INDIANAPOLIS: When offensive left tackle Brian Winters played at Kent State, he routinely lobbied for a chance to show off his good hands in a game.
After receiving plenty of requests, offensive coordinator Brian Rock indulged the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Winters by designing a tackle-eligible screen pass.
“We practiced it twice, he dropped it twice, so we never called it in a game,” Rock said with a laugh during a recent phone interview.
Perhaps that was the only time Winters, a Hudson High School graduate, failed to impress the Golden Flashes’ coaches during his four collegiate seasons. He set a school record by starting all 50 games of his career, became just the second KSU player to participate in the Senior Bowl and now he’s in the midst of chasing his dream this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The transition to the professional level, though, isn’t always smooth, and Winters has already encountered some adversity. He tallied only nine reps in the bench press Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium, because he felt discomfort in his left pectoral muscle and did not finish the test.
“I had to stop because I cramped on my pec right here,” Winters told the Beacon Journal as he pointed to the left side of his chest. “So I’m going to redo it at [Kent State’s] pro day [March 6]. I’m fine.”
In the meantime, Winters will continue to interview with coaches, scouts and personnel executives at the combine and plans to participate in other drills today. Winters, who grew up a Cleveland sports fan, said he talked to Browns offensive line coach Mike Sullivan on Friday and was scheduled to meet with the team again later in the night.
“In the NFL, they’re always looking for skeletons in your closet and reasons to say no,” Rock said. “He doesn’t have any of those.”
And if he’s healthy and as tough as advertised, Winters should be able to bounce back from his bench-press mishap as the pre-draft process continues to unfold.
When he was a sophomore at Hudson, he injured his left shoulder while wrestling. He finally had surgery shortly after the 2011 season and missed KSU’s spring practices. However, he made a successful comeback in time for his senior season.
“He fought his tail off to make sure that he was rehabbed correctly and everything was strong,” Rock said. “But, shoot, I can remember [his junior season] his shoulder would pop out. He’d put it back in, and two plays later, he’s back in the game. He fights through the grind and through the pain. He’s a tough sucker.”
Winters takes pride in his ability to endure.
“I came in with the attitude that I want to be a successful football player, and I feel I left Kent State doing that,” said Winters, whose teammates elected him captain last season. “It was a hard road, grinding road, but I got through it. That was my biggest [strength], my durability. I was real durable to play that long. I’m blessed.”
NFLDraftScout.com projects Winters to be picked in the third or fourth round of the draft, which runs April 25-27. Although Winters played tackle during his entire career at Kent State, he was moved to left guard for the Senior Bowl, a sign he’ll likely be asked to play the position in the NFL.
“It was a little bit of a transition going into the Senior Bowl,” Winters said. “It was a little difficult at first, but as days went on, I got progressively better. I’m fine with whatever they want me to play. That’s the good thing about me is I’m versatile.”
Rock believes Winters can succeed at either spot.
“Guard is a little bit more of a grind because you’re closer into the mix of it all, and if he was not a naturally tough person, I think that would be a little bit harder for him. But he is [tough],” Rock said. “So I don’t see that being as huge an issue. He’s got all the athleticism to play tackle. I think they want to see him at guard just because he’s not quite as long as some of those guys.”
Former Hudson football coach Tom Narducci is convinced Winters’ work ethic and intense attitude will serve him well as he continues his career. Winters is on the verge of becoming the second offensive lineman who played for Narducci to be drafted. Hudson graduate Bill Nagy, a seventh-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, is a guard for the Detroit Lions.
“Blue collar, country western, drives a truck, likes to hunt — that’s the way he plays the game,” Narducci said of Winters. “The thing about Brian is at practices, I used to have to settle him down sometimes. You’ve got this 280-pound kid playing — we didn’t have a lot of 280-pound kids — and he had one speed at practice, and that was full go.”
Winters brought that mindset to Kent State, and he’ll certainly need to keep it at the next level.
“Every day, he comes to practice and practices his tail off,” Rock said. “He’ll make a whole bunch of money for a whole bunch of years.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.