TROY BIENEMANN COULD BE A STEAL
HOW MANY COUGARS will be selected in the two-day NFL draft the begins today? If you listen to the "gurus," probably only one as Washington State All-American running back Jerome Harrison is a lock. But there are other potential picks -- and if the first overall selection of this year's draft is any indication, the "experts" are already off to a desultory start. This draft began with a surprise, and a few more of them could involve Cougars before it's all said and done.
The Houston Texans stunned most of the self-proclaimed gurus and experts by signing NC State defensive end Mario Williams prior to this morning's draft instead of going with the suddenly embattled Reggie Bush. The Southern Cal RB's image may be taking more hits in the media than Bush ever did on the football field -- allegations have been made of illegal benefits accepted by his parents and more -- but it's nearly inconceivable he wouldn't be snapped up by the New Orleans Saints with the second pick.
This draft is already off to a surprising start with Williams going before Bush. What other surprises might be in store -- and might some of them involve a few Cougars?
PRIOR TO THE Senior Bowl, and subsequently the NFL combine, Jerome Harrison was seen as a late round selection or even a free agent signing. At 5-9 1/4 and a shade over 200 pounds, he was considered small and lacking top end speed. Likely first round pick DeAngelo Williams checked in at 5-9 and 213 pounds but is seen as faster and with more athleticism.
Williams didn't run the 40 in Indy but Harrison clocked surprising times of 4.48 and 4.52 at the NFL combine, (causing Cougar coaches to tease The Ghost about just where that speed was last year on Saturdays) and was one of only two AP All-Americans -- the other was Bush.
Harrison told the Tacoma News Tribune's Don Ruiz he's heard he will be taken in the second round. Most forecasts list a third or fourth round selection. The Sporting News projected him last week as a Day 2 selection but with his stock climbing. TSN's mock draft has Harrison going with the 102nd pick in the fourth round to the Tennessee Titans.
Other speculation includes Seattle shuffling some picks to select Harrison with a late third round pick but given the other needs for the Seahawks, particularly at defensive end and corner, that seems unlikely.
SO IF HARRISON does indeed go in the second round, what other potential surprises might follow for those who wore the crimson and gray last season? Troy Bienemann could be one, for starters.
Were the WSU tight end healthy, his selection would be a near certainty. The four-time All-Pac10 selection tore his ACL in the penultimate game of the '05 season, injuring the ligament on a leaping touchdown grab -- the picture of that grab accompanies this article.
Bienemann is expected to return 100 percent from the tear -- at 13 weeks out he was already jogging, and as these things go, the injury was about as simple a tear as one can be.
TSN projects Bienemann to go in the seventh round to Arizona. They also say he has average tight end skills but few tight ends in the draft have better hands than Bienemann. He runs precise routes and spectators in the stands who focused on the secondary saw a number of times Bienemann could have received the pigskin had not Jason Hill also been open as well.
But TSN also rightly points out Bienemann is an accomplished long snapper and most long-time watchers know there are fewer NFL truisms more certain than this: If you can long snap, there are 34 teams in 'The League' who will make certain you will never be lonely.
A key question surrounding Bienemann is his blocking. He's not considered one of the better TEs in that area but his improvement between his junior and senior years at Washington State was startling, and given his work ethic, it's a given he'll continue to improve. After watching Bienemann for the last four years, CF.C can say with confidence that some team is going to get a steal in the Cougar tight end. The only question is if it will come via a late round draft choice, or a preferred free agent signing.
ANOTHER POTENTIAL PICK is Adam Braidwood. The Washington State defensive end was the Canadian Football League's No. 1 overall pick last week. Most of the chatter prior to the CFL Draft was centered around his being a highly regarded free agent signing, but he could also follow in the footsteps of another Cougar who was also the top overall choice up north.
Rob Meier (who like Braidwood never missed a game at Washington State) was taken in the seventh round, the 241st pick overall, by the Jacksonville Jaguars after being the CFL's No. 1. He proceeded to play in 75 consecutive games for the Jags since 2000, and 83 overall, and has 17 starts under his belt. Braidwood could be one of a few Cougs to hear their name called, perhaps in the seventh round.
OTHER COUGARS, STILL, are considered likely free agent signings. But an argument can be made for a couple to sneak into the seventh round.
One Cougar who definitely helped himself during WSU's Pro Day was Omowale Dada. The question is if it improved his draft status, or his free agent status. The corner drew significant interest from at least one playoff team at Pro Day, he and the scout talking at length following the workouts. Others who appear likely free agent signings include uber-athletic center Nick Mihlhauser, of whom the WSU coaching staff have praised as a future NFL player waiting to happen, punter Kyle Basler, who can both kill it and place it on dime but may be seen as having been inconsistent over his career, offensive guard and strong-like-bull Norvell Holmes, receiver and Apple Cup hero Trandon Harvey, tough yardage WR Greg Prator, physical corner Alex Teems and versatile defensive end Adam West.
Linebacker Will Derting was listed by TSN as someone who had the potential to also sneak into the final round. Derting is coming off knee surgery in December.
Clearly, most of the players listed above if they're at an NFL camp this summer, will have gotten there via undrafted free agency. But it also only takes one team to feel they unearthed the sleeper, and NFL scouts love to be able to report back and convince their bosses they've found "a real gem".
And those scouts are also known for the clandestine measures they employ in an effort to keep their draft boards under wraps -- The scouts do not even tell the praticipanting players their times at the Pro-Day workouts. The reason: They don't want to create any buzz whatsoever and God forbid that buzz begins it's climb on the internet. Oops. Our bad.
Check back on CF.C this weekend for our NFL Draft coverage of Harrison and all the other Cougs involved in the draft. The first three rounds take place today, with the final four rounds on Sunday. After the draft is over, we'll also bring all the latest Cougar free agent signings to you. As always, keep an eye on the CF.C Hot News above.