Wyoming S John Wendling put on weight last season to switch to strong safety but didn't lose any of his speed
(More than 320 standout college players put their skills on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. On the weekend of April 28-29, the vast majority of those players will hear their names called in the 2007 NFL Draft. During the months of March and April, Buccaneers.com will take a closer look at some of those names from the combine, and the stories behind them in our "Road to the Draft" series. These features are not meant to pinpoint the very top prospects in the draft, nor to reflect the Buccaneers' opinions or draft strategies. Any mention of draft-board status or a player's strengths and weaknesses are from outside sources, not the team's own scouting work. Our first feature: Wyoming safety John Wendling.)
It's not on YouTube yet, but it will find it's way their soon enough. For now, if you want to see John Wendling's own little piece of video magic, you'll have to do a little Google searching on your own.
It's worth the effort, having become a part of the Wyoming safety's own personal legend, much the way stories about catching rabbits and pushing Jeeps around the parking lot preceded Mike Alstott into the 1996 draft. In fact, it was the very first thing Wendling was asked about when he took to the podium in the media room at the 2007 NFL Scouting Combine last week.
What's in the video? The centerpiece is an adjustable hurdle that has been extended to a ridiculous height of 66 inches as it sits on a track inside a weight room. From just a few feet away, Wendling takes a running start and then, incredibly, leaps over the hurdle – not sideways like an Olympic high jumper but erect, easily clearing the bar with his feet.
The Wyoming strength coach once had a name for the hurdle, believing he could eventually extend it beyond reach for any of his players, no matter how athletic. He once called the hurdle "Wendling-proof." No more, and there's video to prove it.
"That was last summer," narrates Wendling, who hopes his NFL draft stock can make a similar leap into the first day of picks this April. "The weight coach was kind of messing with plastic hurdles, had us jumping around when we were doing our conditioning and workouts. The jumps were getting higher and higher. He said, 'Let's see how high you can get.' I ended up getting 66 inches over the hurdle with a three-step approach, cleared it."
Of course, the hurdle stunt and Wendling's draft hopes aren't directly connected, except in how it speaks to his raw athleticism. And that's not really in question when it comes to the very solidly-built (6-1, 222) defender from Rock Springs, Wyoming. He's big, fast, agile and, yeah, he can leap.
The question NFL scouts will want to answer is how good of a football player Wendling is. He certainly played well for the Cowboys, racking up 259 tackles, seven interceptions and 14 passes defensed in 44 career games. He was a first-team all-conference pick as a senior and was even one of 17 finalists for the Draddy Award, given to the nation's top scholar-athlete. Versatile? Wendling played free safety before 2006, then added 13 pounds of muscle before his senior campaign and moved to strong safety. Some scouts even project him as a linebacker in the NFL.
But Wendling knows he still has to prove he is capable of taking his game to the next level. He has pinpointed the things he needs to work on, and it's not improving his 40-yard dash time or his vertical leap.
"It's just the usual stuff: technique, coverage stuff," he said. "People are going to be breaking that down - how your hips flow and those type of things. [It's] just being the best on film I can be when it comes to being evaluated.
"We don't really run a lot of man coverage [at Wyoming]. I wasn't really in a man-coverage situation, so that's something that isn't really on film. That's something they kind of question, but with the popularity of the Cover 2 that helps me."
Of course, some of those questions can't be adequately answered until Wendling is on the field for his new team, responding to coaching and new techniques. That means those size-speed measurables are quite important at this stage, and it's encouraging that he maintained his top-notch speed (he claims to have been clocked at a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at Wyoming) after adding bulk to his frame.
"I just thought it was better at my position, for a safety [to be bigger]," said Wendling. "I just wanted to get stronger in the weight room. I felt like 220 was [a weight] I could keep my speed at and also for it to be more tempting for the next level."
If the NFL team that tabs Wendling is tempted to see if he can hold up at linebacker, he'll go along with the plan. Still, he admits that he would prefer to remain at safety, where there seems to be something of a position renaissance taking place in the NFL. Long an undervalued position that rarely drew top picks on draft weekend, it now is home to some of the most impactful defenders in the league. Wendling would like to help continue that trend.
"I think it's the way guys are playing off the hash, coming into the box the way they are," he said. "When you've got guys like Bob Sanders, Ed Reed, John Lynch, you've got four or five guys that are making plays and making a difference in the game."
Of course, like most rookies Wendling may have to make his impact first on special teams. That's something he did extensively throughout his career at Wyoming, at one point playing on virtually every kicking and return unit. This past fall, he was installed as the "personal protector" on the punting team and given a heavy dose of on-field responsibility.
See, the Cowboys weren't afraid to run a fake, and they let Wendling make that decision on the field. If he saw a defensive formation he felt could be exploited, Wendling was allowed to call for a direct snap to him. He made that call six times and gained a whopping 119 yards on those half-dozen carries.
"It was a great honor that the coaches relied on me to make those calls," said Wendling. "It really came down to if I saw something, do it. If they come out in this kind of rush, hey, then take it. It wasn't really from the sideline or anything. It was all based on what I saw. So that was great they felt they could rely on me."
Wendling probably wouldn't step into that crucial of a role as an NFL rookie, but he certainly could put that impressive size-speed ratio to good use on special teams at the next level.
"I know as a rookie you're expected to play special teams and I welcome that opportunity," he said. "I see something where it might be my opportunity to play at the next level. There's an opportunity to make plays and stand out in a different way."
And as that little video gaining viral attention on the web indicates, Wendling knows how to make a unique impression.