(Note: Profiles of players who participated in the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine are not meant to reflect the opinions or interest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' actual player personnel evaluators.)
Outgoing college football players, at least those considered potential NFL prospects, spend anywhere from three to five months after their last NCAA game waiting to find out where they will start their professional careers.
Then, almost immediately after the NFL Draft sorts all of this out, these young men are thrust right onto the a new practice field, each one learning a new playbook and – in what is surely much more of a culture shock – a whole new way of doing things.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason program is usually fairly typical in the NFL. There is some organized work in April before the draft, mostly lifting, running and meeting, but the real core preparations – the OTAs, rookie mini-camps and veteran mini-camps – kick off after the draft, when the roster is more or less full. There will obviously be some changes to that program this year, as new Head Coach Greg Schiano and his recently-assembled staff takes over, but it's sure to be just as intense and quickly-paced as ever, as the Bucs seek to put all of their allotted offseason time to the best use.
In other words, any players selected by the Buccaneers over the three day draft (April 26-28) had better arrive in Tampa ready to absorb a new culture and get immediately to work.
A few of the several hundred likely 2012 draftees might find the transition a little easier than the rest, however, should they hear their names called by the Buccaneers in April. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, widely expected to be a first or second-round pick in this year's draft, is one of those few.
Like offensive guard Desmond Wynn and defensive end Justin Francis, Sanu is expected to follow a recent wave of former Rutgers prospects to the NFL, joining the likes of Kenny Britt, Devin McCourty and Ray Rice. If chosen, Sanu, Wynn and Francis would give the Rutgers program 20 draft picks since 2001, after the school had enjoyed a total of just 31 draftees in the previous 65 years. Moreover, if any of the three can crack the first round, they would join the three Scarlet Knights who have gone in the opening frame since 2009. No Rutgers players had ever had the honor of being first-round picks before '09.
The 2001 season at Rutgers marked, of course, the first at the helm for Schiano, who took over as the Scarlet Knights' head coach after a very successful run as the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami. A former NFL coach with the Chicago Bears, Schiano installed an organizational culture at Rutgers modeled after a pro system; that plus top-notch recruiting and coaching turned a program largely ignored by the NFL into a legitimate producer of pro talent.
Sanu is one of the latest to come through that talent pipeline, and he would consider it particularly fortuitous if it delivered him right back to Schiano's doorstep.
"Coach Schiano is a very good coach and he really knows how to discipline his players and how to instill a great set of core values into us and that just helps us in the long run," said Sanu during the NFL Scouting Combine in February. "The offseason workouts and everything there, it's run like an NFL organization, so I owe it all to him for having us NFL-ready.
"[To be reunited] would be something special. It would be amazing, but I have to see what goes on and what happens. Wherever I am, I'm going to be happy and just have to respect the game and enjoy myself."
The Tennessee Titans selected Britt out of Rutgers with the 30th pick in the first round in 2009. Though Britt has been slowed somewhat by injuries, a breakout season in 2010 (42-775-9 and 18.5 yards per catch in just 12 games) indicates he was worthy of that high pick. As it turns out, Sanu could be in similar draft territory; he has been hovering around the break between the first and second rounds since mock drafts started appearing online in January.
Where he eventually lands could depend on how seriously teams rely on 40-yard dash times, and if so, which ones they choose to believe.
The 6-2, 220-pound Sanu arrived in Indianapolis in February hoping to post well in the 40 and the other measured drills, of course, but also knowing that his numbers could be subject to many potential vagaries.
"You can raise your hand just before you even run out of the blocks and that's a couple tenths of a second right there and that could be the difference between a 4.4 and a 4.6," said Sanu, one day before his opportunity to run on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. "If you're racing with somebody, you could finish at the same time but the clock says something different. So you can't really tell."
Perhaps due to feeling a bit ill, Sanu did not put up the times in the 4.4s that he had expected to post. Instead, he was in the 4.6 range, and analysts began adjusting their mocks accordingly. While it doesn't necessarily reflect the thinking in any or all of the actual NFL war rooms, analysts have to find some way to make their most educated guesses in separating the top prospects, and an unexpected 40 time is rarely overlooked, good or bad.
Sanu can't know if his 40 times in Indy moved him down any of the 32 draft boards, but he figures his college game tape should speak pretty loudly as well.
"It all just depends on the organization and what they think," he said. "I know what I can do on the field and how well I can play and I know a lot of things I can do in the film room so I just have to go out there and perform the way I'm capable of."
Besides that, Sanu knew he could run a better 40-yard dash, if that's what the scouts needed to see. And he did. At Rutgers' Pro Day on March 21, Sanu, feeling healthy and comfortable ran his two 40s at 4.4.1 and 4.48 seconds. Rice was there to watch, as were such other former Scarlet Knights who made it to the NFL as Brian Leonard and Jamaal Westerman.
If he ends up in Tampa, Sanu would find several other former Rutgers players on hand, including offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah and defensive end George Johnson. There is obviously a thriving network of like-minded Scarlet Knights who came from Schiano's program and want to see their successors find similar success.
"I talk to a few guys," said Sanu, in regards to seeking advice for the draft process. "I talk to Devin McCourty and Tiquan [Underwood] and they told me everything I needed to hear and gave me some great advice. Those are great guys and I really appreciate their time and efforts informing me of everything I need to know."
As he himself pointed out, Sanu has been absorbing information that will help him on the next level ever since he arrived at Rutgers. He said the first thing Schiano stressed to him and the rest of the Rutgers wideouts was that they needed to concentrate on being well-rounded players. For one thing, Schiano always wanted his pass-catchers to be the best blocking receivers on the field.
"You have to be a complete receiver," said Sanu. "You have to be able to block, run great routes, catch the ball, do all that a wide receiver does. You can't be a guy who can just catch the ball and takes run plays off, because it's the other plays that are designed for the running backs so he gets his chance to shine. You have to make sure you do your job for him because when you're running your route he's back there pass protecting for you. So I just feel I'm going to do my job, my 1/11th and the team [will be] successful."
Ending up in Tampa would also reunite Sanu with former Rutgers assistant P.J. Fleck, now the Buccaneers' wide receivers coach. Fleck coached the same position for the Knights the past two seasons and, according to Sanu, he stressed patience, precise route-running and letting the game come to you. That guidance, too, has helped put the young receiver in a position to succeed in the NFL.
"I feel like I can do pretty much everything," said Sanu. "I try to make sure that I do everything well and good enough to be a well-rounded receiver so I focus on everything and doing the right things."
Sanu finished his Rutgers career with a dominant junior season, racking up 115 catches for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns. He snared 13 passes in a single game against North Carolina in 2011, tying a Big East record. The first true freshman to start for Schiano, Sanu played three seasons at Rutgers and amassed 210 receptions for 2,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also ran for more than 600 yards during his career as he was occasionally used as a quarterback in a Wildcat-type of formation.
Though Sanu bills himself as a complete player, he's not expecting to be used in that last capacity on the NFL level.
"It's a different kind of animal in the NFL, a different kind of beast," he said. "There's grown men playing. I'm not saying there's not grown men playing in college, but all those guys in the NFL are grown men and so it's different kinds of hits, it's a different kind of beast. I'll stick to the outside."
In some ways, though, Sanu will find a lot he recognizes in the NFL, thanks to the sort of program he cut his teeth in on the college level. Things would be extremely familiar, of course, if he found himself in Tampa. Even if that doesn't happen – and apart from the top few players on the draft board, few prospects can realistically expect to end up in a specific NFL home – he says the Buccaneers will be in good hands with Schiano.
"They should expect a very tough coach who is going to demand a lot from them," said Sanu. "He's going to expect them to work and make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do and not messing around off the field or on the field. They should expect a very demanding coach."