May 3, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- Armed with three footballs and a stopwatch, Scott Tolzien left the practice field after completing his first post-NFL draft OTA. That would be Organized Tolzien Activity.
The workout consisted of some throwing and conditioning; sprints from sideline to sideline with Tolzien calling out the intervals.
Tolzien, an undrafted free agent, was in the company of David Gilreath, another undrafted free agent. They were joined by Travis Beckum, the third-leading receiver in school history and a third-round pick of the New York Giants in the 2009 draft; and T.J. Theus, a two-year letterwinner (2008-2009).
One quarterback, three footballs, three receivers. One by one, they would run a route; ranging from out cuts to digs to streaks. After making the throws, Tolzien would jog to Gilreath, Beckum and Theus and repeat the sequence to the opposite end of the field in the McClain Indoor Facility.
Theus is just trying to stay in shape. There’s no football in his future, though the same can be said for the others until the lockout is lifted and NFL teams get back to business. Beckum is just trying to stay busy until he returns to New York. Tolzien and Gilreath are just trying to stay patient.
Both were members of last season’s Rose Bowl team.
Both are currently without a team. Or between teams, if you will.
Neither heard their name called during the three days and seven rounds of the draft.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating, it was,” Tolzien admitted. “I went into it thinking that I would be a late round pick or a free agent. That was the way everyone felt about it.
“The toughest part is seeing other guys getting picked instead of you and you’ve either watched them play or played against them. You always think you’re better. That’s the competitor in you.
“There’s so much uncertainty at this point in time. But there are two ways to look at it. You can sit there and pout about it and feel sorry for yourself. Or you can use it for motivation.
“The moral of this story? You control what you can control. The off-season window of opportunity is getting smaller for training. When your number is called, you have to be ready to go.”
Tolzien and Gilreath had received plenty of phone calls leading up to the draft.
“The minute the draft ended, the calls ceased,” Tolzien said. “And the minute the lockout gets figured out then the free agent market will open up and teams will start calling again. So you wait.
“In years past, the pro free agency would have been done before the draft and the last piece of the puzzle would have been the college free agents. Right now both are without structure.”
With each call, Gilreath said, “You started to get more excited, more anxious and more nervous as you are getting them during the draft. I tried not to watch as much on TV and tried to keep busy.”
As he waits for the next call, Gilreath is curious about who will remain committed to him. Some teams told him everything he wanted to hear before the draft. Will the same teams be interested?
“Now you have to see if they will stay true to their word,” he said, equating the process to college recruiting. “They can say one thing to you before the draft. But now it’s a whole new evaluation.
“It could be, ‘We wanted him then but maybe not now.’”
Gilreath has braced himself for anything that might happen.
“Am I disappointed? Not at all,” he said. “As much as I think my abilities are there, I don’t think I put enough on film to show them (pro scouts) that I was worthy enough to get drafted.
“If I was a GM, would I draft me? Probably not because I didn’t see enough on film. Everyone has potential. But once the lockout is over, it’s not a question of if I’m signing, but where I’m signing.
“The only thing you can be cool with is getting your shot. Once everybody is on the field, you have the same opportunities -- well, maybe not as much as a first rounder, who’s getting paid a lot.
“But you’re going to be getting the same shot as pretty much anyone else out there. With the lockout pending, the OTAs and the mini-camps can start at any time, so you have to stay in shape.”
Gilreath is confident that he will be signed. So is Tolzien, who has resisted the temptation to dwell on any negatives from the draft. Such as, what didn’t the NFL scouts like about his game?
“There are a couple of days where you’re trying to answer that question,” he said, “because everyone wants to know the ‘Why?’ behind it. That’s part of your natural instincts.
“But that’s not important anymore. The show really starts when you set foot in your first pro camp. I saw Jimmy Leonhard here today. What better motivation than to see a guy like that?”
Leonhard, an undrafted free agent, has become a valued starter in the NFL. And his story from walk-on to first team All-American to cast-off to team leader with the New York Jets is still priceless.
“There are plenty of examples like that,” said Tolzien, who watched the draft at home (Rolling Meadows, Ill.) with his mom and dad and some buddies. “It was pretty low key.”
UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst called a few times to offer his support.
“Coach Chryst is always one to put things in perspective,” Tolzien said. “He’s been around long enough to know that not getting drafted is by no means the end of the world.
“His point of emphasis was that you have to go into camp as prepared as anybody because when you get there they’re not going to care if you’re a first-rounder, a fifth-rounder or a free agent.’’
At the end of the day, he added, it’s all about production on the field. Tolzien, though, couldn’t be happier for those UW players who were drafted, including roommate Bill Nagy.
“It’s really awesome because you’re always happy for people who have been put in the work and carry themselves the right way,” said Tolzien, also citing J.J. Watt, Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Lance Kendricks. “Across the board, it’s a good group of guys and they’re all very deserving.
“But Bill (Nagy) is an unbelievable story. The thing that you appreciate about him is that he kept his mouth shut from Day One. It’s always about the work and the preparation, and for someone who goes about his business that way, it’s neat to see it pay off.”
Tolzien falls into that category, too.
Once the lockout is over, and the phone starts ringing again, he will have another Badger in his corner: Joe Panos, the director of football operations for the firm (LMM) which is representing Tolzien.
Until then, he will wait and conduct his OTAs.