Former Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell on his hoped-for 40 time and why he skipped the Senior Bowl. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s 2013 all over again for Josey Jewell.
He can point to an impressive body of work on the football field. Teams scouting him only seem to want to point out what he’s lacking.
“There’s always going to be questions. They’re going to say maybe you’re not fast enough, maybe you’re not side to side, you’re not good enough there, whatever, you’re not tall enough,” Jewell told reporters Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine, ticking off his perceived faults as if he’s memorized them.
Five years ago, Jewell was coming off a state championship season at Decorah High School and was perplexed when a batch of colleges didn’t think he was up to par for that level. Finally, Iowa came in late with a scholarship offer and the rest was history.
Jewell internalized his disappointment and took out his rage on opposing ball-carriers. He was a three-year starter at middle linebacker for the Hawkeyes, a unanimous all-American as a senior last fall.
That brings him to Indianapolis, where again he is mostly overlooked, considered by many a mid-round draft pick at best. He doesn’t have the size and speed and elegance that turns heads. Jewell is hoping that his heart makes up for all of that again.
“It motivates me a lot. Coming from high school and not being recruited really,” Jewell said. “You want to work on your craft, perfect your craft. So ever since then I’ve just been trying to be the best player I possibly can be technique-wise and then try to get faster, stronger, bigger.”
Jewell will join a deep group of talented linebackers in going through his drills Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. He skipped the Senior Bowl in January after an illness took seven pounds of strength from his body, not wanting to be at his worst when NFL teams were trying to figure out what his potential best is.
This will be his chance to show it, at least the portion of football skills that can be reduced to a number on a stopwatch. Jewell knows his 40-yard dash time will be paramount. He wants to run in the 4.6-4.7-second range and has been practicing his sprinter’s form to do so.
“It’s a different kind of test. It’s not going out on the field and tackling people,” said Jewell, who did that 433 times in a Hawkeye uniform. “You’ve got to show out on other stuff. You’ve got to show out on the 3-cone, be able to tell them you’re good at changing direction. The 40 is big for everybody, too, to let them see your overall speed.”
Jewell measured in at 6-foot-1, 234 pounds. He said he’s had formal interviews with just two teams — the Cowboys and Lions. Many of the questions he’s getting surround his ability to play in space, to cover running backs and tight ends, Jewell said.
It is reminiscent of what happened a year ago to Jayon Brown, said Josh Liskiewitz, the Big Ten Conference analyst for Pro Football Focus. Brown stands 6-foot tall and weighs 226 pounds and was far from the NFL draft spotlight despite a 119-tackle senior season at UCLA.
Former Hawkeye linebacker Josey Jewell talks about his possible NFL role and his NFL role model. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
Brown ran a 4.7 40 at the Combine. Scouts questioned his size and strength. He fell to the fifth round of the draft, where the Titans took him.
Brown entered training camp and promptly proved to be an immediate contributor. He played in all 16 games last season, with 52 tackles and four passes defensed.
“The NFL is a little bit behind the curve in these (inside) linebackers in terms of, if they cover, there is a lot of value in them,” Liskiewitz said.
So there’s hope for Jewell no matter what his test times reveal Sunday. And, to be clear, nobody is expecting him to be at the top of his position group in any category.
Instead, Jewell said he’s been selling himself to teams based on three characteristics — productivity, dependability and leadership.
He could add football instincts that have always allowed him to excel. Jewell succeeds by knowing where an offensive play is going seemingly before the ball is snapped.
“It’s a lot of film preparation, watching a lot of film with coach, a lot of film with other players,” Jewell said. “Just understanding each scenario or each formation, what they can run and from there just understanding what your job is and how you can effectively do it.”
Jewell thinks his NFL role will be to man the middle of the field, just as in college. His NFL role model is Panthers star Luke Kuechly, who came out of Boston College with terrific statistics and measurables and was a first-round draft pick.
“I look at him and his film preparation. You can definitely see it with his anticipation before plays, recognizing plays by the formation, by techniques,” Jewell said.
That is one thing Jewell and Kuechly have in common. And it’s a big one. But there’s no way to measure it.
Nor can you measure the size of an invisible chip on an athlete’s shoulder. It’s what’s driven Jewell all the way from Decorah to Indianapolis.
It was already on display Saturday, when Jewell did his bench press drill at the Combine. The result: 18 repetitions of 225 pounds.
“Not as good as I liked,” Jewell told reporters, a slight tone of disgust creeping into his voice. “But you know you get another opportunity back at Pro Day (March 26). So I’m looking forward to that.”