High School Football

March 8, 2014

Tough for Fewell to gauge Pro Day experience

Jibrille Fewell was disappointed that he wasn‘t able to do field drills during his Pro Day March 4 at Liberty University. That left a gray cloud over the day, but the following day, two NFL teams contacted Fewell’s agent James Peterson, evidence of the behind-the-scenes work that NFL scouts prefer.

Jibrille Fewell was frustrated, standing in the shadow of Liberty University’s Williams Stadium after a Pro Day in which he felt he didn’t fully get a chance to show his wares.

“I did all right,” he said, shortly after Tuesday’s workout had concluded. “I don’t know why the d-linemen couldn’t do drills. That was the only surprising thing to me.”

The Rock Hill native was referring to blocking pads, which were left in the equipment shed. That left Fewell, Francis Bah and Cory Freeman – the three defensive linemen working out in front of over 25 NFL scouts – to stew while two Liberty defensive backs went through similar drills on the snow-plowed artificial turf.

“I don’t understand how a school, a Division I school, didn’t have bags for us. We’re prospects, not just regular defensive linemen,” said Fewell, still miffed at the thought on Saturday. “Francis was... Francis was so mad. He still is.”

One thing Fewell and Bah both learned about Pro Days is that all is not as it seems on the surface. Shortly after the Pro Day was over, Fewell – who played for the Flames – talked to Liberty University defensive line coach Vantz Singletary, who said a scout from the New Orleans Saints was interested in Fewell. The scout had been unable to talk to him because he had to leave early to catch a similar shindig at nearby University of Virginia at Lynchburg, where an unknown prospect was supposed to run a 4.2 in the 40-yard dash (the NFL Draft Combine record of 4.24 seconds is held by Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson; a 4.2 prospect is worth leaving any Pro Day to see).

The scout told Singletary he was definitely interested in Fewell and would get in touch with Fewell’s agent, James Peterson. Later, the Arizona Cardinals’ scout at the Liberty Pro Day texted Fewell and told him he liked what he saw and that the only reason the bags weren’t brought out at the Liberty workout was because he (and the Saints rep) had left early.

In the blink of a few text messages, Fewell’s mood turned from glum to hopeful. Peterson, who spoke with Fewell after the workout, clarified his client’s feeling about the situation.

“He was really bummed out about not being able to do the drills because that’s his bread and butter, where he thought he could separate himself from some of the other draftees and he felt that without doing that, he was leaving some stuff on the table,” said Peterson. “When he was down at the Pro Day, it wasn’t that he was down on himself, he was down because he wanted to show more.”

Fewell had reason to be pleased with his workout. He ran a 4.85 in the 40, a little slower than he wanted, but still pretty quick for a 298-pound human. Fewell said that the track was tricky for him and the other prospects, many of whom have trained on grass or other surfaces with more grip.

Down in the metallic-smelling Liberty weight room, Fewell pumped 24 repetitions on the 225 bench press test, broad-jumped 9 feet, and reached 27 inches on his vertical leap. Liberty defensive back Walt Aikens stole the show during that portion of the workout; he was the reason that most of the scouts were at Liberty. He ran his 40 in the low 4.4’s and broad-jumped 9 feet, 10 inches, and has a good chance to be drafted in the first three rounds of the May draft.

After each physical test was completed, the NFL scouts circled to share their numbers and measurements, guarding the figures from outsiders like they were state secrets. When a cameraman shooting video for Liberty approached one of these huddles, he was met with an “NFL guys only.”

After the physical testing, undertaken at the school’s Football Operations Center and indoor track, the group headed out into the chilly air at Williams Stadium for individual workouts. Those were largely limited to Aiken and another Liberty defensive back prospect, Kevin Fogg, working out extensively for several teams, while another Liberty player, running back Aldreakis Allen, also was put through his paces.

All the while, Fewell cut a frustrated figure, toeing the fake grass with his cleat, his hands in his shorts, trying to keep warm in the 30-degree weather. At that moment, he was ruing his luck. The original plan had been to attend the Liberty Pro Day, return to Buffalo and train and then participate in the Pro Day at the University of Buffalo, where Fewell began his college career and had maintained contacts. Scouts from all 32 teams would be present to see Fewell’s former teammate, linebacker Khalil Mack, a top-10 draft prospect.

But Buffalo’s Pro Day was moved up a week to the same day as Liberty’s. Among those at Buffalo's Pro Day last week were Oakland Raiders' general manager Reggie McKenzie, Buffalo Bills' general manager Doug Whaley and Cleveland Browns' head coach Mike Pettine, all to see Mack, who by all accounts impressed. Standing there amidst the beautiful snow-covered setting of Liberty’s football stadium, freezing his tail off, Fewell regretted not being able to attend Buffalo’s Pro Day.

It was a test of his faith, as the whole draft process has been. There is a lot of action at work behind the scenes at a Pro Day. Scouts don’t always want to express interest in a player in person because scouts from other teams might see and take notice. There is plenty of espionage going on among the scouts, even though at first glance they all appear to be buddies, high-fiving and catching up like old college buddies who haven’t seen each other in years.

Fewell is a low-profile prospect and teams would probably rather not spend a draft pick on him. They would prefer to keep their interest in Fewell low-key, as the Cardinals and Saints did. The texts and phone calls that Fewell and his agent received after the workout confirmed that belief.

“Teams don’t want to show their hand,” Peterson said. “You have to be confident in what you do on the field no matter what anybody else says. It only takes one team to like you.”

Now, Peterson hopes to get Fewell into one of the 12 regional combines that are hosted by the NFL Players Association and other groups. That would allow Fewell to work out in front of teams, to show his abilities on the field, not just how he measures up on a clipboard. There is also the possibility of individual workouts, such as the one that Aikens had with the Chicago Bears the day after the Liberty Pro Day. Peterson will work to set those up with the interested teams.

“He has good game film, but we really want the scouts to see firsthand what he can do,” said Peterson. “We’re sitting back down to get our strategy to get more scouts to see him. When they see him do his thing, they love him.”

Fewell just wants the chance. After the disappointment of the snowed-over College All-Star Bowl, Buffalo moving its Pro Day to the same day as Liberty, and the scouts leaving Liberty’s Pro Day early, a personal workout with an NFL team would make Fewell feel like he was still on track.

“They can just beat me to death if they want,” he said, laughing. “Whatever they want to do to me in private workouts.”

Although Fewell was all head-shaking disappointment directly after the Pro Day, several days later he was relaxed about the situation, back to his jolly self. All he could do was continue to train and try to grab any opportunity with both of his 9 1/8-inch hands.

“I’m just giving it to God,” he said. “I’ve done all I could do.”

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