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Utah football: Former Utes make most of NFL Combine opportunity

Published March 8, 2017 4:46 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

NFL teams do their homework.

Last week, offensive lineman Isaac Asiata was in room with San Francisco 49ers brass, including new coach Kyle Shanahan, when they asked him a tough question.

"They asked me how I tricked my wife into marrying me," Asiata said. "She used to do pageants and stuff like that. They were telling me I outkicked my coverage."

Tongue-in-cheek jabs aside, the NFL Combine is one of the most thorough vetting processes imaginable: Eight former Utes attended the event in Indianapolis last week through Monday, getting poked and prodded and measured — both physically and mentally.

At least on the physical side, the Utes did well: Of all the schools that sent players to the Combine, Utah had the most alums with top 3 drill performances among their positions.

Many of those honors were earned by Garett Bolles, who seemingly ensured that he'll be a first-round draft pick next month with a litany of elite measurables. But Asiata also finished on top in an event he thought he could be among the best: He had an offensive-lineman leading 35 reps on the bench press.

"I've gotten more than 35 when I was training," he said. "I was shooting for 40, but I was glad to be able to put up 35 and set the bar."

Running back Joe Williams was also among the Utes who were showing out with their drills: He had the second-fastest 40 yard dash (4.41 seconds) of any running back, as well as the second-quickest 20-yard shuttle (4.19 seconds).

Williams, Asiata, Sam Tevi and J.J. Dielman all trained at EXOS in San Diego for the draft, and they said working out together was encouraging. For Williams, he thought from the outset he could stand out with his speed and agility.

"I just wanted to be as confident as I can," he said. "A lot of coaches told me can't go in there nervous."

Of course the tougher part of the Combine for Williams wasn't on the field. Teams had a lot of questions for the running back, including why he had to leave UConn, why he "retired" from the Utes and about his problems with prescription medications that he recently described to USA Today.

Williams said his wife was a big part in preparing for that part of his evaluation.

"Going over scenarios, she would try to simulate how people would ask me that question," he said. "I just had to settle down and just be genuine. There were some big things that happened, and it's something that shouldn't be taken lightly. I just wanted to be honest and let them know where I was coming from."

Williams told teams that his commitment issues — and his days of taking pills — were over. As for some of his emotional struggles, including trying to deal long-term with his sister's death, Williams said "coaches with daughters seemed pretty empathetic."

J.J. Dielman's experience at the Combine was shorter than others. He did medical evaluations, interviews and the bench press (27 reps, fifth among OLs). While his cousin Kris Dielman was a longtime NFL vet with the San Diego Chargers, Dielman is actually the first in his family to go to the Combine.

Coming off a knee injury and not yet up to full sprinting, Dielman was a little whistful when it came to watching others do field drills. But he got some confidence from his interviews that teams aren't holding it against him.

"Nobody felt bad for me, but they said, 'We have tape of you, three years of tape, and it's good stuff to go off of,'" he said. "I'm not really asking for any sympathy. I'm blessed I got the opportunity to go."

Even though each player was focused on himself during the last week, they added they got a lot of pleasure from watching each other.

"I watched Garett and Isaac run their 40s as I was going through my morning — it was kind of like dad watching his sons," Williams said. "When I got back, I was watching Pita [Taumoepenu] and Marcus [Williams and BA [Brian Allen]. We all did a great job. We represented Utah well."

Many of the participants will be back for Utah's Pro Day on March 23rd, and some will be repeating drills or doing drills they weren't able to perform this time around. Asiata thinks he can improve on his broad jump and vertical — his legs tightened up before he did them. Williams will run the 60-yard shuttle. Dielman hopes to be up for position drills.

It will also be an opportunity to see the Utes who didn't get invited. Asiata knows who he's excited to see perform.

"I wish Hunter Dimick had been invited," he said. "Hunter would've done better than a lot of people as well, I feel. When he gets to Pro Day, watch him put on a show."

Twitter: @kylegoon






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