Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SPORTS >> NFL draft not lean for ASU

Leader sports editor

First, here’s to Alex “Big Al” Carrington, Arkansas State’s fine defensive end who went to the Buffalo Bills in the third round of the NFL draft last week.

In what local experts are calling a “lean year” for Arkansas-connected players in the draft, Carrington was the first selected from a state school when he went 72nd overall.

The Arkansas Razorbacks didn’t have a man drafted until guard Mitch Petrus went to the New York Giants in the fifth round, 147th overall.

Maybe that’s why they’re calling it a lean year. If Razorbacks aren’t drafted en masse, it doesn’t matter how many NFL players other schools produce; they will always be overshadowed by the Hogs, even when the Hogs aren’t doing anything particularly noteworthy.

Lean year? For Arkansas State, which toils in college football’s largest classification — the Football Bowl Subdivision — but plays in the unheralded Sun Belt Conference, when a player goes in the early rounds, it’s a banner year.

Carrington will join a number of Arkansas State players who through the years have been NFL draft picks. The list includes hall of famer Bill Bergey and, most recently, safety Tyrell Johnson, last seen roaming the field with the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs.

And let’s not forget Central Arkansas. The Bears, of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision formerly known as Division I-AA, sent defensive end Larry Hart to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fifth round, 143rd overall.

Lean year? Hey, Hart is the highest draft pick in UCA history. Don’t tell the Bears it’s a lean year.

Anyway, the draft hype is mercifully over — quick, can you remember where you were and what you were doing when Florida’s golden boy Tim Tebow was drafted by Denver? — and soon it will be time for players like Carrington to prove they are worth their draft status.

There weren’t a lot of quality defensive ends available this year, which may explain why Carrington and Hart were drafted as high as they were. But player evaluations are such a science in the NFL now, I’m sure the two were fully vetted and their athletic skills were pronounced worthy.

A player’s mental game is harder to evaluate. Or, as quarterback-turned-analyst Steve Young said, “Is your wrist connected to that brain?”

How does a guy prove he has the guile and smarts to go with the body? Certainly NFL teams put a lot more emphasis on psychological screenings nowadays, yet flakes like Chad Ocho Cinco, once called “Ocho Psycho” by his coach, still get through.

Maybe they should direct the psychological screenings to the jersey-wearing fans who show up to the live draft in New York City to cheer and boo as if it were a real game.

I mean, don’t these people have to pay money to get in? And to do what? Holler like it’s a fourth-quarter goal line stand when a man in a suit announces a name so a young man in a suit — and sunglasses and lots of jewelry — can come forward and put on a cap?

Anyway, I imagine Carrington, who posted 21.5 career sacks in college, will do fine. A stout run stopper, Carrington probably needs to develop a better repertoire of pass rush moves, because the NFL isn’t the Sun Belt and a straight bull rush won’t always get it done.

But I think mentally Carrington is up to the task.

Why? Because he’s already proven he has his head on straight in one very important way.

Carrington is a single father with a kindergarten-aged son named Khalil. While maintaining a better than 3.0 GPA in psychology and graduating last December, Carrington also cared for Khalil, even during the grind of summer camp and two-a-days.

Let’s be clear, Carrington hasn’t done it all himself. Khalil stays with his mother or Carrington’s parents in Carrington’s hometown of Tupelo, Miss., but the father by choice has stayed firmly in the picture.

Carrington even chose to stay in school rather than take his chances in last year’s draft after posting 10.5 sacks and being named Sun Belt defensive player of the year. He figured a degree and another college season to burnish his NFL credentials would assure a better future for Khalil.

“I thank God for my son because he’s what got me here,” Carrington said.

Lean year?

Too bad we don’t see “lean years” like this every season.