Penn State pro day: Theo Johnson, Olu Fashanu, Chop Robinson and more detail NFL Draft prep


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Theo Johnson felt prepared heading into the pre-draft process. The Penn State tight end connected with former teammates Pat Freiermuth and Brenton Strange to pick their brains about the once-in-a-lifetime undertaking that starts minutes after the bowl game ends.

The 6-foot-6, 261-pound Johnson knew he’d have to show NFL teams that he can move well. He did just that at the combine with a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, a mark that was second-fastest among tight ends. He also ran the fastest shuttle time (4.19) for his position and was second in the broad jump (10-5) and vertical (39.5 inches).

“Nothing can really prepare you for when you walk into a meeting room and you’re shaking hands with Andy Reid and the entire front office of the Chiefs,” Johnson said Friday at Penn State’s pro day. “You got to just trust your training, trust your personality and know that being you is enough.”

Penn State’s NFL-bound players have learned this time of year is about adapting on the fly. After all the preparation that has gone into this journey — the camps, clinics, 7-on-7s, recruiting visits and collegiate career — every player passing through Holuba Hall on Friday has also started to let go of everything they can’t control during this grueling yet exciting pre-draft process. James Franklin has preached to them for years to “control the controllables.” Much of how this process unfolds is out of their hands.

“This is the dream as a kid so you gotta cherish every moment,” said edge rusher Chop Robinson.

That’s easier for some than others. Cornerback Johnny Dixon is working his way off crutches and said he’s 2-3 weeks away from being able to work out again after dealing with a hip injury he sustained at the Senior Bowl. None of this was in the plan when Dixon opted out of the Peach Bowl in early December and returned to Tampa to begin training. He’s talked with his family and his pastor about staying patient, all while watching his former teammates participate in the combine and pro day.

“It’s just realizing that my journey isn’t over, my story isn’t over,” Dixon said. “I know I’m gonna make it through and I’m still gonna be everything I want to be.”

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Chop Robinson had 17.5 TFLs in two years at Penn State. (Dan Rainville / USA Today Network)

NFL teams want to know the player they’re getting, but also the person. Dixon has tried to convey that to teams by showing off his football IQ during meetings. He hopes to be able to work out for teams before the draft in late April.

Johnson quickly figured out he needed to be able to adapt when he stepped into the room for team interviews during the NFL combine.

The speed dating-type sessions led by NFL teams have long been dreaded by some. Questions can be unusual. It’s a setting where teams want to see how players think on their feet. When Johnson walked into the interview room for a meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles and noticed a mini basketball hoop, he put up a couple of shots “to kind of break the ice, lighten the mood.” The Chiefs were a little more formal, he said. Each team has a different vibe.

“(It surprised me) how long the interviews are,” Robinson said. “It’s only like a 20-minute meeting, but it feels like two days because it’s so many teams back to back.”

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There’s often uncertainty around what the correct answer even is to many of the questions, especially the unusual ones. Johnson said it’s about retaining information and teams figuring out how your mind works. They can accomplish that by installing a play during a meeting and then asking the player to explain what they went over.

Adisa Isaac said he answered truthfully when asked who is the toughest offensive tackle he played against. Teammate Olu Fashanu was his pick.

“They said that’s the easy answer — but it’s the truth,” Isaac said. “It’s kind of like a gray area.”

Just when linebacker Curtis Jacobs thought he was ready to shine during an interview, an unnamed team asked him a hypothetical question he still thinks about: How many basketballs could fit in a school bus?

Forget about if Jacobs thinks he can play middle linebacker at the next level — he does —and how willing he is to play special teams. The jovial prospect suddenly was trying to problem solve. He knows he’s an over-thinker. He thought back to the advice of Jaquan Brisker, his former teammate and current Chicago Bears safety.

“Just be myself when I get into any of those meetings,” Jacobs said. “I don’t think it’s about being a certain guy or showing a certain thing, I just want to be myself.”

Johnson said he was asked the same basketball and bus question. He wondered how wide a basketball is? How wide is the seat? Fashanu said he was fortunate that his only off-beat question was if Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the greatest of all time. Fashanu said he picked James.

“I had a lot of questions!” Jacobs said of the bus. “Are the basketballs flat? Are there no seats? There’s a lot of things you need to know. … You’re gonna be asked to problem solve in the league with stuff that you don’t necessarily know, so it’s about analyzing the situation, seeing what you can do and asking for help if you need it.”

Jacobs still isn’t sure if his range of 1,000 to 3,000 deflated balls was correct, but he knew he couldn’t just dismiss the question. After all, this is a job interview.

“There are many different questions like are you a cat or are you a dog? Are you an apple or a banana?” Jacobs said, acknowledging he picked dog “obviously” and an apple because “I like apples.” “They just want you to have an answer.”

Cornerback Kalen King knows that the biggest question surrounding his draft stock is on the field with his speed. King ran a 4.61-second 40-yard dash at the combine and posted a 4.52 on Friday. Though he said teams haven’t asked him directly about his time, he’s hoping they can see past the number.

King said his GPS times were among the five fastest at his position at the Senior Bowl. He smiled after the pro day workout and said he’s glad the testing part of the process is behind him. At this point, he can’t control whether or not his time raises red flags.

“I’m a game speed guy. I really move well on the field. Combine testing isn’t really my thing,” King said. “I try not to let things get me down because that could carry into a cycle effect, almost like an avalanche. Worrying about too many things at once can get you down. I just try to clear my head and worry about what’s next.”

Even the what’s next part is confusing for many. Prospects need to live somewhere where they can train but also be ready to get to an airport and make team visits, if necessary. Johnson said he’s flying to Seattle in April and is working to meet with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants, among others. He took in a Penn State spring practice this week and said out of habit he heard the horn and almost hopped in line for drills like old times.

“It’s weird,” Johnson said. “I’m thinking I have to run to all the spots where the tight end is.”

Fashanu still has to decide if he’ll be in Detroit for the draft. A self-described “homebody,” the left tackle said he’s 50-50 on whether or not he’ll stroll across the stage and shake Roger Goodell’s hand or plan something more relaxed at home in Waldorf, Md.

“When that moment comes, I’m not really sure what I’m gonna do,” Fashanu said, “but I’m gonna make sure I embrace everyone who has been with me this entire time.”

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(Top photo of Theo Johnson: Dan Rainville / USA Today Network)





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