Lucas at Large: NFL hopefuls line up to showcase skills

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Would a proven offensive guard like Kevin Zeitler, a first-team All-Big Ten selection at that position for Wisconsin, have any reservations about playing center, if that's what was asked of him by a pro team? "I wouldn't hesitate,'' he said. "I'd run on the field to play.''

He'd run through a wall first, if that's what it took to play in the NFL.

"Without a doubt,'' he said.

Fact is, Zeitler has fielded questions about his willingness to play center. "It seems like everyone asks, it only makes sense,'' he said. "In the NFL, the backup interior lineman, no matter who it is, has to play all the positions. You have to be ready for anything.''

Zeitler has spent a lot of time getting ready for this moment, the NFL draft.

"You can't be just some guy who wants to get drafted because you did well in college,'' he elaborated. "You have to show them that you're here for their team now and nothing you've done before matters. It's what you do from now on.''

Prior to the start of his freshman year, there was some speculation that Zeitler could wind up at center. So he worked out diligently at that spot on his own. "That's the story that Coach B (Bret Bielema) always tells about me snapping three hours a day,'' he said, smirking.

True or false? "It was clearly true, I was right there snapping against the wall,'' he said, pointing to a corner of the McClain Center, "while Coach was filming a car commercial over there (in an opposite corner). That's what I did all summer. But I got the right guard spot.''

And that's where he started 36 games for the Badgers.

"He stuck with me,'' Zeitler said of Bielema.

Here's a twist of irony: Zeitler worked out Wednesday in front of over a dozen NFL teams, including the Baltimore Ravens and their offensive line coach, Andy Moeller, who had recruited Zeitler while he was an assistant at the University of Michigan.

"He offered me (a scholarship),'' Zeitler said of Moeller, a former linebacker for the Wolverines and the son of ex-Michigan head coach Gary Moeller. "But he called back and said they couldn't take me because they had committed to too many interior linemen.

"I committed here two hours later. It kind of worked out,'' he said, smirking again.

Are there any questions that Zeitler still needs to answer in advance of the draft? "Right now, I guess, can I be a first rounder?'' he posed. "The key is that I want to show them that I'm athletic and try to prove to them that I'm worth a high pick.''

Regarding mock drafts, Zeitler has attempted to keep everything in perspective.

"It's the people who don't ever talk to you who draft you,'' he rationalized of the process. "It's going to be a nice surprise whenever I do get taken. I'll be happy no matter where it is.''

Would a proven offensive center like Peter Konz, a Pro Football Weekly All-American at that position for the Badgers, have any reservations about playing guard, if that's what was asked of him by pro teams?

Well, first of all, nobody has formally asked yet.

"But what they've had me do,'' Konz said, "is some teams have had me snap, some teams have had me in a right-handed or a left-handed stance to get a feel for it (guard). In the NFL, they have seven spots; five for starters, one for an inside player, one for a tackle.''

In other words, Konz's words, it doesn't hurt to be flexible. If you can play center and guard or guard and center it will enhance your marketability. Wednesday's workout was really all about Konz, though Zeitler and UW offensive tackle Josh Oglesby took part in the drills, as well.

After managing only 18 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL scouting combine, Konz needed to put up a bigger number -- which he did, 23 reps. Konz gave all the credit for his improvement to UW strength coach Brian Bott, who works with the O-line.

"Getting above 20 reps is important for everybody to make sure there are no red flags, as they say,'' Konz said. "Here at Wisconsin, we don't rep in the 2os at 225 pounds. We're not looking for 225, we're looking for 375, one to eight reps. It's a lot different.

"This will be the only time in my life I do this (reps at 225).

"But you do what your bosses tell you to do.''

Konz felt good about the agility tests and bag drills. More than anything, he wanted to do a little cutting and running (sans 40-yard sprints) so that interested teams could see that he's at least 90 percent recovered from his late-season ankle dislocation.

All he really wanted to do, he said, was show that he can "play football.''

Konz is a potential first-round pick based on what he has shown on tape alone.

"You try to get a feel,'' he said of his draft status and where he might wind up. "My family always asks, and I want to know, too. At the end of the day, it depends on who gets drafted and what trades are made and what a team needs (at a position).

"You may be the best player on the board -- according to some people -- but if the team doesn't need you, they're not going to pick you.''

The last few months, Konz has been adjusting to a different lifestyle.

"One of the strangest things is when you kind of lose that structure of school,'' he said. "For the most part, you don't push yourself as hard because you don't feel the pressure to do so. Kevin and Brian Bott worked me out every day. They were the fire (under him).

"Like Coach Bielema always says, 'When you feel like you're focused in school, you feel more of a drive to feel focused on the field, too.' I'm finishing up an 18-page paper on renewable energy and whether it's feasible. I'm going to get it done before the draft.''

Oglesby had his own motivation for working out Wednesday. "In my position,'' he said, "the more eyes, the better. I'm just trying to put my best foot forward for everyone. A lot of people say they have clues (on the draft) and things like that. I have no idea.''

The reality is that Oglesby has had so many knee surgeries over his high school and college football career that "I bring along baggage.'' That didn't prevent the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys from conducting individual workouts with Oglesby.

"A few teams in Indy said it was up to their medical staff on whether or not I'm slotted in the draft,'' he said of his time at the combine. "Hopefully someone can put aside the knee problems and just grade the player. It all depends on who's willing to take a chance.

"I just want the opportunity to show that I'm still a decent football player.''

Sounded like a modest request.

"You always say that you want to be out in the real world,'' Oglesby said. "And now the real world is here and it's kind of fun and scary at the same time.'' Especially knowing, he added, "The end of the month (the draft) is going to determine the rest of my life.''
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