The NFL draft is still scheduled for two weeks from now, and as Roger Goodell will most likely stubbornly stick to that timeline, a few former Notre Dame players needed to find a way to impress front offices from a socially-acceptable distance. Defensive end Julian Okwara, in particular, wanted the NFL to know he is not only healthy (November, broken leg) but also faster than realized.
He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash a year ago, per an interview with NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth in the series premiere of “Distanced Training,” so Okwara was hoping to crack 4.5 seconds and perhaps move his way up a few draft boards.
Past the canceled commencements, I hurt for college seniors looking to land jobs. NFL draft hopefuls are an extreme example of that, but the point stands.@julian_okwara tells @JacCollinsworth he could have run a 4.4x 40. Now, all we can do is wonder. https://t.co/E0u8S6QYHH
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) April 3, 2020
Biding his time in South Bend — having returned for a pro day scheduled for this coming Saturday, one that is now obviously canceled — Okwara joined former teammates cornerback Donte Vaughn and safety Jalen Elliott in a bare-bones combine over the weekend. For the most part, it was done in as responsible a manner as possible.
Okwara did not reach his past displays of speed, logging a 4.60 while Elliott improved on his 4.80 showing at the combine by dropping to a 4.50, but Okwara did show he is healthy and moving well, all the same. Vaughn ran a 4.56, though his chances of getting drafted remain slim.
Man it feels good to be up and running! pic.twitter.com/KfDVRFpHB9
— Julian Okwara (@julian_okwara) April 4, 2020
Goodell’s insistence on sticking with the draft on April 23-25 has been met by frustration from the league’s front offices, in part because they do not want to force prospects into holding these types of combines when they should be staying home. Even if holding the workout without other teammates, conceivably with the physical contact coming against only those within an isolation cell, it is an event that does not need to be occurring.
Former #NotreDame DE Khalid Kareem (@khalid_kareem53) was impressive Sunday afternoon as he conducted a private pro day. Looked explosive and healthy following shoulder surgery in January. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/wSwJYfgf3w
— Matt Freeman (@mattfreemanISD) April 6, 2020
In that respect, the combines were just like all sports, elective. (Yes, this runs the risk of undercutting my source of income.) The lack of uproar or protest as all games were postponed or canceled last month underscored that reality. For many of us, they are the preferred focus of our dispensable energy, but they are elective, nonetheless.
For Okwara, Elliott and Kareem, they are a bit less elective at the moment, especially with Goodell sticking to his scheduling guns. The starts of their professional careers hinge on the draft. Giving front offices reason to believe in them right now is a priority for them. It is hard to begrudge their decisions, even if Elliott’s work included a football. Yes, it makes sense for a safety to want to work in coverage, but it goes against explicit recommendations these days.
Just a kid tryin to live out my dreams… Gods timing is perfect always!… humble as ever but I know what I bring to the table 🤫🙏🏿 pic.twitter.com/WIeitKDIMl
— OG_21™ (@Jae_Uno_) April 4, 2020
For current Notre Dame players, continued public workouts go against every piece of respectable logic. All 130 Division I college football rosters are at home; not getting in work right now is not an inherent competitive disadvantage. Their careers do not hinge on making catches these next few weeks.
And yet …
#NotreDame RB Kyren Williams with a ridiculous catch here.
— Matt Freeman (@mattfreemanISD) April 4, 2020
It’s an impressive catch, notable since Kyren Williams was yanked from his first collegiate action after a drop in the 2019 opener. At a position with playing time available and the pecking order in flux, the sophomore running back has every motivation to work on his skill set.
But there is a reason basketball hoops have been removed from backboards across the country. Passing a ball back-and-forth is not advisable with a highly-contagious pandemic having changed all social norms. Per Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman, this workout was before St. Louis closed parks Friday, but social distancing has been the societal norm for 26 days now. Everyone should be smarter than this.
If you want sports to come back as soon as humanly possible, do your part and stay home
— Pablo S. Torre (@PabloTorre) April 4, 2020
To be clear, this folly undoubtedly extends past Notre Dame’s roster; it is just the group that crosses my eyes most often, and thus the group that currently aggravates me the most.
If these players want to make catches that matter, they need to stay home.
INSIDE THE IRISH READING
— Notre Dame’s coaches’ jobs shift, as all of ours do
— 30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Night games return; ‘Crazy Train’ debuts
— Notre Dame 99-to-2: An early beginning
— No. 99 Rylie Mills, consensus four-star, early-enrolled defensive lineman
— No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, German defensive end
Brady Quinn, Julius Jones, Cole Kmet and here is where there is a bit of a bounty … Samardzija, Claypool and Tate. https://t.co/6BYFVWljOe
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) March 31, 2020
— Brian Kelly provides a peek into Notre Dame football’s process during COVID-19
— Q-and-A with Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick on football, faith, COVID-19 and beyond
— Here’s the biggest factor in college football returning this fall
— Ranking my top five favorite road venues from covering Notre Dame football
— 100 best college football games ever
— First-year college football coaches facing ‘extreme challenges’ in wake of pandemic
— Pat Connaughton on the Bucks’ break from the championship chase, his second career, and Giannis’ future
CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE, SPORTS ASIDE
— UW-Madison student recovering from ‘dehumanizing’ COVID-19 sounds alarm to young adults
— Covid-19 changed how the world does science, together
— Getting tipsy at home in your underwear
— Matt Cashore (@mattcashore) April 5, 2020