How Iowa great Aaron Kampman is helping Drew Ott before the NFL Draft
The road from Iowa City to Green Bay has been well-traversed during the Ted Thompson era, the travelers moving along with the steadiness and persistence of four-wheel-drive sedans.
Nothing spectacular to see here.
If the Packers were to take a chance on Iowa defensive line prospect Drew Ott, as they’ve been urged, they would be getting the same type of guy they’ve gotten from the Hawkeyes program, players such as Micah Hyde, Mike Daniels, Bryan Bulaga, Colin Cole, Matt Bowen and Aaron Kampman, all contributors to Thompson’s teams over his 11 years as general manager.
Ott may be one of the least studied major-college prospects in this year’s draft simply because he was a mid-round hopeful at best going into his senior year and fell off many teams’ boards after suffering two torn elbow ligaments in Iowa’s second game and a torn ACL in Week 6.
The 6-foot-4 1/2, 272-pound Ott was invited to the scouting combine in Indianapolis, but it was just to undergo medical tests since he was still recovering from reconstructive surgeries on his elbow and knee. He recently attended the medical recheck in Indianapolis, but he has not been able to workout in front of any scouts.
His goal is to be ready for the start of training camp, but that doesn’t do him much good in terms of persuading a team to use a draft pick on him.
"I didn’t really get my senior year to show what I developed over that full junior off-season, so that junior year was just a flash,” Ott said in a phone interview. "That senior year was going to be real special. My best football is still ahead of me, so I think whoever drafts me is going to be real excited."
Whether Ott gets drafted is debatable, but his goals are much higher than just getting into a team’s training camp.
His difficult senior season didn’t go unnoticed around the Iowa community, even though he went from a starter and team captain to a patient in the training room. One of the guys who decided to reach out to Ott and offer his support had been through two ACL tears, the last of which ended his NFL career.
"I went to a Hawkeye game last year against Illinois State and I saw Drew for the first time,” said Kampman, a 2002 Packers draft pick who had 54 sacks in eight seasons in Green Bay. "This young man had a lot of ability. He dominated the game. He was the best player on the field.
"After the injury, I reached out to the strength and conditioning coach, Chris Doyle, and asked him if there was anything I could do, let me know. He was thinking the same thing, getting us connected."
Kampman, who lives near Iowa City and currently mentors players on behalf of the NFL Players Association, was the perfect guy for Ott. Coming out of Iowa his senior year, Kampman had similar measurements and a good résumé but teams doubted whether there was a place for him in the NFL. He led the Hawkeyes in sacks, but that didn’t mean a lot to some scouts.
One team worked him out as an offensive guard. Everyone else looked at him as an overachiever who had maxed out his ability. It’s not too different from the way scouts looked at Daniels, Hyde and Bowen.
When asked about Ott, one scout said, "He’s an overachiever who would be a good free-agent base end. He played with adequate pad level and strength along with good hand placement and block control against the run. As a rusher, he wasn’t explosive and displayed only limited technique and shed ability."
Kampman has told Ott to focus on what has made him successful and not worry about labels like "overachiever." Kampman said he made it in the NFL because he refused to accept what others thought to be true about him, and knew his talent and will would guide him.
"I think Drew has some of those same characteristics," Kampman said. “I think he’s further along than I was with his pass rush ability. He understands leverage and how to use your hands and those things are going to help him.”
Ott had 7 1/2 sacks and led the Hawkeyes with 12 tackles for loss during his junior year, earning second-team all-Big Ten honors. During the off-season, he continued to mature physically and felt he was poised for a big season in 2015.
He started out the season with two sacks in the first half against Northern Illinois, but, in what would be an omen, he suffered a severe nose bleed in the second half and had to sit out the rest of the game.
In Week 2, he was going for a fumble when someone crashed into his left elbow, tearing the ulnar collateral and lateral collateral ligaments.
He sat out the rest of the game, but the next week he was back with an elbow brace learning to play one-armed. By the time the Wisconsin game rolled around in Week 5, he was starting to make an impact again.
He had 2 1/2 tackles for loss and forced a fumble when he blew past Badgers left tackle Tyler Marz and sacked quarterback Joel Stave in a 10-6 Hawkeyes victory at Camp Randall Stadium. It was his fifth sack in five games and he looked to be headed for a stellar season.
But the following week against Illinois it all came crashing down.
“I was just working on the punt block team and my knee buckled,” Ott said. “I had never done anything like that before but I could hear it snap. I knew it wasn’t good.”
Ott has fought his way back after having surgeries on his knee and elbow less than a month apart. He applied for a sixth year of eligibility at Iowa, but after a long wait found out this spring that the NCAA had denied his application.
Immediately, he was thrust into the draft process with nothing to show scouts but his junior year and part of a senior year. He is running again and said his elbow is in great shape.
Ott hired Kampman’s former agent, Neil Cornrich, and both have talked to anybody who will listen about his potential. Kampman has been in the ear of Packers scouts about Ott, letting them know that he’s someone they should consider. He has seen him take his situation head-on and refuse to let it deter him.
All of the teams who might be interested have a choice to make, given they won’t have seen him perform since Oct. 10.
"So the question they have, do we use a draft pick?” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said recently. “Do we try to get him as a free agent, that type of thing? I think he’s a great investment. A heck of a football player and heck of a leader."
Staff writer Bob McGinn contributed to this story.