Football

NFL combine snub behind him, Texas’ Poona Ford shows 32 teams what they missed in Indy

Longhorns strut their stuff as 16 former players go through UT pro timing day

Posted March 28th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Tom Herman: “Why Poona Ford wasn’t invited to the combine, I’ll never know.”
  • “I think one day we’ll negotiate a contract for Connor (Williams) that will make him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history.”
  • Poona Ford needs one NFL GM to take a chance: “I just need one. That’s it. And he won’t regret it.”

B.J. Payne started the week spending time with his mother, Annette, in a South Carolina hospital. For any 72-year-old, a pelvic injury is bad enough. Then she developed pneumonia in both lungs.

“You know what she said? ‘How’s Poona?,'” Payne said.

With plenty on her mind Sunday night, Annette Payne quizzed her son, a high school football coach from Hilton Head, S.C., about one of his best athletes — Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford.

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“Poona’s a warrior,” B.J. Payne said. “He just captivates people.”

With his mother’s blessing, Payne was in Austin on Wednesday for one of the biggest days in Ford’s athletic life. The 5-11 nose guard finally showed representatives from all 32 NFL teams what they could have seen at the scouting combine had he been invited to Indianapolis.

Not many 305-pounders have a wingspan stretching 80.25 inches. Bevo XV’s horns are merely 60 inches tip to tip. “Why Poona Ford wasn’t invited to the combine, I’ll never know,” Texas coach Tom Herman said.

Former UT football players work out to attempt to impress NFL scouts for their pro career during Texas Football 2018 Pro Timing Day held at the Bubble at Denius Fields on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Ford showed off on the bench press, pushing 225 pounds up and down 24 times. He leaped 29 inches. His standing broad jump was 9.3 feet, and Ford did the three-cone agility drill in 7.4 seconds. Those broad jump and cone numbers would’ve been among the top-five totals among all defensive tackles in Indianapolis.

There were 52 defensive linemen who received NFL combine invitations. Maybe Ford, the Big 12 defensive lineman of the year, should’ve received one after all.

“I really wasn’t worried about it, honestly,” Ford said. “I just looked at it to my advantage. I had more time to prepare and just come out and do my thing.”

Frankly, what’s another snub? Ford’s been short-changed his entire career. Payne saw talent when few did. Former Texas coach Charlie Strong, who originally recruited Ford for Louisville, definitely saw it, too.

“I’m used to being at a disadvantage,” Ford said. “I’m a strong person, and I use that to my advantage. God don’t give his biggest battles to the weakest person.”

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said flat-out the scouts probably missed on this one.

“Here’s what I think about Poona Ford,” Mayock said. “A, he should have been invited to the combine. The Big 12 defensive lineman of the year, productive, tough. I think what’s happening is that so many juniors are coming out this year, they’re holding spots for juniors and kicking some of the seniors out. But there’s no doubt he should have been invited to the combine.”

Former UT football player Jason Hall works out to attempt to impress NFL scouts for their pro career during Texas Football 2018 Pro Timing Day held at the Bubble at Denius Fields on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The NFL has become such a pass-first league, Mayock said, teams no longer cherish a run-stopper who can clog up the middle. Ford’s biggest strength is hard to quantify statistically. There are no stats for taking on double teams so linebackers can make the play.

Under two different defensive systems at UT, Ford lined up directly over the center, in the gap, shaded over the guard’s inside eye and his outside eye, too. He tallied up 136 career tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and four sacks along with three forced fumbles.

“You get drafted at one area if you’re a run-only defender, and you get drafted earlier if you can affect the pass game,” Mayock said. “I think that’s what people have to figure out about him.”

Former UT football player DeShon Elliott works out to attempt to impress NFL scouts for their pro career during Texas Football 2018 Pro Timing Day held at the Bubble at Denius Fields on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Ford first ran the 40-yard dash wearing a gray, long-sleeved workout shirt. Payne, who watched from the opposite end of the UT indoor practice facility, couldn’t understand why Ford was wearing a shirt at all. Unable to get a message to Ford, Payne said he texted Herman and told the coach to tell the player to ditch the shirt. Ford clocked a respectable time of 4.94 seconds.

Payne, who remains in constant contact with Ford, said Ford was upset about the combine snub for about a day. “But I kept talking to him and everything happens for a reason,” Payne said. “We might know in a month, might know in five years or might not know for 20 years.”

All 16 Longhorns who went through pro timing day are traveling their own journey. Some, like offensive tackle Connor Williams, may get snagged late in the first round, Mayock said. Texas hasn’t had an offensive lineman drafted at all since 2008.

“Right out of the gate, loved him,” Williams’ agent Drew Rosenhaus said. The versatile 6-6 athlete could play tackle, guard or even center on Sundays. Williams appears to be fully recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him for more than half of the 2017 season. He’s had meetings or workouts with almost 25 teams.

“I think one day we’ll negotiate a contract for Connor that will make him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history,” Rosenhaus said.

Williams, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive backs Holton Hill and DeShon Elliott and punter Michael Dickson all strutted their stuff at the combine. They all followed up with more individual work on Wednesday.

Former UT football player Malik Jefferson works out to attempt to impress NFL scouts for their pro career during Texas Football 2018 Pro Timing Day held at the Bubble at Denius Fields on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Chris Warren III was emphatic when asked about his NFL future. He was a running back under Strong and got converted to a tight end under Herman. Warren said he’s told teams, “I’ll play whatever you guys need me to play, but I 110-percent intend on playing running back in the NFL. Point blank, period.”

Other players flashed true athleticism. Antwuan Davis, the speedster cornerback from Bastrop, flew through the 40-yard dash and clocked an unofficial time of 4.36 seconds.

“I definitely let people know that I’m a competitor,” Davis said. “Hopefully a team wants a competitor. They’ll find that in me.”

That’s what someone will get in Ford, too. Bank on the fact that 31 NFL teams will think he’s too short or too slow. “It happened the way it did, but it ended up working out for him,” Ford’s agent Murphy McGuire said. “He’s having a nice day, and somebody’s going to get a steal with him.”

One general manager. One team. That’s all Ford needs.

“I just need one. That’s it,” Ford said. “And he won’t regret it.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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