INDIANAPOLIS — P.J. Lonergan is brutally honest about his postseason thought process.
The LSU center had applied to compete at the NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis, but he didn’t believe his prospects were good. He called his contacts with the league about a week after the college bowl season ended, and he was expecting to hear the worst.
When Lonergan finally received an email congratulating him on his invitation, he didn’t even mind his name had been misspelled.
“I was just shocked,” he said. “I was freaking out. I was so excited. I’m just happy to be here. It’s awesome.”
Some also might be surprised to see LSU running back Michael Ford’s face at Lucas Oil Stadium, but for entirely different reasons. Many believed the junior speedster could use another year of seasoning before setting out on his NFL journey.
But a logjam at running back meant a likely fight for playing time, and after talking things over with his family, Ford decided to skip his final year of eligibility.
“I definitely feel like I’m ready,” he said Friday in the combine’s media room. “If I didn’t feel like I was ready, I wouldn’t leave.”
Ford and Lonergan are two of a record-setting 13 Tigers who will peddle their wares this weekend at the NFL’s annual pre-draft showcase.
Ford even spent much of Friday with fellow LSU running back Spencer Ware, joking around and reminiscing about their days in Baton Rouge.
“We’ve been doing physicals together, just making it like we’re back at LSU having fun,” Ford said. “Just smiling and joking.”
Ford’s experience on special teams likely will be an advantage as teams are looking at late-round selections. And the only thing more valued than versatility in the NFL might be speed.
Ford hopes to run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash on Lucas Oil’s speedy field turf this weekend. But he doesn’t really have a baseline for expectations.
“I really haven’t run the 40 because, you know, that laser is kind of discouraging,” Ford said, referencing the event’s high-tech timing system. “So I didn’t really want to face it. So I was just waiting for the
combine to run it.”
Ford knows all eyes will be on his crucial run. He said it’s important for players to find their niche in the NFL. He shared time in the backfield at LSU, and he believes it made him a better player.
He said he’d be more than happy to make an NFL roster as a special-teamer and work his way up to a regular role in the backfield.
But speed, and his ability to show he possesses it, likely is the key.
“I think it’s very important because that’s the one thing you can’t teach is speed,” Ford said. “Everybody likes fast guys on their team. So that’s the one thing you want. The league is so fast.”
Lonergan’s not quite as interested in the 40. His focus is on the individual interviews with team decision-makers and the chance to prove to them he’s a smart player who will be an
asset to their roster.
Lonergan played only center at LSU, but he was a guard and tackle during his high school days in New Orleans. He said he’s spent some time working on his footwork and technique in an attempt to convince teams he also can play guard in the NFL.
That versatility could help him stand out among the 333 players in Indianapolis this week.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t think I would get, and I’m just so excited to be here. I’ve been training, working hard, and I’m going to show what I can do.”
Both players praised LSU coach Les Miles and his staff for preparing his players for the jump to the pros.
Obviously, the Tigers are doing something right.
Lonergan flew into Indy with punter Brad Wing, and offensive tackle Chris Faulk will be in his wedding this summer. Other LSU players are still arriving. Defensive players don’t begin physicals and interviews until Saturday.
When Lonergan thinks of all his LSU peers with him in Indianapolis, he’s again filled with pride.
“It’s definitely an honor,” he said. “They’re more than just your teammates. They become family.”
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