Fresno State Football

For Bulldogs at NFL Combine, even the easy stuff can be nerve-wracking

Competitiveness key to KeeSean Johnson’s success

Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer discusses wideout KeeSean Johnson and his development. The senior already is at the top of the Bulldogs' all-time receptions list and is 128 yards from becoming the all-time leading receiver.
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Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer discusses wideout KeeSean Johnson and his development. The senior already is at the top of the Bulldogs' all-time receptions list and is 128 yards from becoming the all-time leading receiver.

Fresno State wideout KeeSean Johnson, linebacker Jeff Allison and safety Mike Bell are in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine, the first Bulldogs to be invited in four years for four days of poking, prodding, measuring, evaluating, testing …

Robbie Rouse was there in 2013 along with Phillip Thomas. Rouse is the Bulldogs’ all-time leading rusher and Thomas was the first unanimous All-American in school history.

Rouse says the experience was surreal, nerve-wracking, fun, weird, exhausting.

“The best part of the combine was when they put me in the MRI machine,” he said. “I was in there for about an hour, maybe two hours, and all I did was take the best nap of my life. It was the best nap ever. When I went into that machine, I was out.

“It was the best time because the thing about it, everybody sees us running the 40, everybody sees us doing a vertical jump. They don’t see the meetings all night or how we’re getting looked at by every single medical staff in the NFL. Every single team looks at you from head to toe. That’s a long day.”

One of four, actually.

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Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse hold up the Mountain West Conference football championship trophy after the Bulldogs beat Air Force at Bulldog Stadium ini 2012. Craig Kohlruss Fresno Bee file

The first day of the combine players go through registration, physical exams, an orientation and interviews. The second day players are measured and go through medical exams and interviews. The third day there is psychological testing, an NFL Players Association meeting, the bench press test (max reps at 225 pounds), media availability and more interviews. The fourth day players are at the combine they go through the on-field workouts.

Johnson on Saturday will be the first of the Bulldogs to go through the on-field tests. There is a vertical jump and a broad jump. There are 20- and 60-yard shuttle runs and a three-cone drill, racing around cones set in an “L” pattern to evaluate agility, explosion and quickness.

There also is the 40-yard dash, which can be one of the high-pressure tests.

“For me, it was one of the most nerve-wracking times,” Rouse said. “I’ve never been a 40 guy, and I didn’t run the best 40 there.”

It didn’t help that in 2013 the running backs ran the 40 after the wideouts, a group which included West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin, whose 4.34-second run was one of the fastest in combine history. Austin was selected by the Rams in the first round of the draft, eighth overall.

Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford on the play and character of linebacker Jeff Allison, the defensive player of the year in the Mountain West Conference.

“I was thinking, ‘They have the big-time blazers out today, I’m going to go out and run that 4.4,’ Rouse said. “It didn’t turn out how I was thinking. I guess Tavon Austin is just fast.

“I had seen him right before we went out and said, ‘Tavon, how did you run that 4.25?’ He said, ‘Man, honestly, I just forgot everything my trainer taught me, put my hand down and just took off.’ I said, ‘See, you’re just fast. You can get away with that.’“

Rouse, who is now the running backs coach at Augustana University in South Dakota, ran a 4.8. And he went undrafted.

Three Bulldogs with NFL hopes

Johnson, who finished his Fresno State career as the school’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, solidified his draft stock at the East-West Shrine Game in January, performing well in practices leading up to the game.

Fresno State safety Mike Bell had an interception in the Bulldogs' 38-7 victory over the New Mexico Lobos at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque Saturday Oct. 20, 2018, his third game in a row with a pick. He recaps the Bulldogs' win.

Allison and Bell are draft-eligible juniors who announced they would forgo their senior seasons shortly after the Bulldogs capped a 12-2 season with a Mountain West Conference championship and Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State.

If one or all are selected in the NFL Draft April 25-27 in Nashville, they would be the first Bulldogs to go since 2015 when defensive tackle Tyeler Davison went to New Orleans in the fifth round and safety Derron Smith went to Cincinnati and offensive lineman Cody Wichmann went to the Rams in the sixth round.

The draft drought is the longest in school history. Fresno State had at least one player selected in the NFL Draft for 15 consecutive years and 27 of 28.

A good first step is the combine.

“It was a great experience – it’s something I still talk about with my players,” Rouse said.

His advice for the current crop of ex-Bulldogs: “You want to go there, enjoy the process, make friendships. Don’t just go and not talk to guys and just ball out. You’re there for a reason, so go show them why they invited you.”

Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada

NFL Combine

TV: NFL Network

Friday: special teams players, offensive linemen, running backs

Saturday: quarterbacks, wideouts (including Fresno State’s KeeSean Johnson), tight ends

Sunday: defensive linemen, linebackers (including Fresno State’s Jeff Allison)

Monday: defensive backs (including Fresno State’s Mike Bell)

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