEAM had to!

  12. By Ira on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    You can’t build your team around a RB. If the Jets or any other team don’t have an o-line that can open up holes to run through then i don’t care who the RB is. It won’t matter.

  13. By O'Leary on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Gholston is amazing. He is the next Gastineau but with a heart. In the 4-3 he will get atleast 12 sacks a year. That’s like the whole Jet line in ’07.

  14. By O'Leary on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Hey Spicer. No matter how fast he runs he won’t get any where with the current Jet line. Think for a second and get Gholston.

  15. By Jared on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    You’re right guys. Lets draft McFadden and then he can run his 4.27 speed into a wall of defenders because we cant block anyone. And then next season we can all come back on this site and talk about how McFadden is a bust becuase we dont have an o-line to open holes. McFadden is not the answer, clean up the o and d line. We should give TJ an award for getting 1000 yards behind our o line last yr.

  16. By Tom Spicer on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    I agree with you guys we need to fix the O line but our problem was left guard NO ONE picks a guard with a top 6 pick. We need to fix that later in the draft or thru free agency as for the D we have good players we are not running the system to fit them Vilma is great in a 4-3 Barton, Ellis & Robertson are good in a 4-3 the 4 guys I just mentioned talents are being wasted in this 3-4 system.

  17. By Ira on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Jared, Thank You! TJ was great last year to do what he did. Under normal conditions he would’ve had 1300-1400 yds and 6-8 TD’s. Fix the problem and thats what he will do in 08. GO JETS!!!!!

  18. By DAMONE on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply


  19. By DAMONE on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply


  20. By Tanner on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Please give Coles a long term contract!! Lets try to get some OL and DE and a another big name reciever

  21. By Drew on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    The Jets view Coles alot differently than Kendall. L Coles will be on the team this year. Mr T will work some magic with his contract. Coles just likes to make noise…..I would love to trade down in this draft. We cannot get J Long and I think #6 is high for Gholston. There is a kid from Auburn (QGroves)who is just as big but runs like a deer that we can get later. Mcfadden is @ 6 we move down!!!

  22. By Robert on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    We need to fix the O LINE…Without the O LINE there’s isn’t any TEAM….The O puts point’s on the board…Protect’s the QB and opens holes for the running backs..TJ..LW..Without the O LINE man we ain’t getting in the end zone…The 3-4 D has to go..Were gona loose VILMA like organization we lost KENDALL..We aren’t fit for the 3-4 more like the 4-3 we had alot of advantages with it.Don’t be FOOL’S

  23. By ed o on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    the Jets biggest problem areas are with both interior lines. They need much better starting OL guards and are in need for pressures & sacks from DL people. Ellis is a backup now and they also need another interior lineman.

  24. By Braeden on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Hey, Drew you know Quentin Groves can be picked up in the early 2nd round so we dont have to pick him early. The JETS can get McFadden and Groves in the first and second rounds.The JETS can go after some linemen in free agency, jeez thats why you all dont want the best player in the draft. Go out and get Faneca. Lots of people are favoring the JETS to get McFadden, which i like very much =D.

  25. By Drew on Feb 25, 2008 | Reply

    Rumor from the combine is the Saints are hot for Samuel and the Jets will throw a ton of money at Faneca. This would be a dream. Get Samuel out of the AFC and sign a Big Bad LG to protect the QB and make big time holes for our RB’s. I know he like Arizona but he will go where the $$ is..they all do…Draft a big RT (there r plenty)and DL/OLB and things look alot better for 2008

  26. By John from Europe on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    Makes absolutely no sense to go RB (Mcfadden or anyone else) at 6 overall. I said this from day one, we have too many other holes to fill. Plus there is lots of depth at RB in this draft and immediate Jets need at RB is a short-yardage specialist. Our rotation should be TJ on 1st and second down, washington as the 3rd down back , but we are missing a big back for 3rd and 1 since Houston left

  27. By DUNNIE on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    VG in 08.

  28. By Frank on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    I am getting concerned about our LG problem. If we don’t sign Faneca which I still think is a longshot simply because he is not a prototypical Tangini charater guy. After him there is a huge dropoff in the FA market and G is not particularily strong in this draft. I like Lictensteiger in maybe the 3rd round. He is a bit undersized but he has major attitude and I think will be a solid pro.

  29. By Frank on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    Glad to see Tangini is finally listening to the fans. It seems they are prepared to make a run at Faneca and they are quitely trying to trade D-Rob. Hopefully that will be followed up by trading Pennington and Coles. One sure way for Mangini to lose his team again next year is to not dump Coles like he did Kendall. Besides we need to get bigger and Cotchery is younger and better than Coles now.

  30. By Frank on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    I can’t beleive I am saying this but I think if we can’t get J long and Gohlston is available at 6 I think we should take him assuming we can’t trade the pick either. We need a pass rusher and after seeing him at the combine I had no idea how strong this guy is and fast for a big guy. In the 3-4 the LB’s need to be strong to take on the G’s. He also got 1 of the 2 sacks J Long gave up in 4 years.

  31. By Tom Spicer on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    Draft order 1 Dolphins Jake Long 2 Rams Glenn Dorsey 3 Falcons McFadden 4 Raiders Chris Long 5 Cheifs Vernon Gholston 6 Jets Sedrick Ellis. I think both Longs, McFadden & Gholston will be gone before we pick so we will get Dorsey or Elllis it all depends on who the Jets think can play nose in a 3-4. The Jets will take care of the O line later in the draft.

  32. By Ira on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    Reports are that the Jets will make a run at Faneca. If they don’t get him there are still some good OG in FA. J.Bell would be 1 example. Lets see how it all starts to unfold this Friday.

  33. By Xavion on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    You people are killing Me Our Pass Blocking last year was horrible not the run blocking… our run blocking was pretty decent. Its Thomas Jones Im not sold on. He had several Chances on the one to get TD’s I also know a lot about running and I dont think hes that great of a runner he has his moments The KC game was his best running of the year by far. Leon looked much better. A Few Good FA

  34. By Hogan on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    Got to agree RB is not the answer for our org. Jones and Wash. are both great, but without a fix at the o-line it will be hard to get Jones his 1000yrds. Really hope Tangini comes through on the Feneca deal.

  35. By Frank on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    Ira, I didn’t say there weren’t any other options just that the talent level drops off significantly. I am adamant Brick is a bust and if Tangini is going to stick with him at LT which I think is a mistake then they have no choice but to land Faneca or the left side is going to be a disaster again next year.

  36. By Hogan on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    Xavion, TJ is agood RB, he almost always breks tackles or aviods the first two or three defenders. The prob is after he has made 2 or 3 guys miss, he is only at the line more than half the time. A good o-line and getting him out of the backfield once in a while will get him to put up truly great #’s

  37. By Hogan on Feb 26, 2008 | Reply

    I can not belive what I just read. WE JUST CUT DYSON? McCarrens I have been saying cut since the baltimore game but DYSON? Could we not have gotten something for him, I liked him. Randy can you explain this to me?

  38. By joe b on Feb 27, 2008 | Reply

    It was reported tha Rob Marinelli was interested in aquiring J. Vilma. The J+E+T+S need a DT and Detroit is offering up Shaun Rodgers. Lets make a deal.

  39. By Row on Feb 27, 2008 | Reply

    Mr. T, please sign DJ Hackett, we let J. Gage fall to the Titans, so come on, we need a game breaker! Please, and everyone stop saying trade Vilma. #51 will be a pro bowler next year!

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