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In Step With the Competition

Howard CB Is Confident Heading Into Combine

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2005; Page D01

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 24 -- Ronald Bartell will arrive here on Saturday, ready to be measured and examined and questioned and psychoanalyzed by the men who decide which college football players will be giddy and which will be disappointed come NFL draft weekend in April. Professional prestige, national acclaim and millions of dollars are on the line, and Bartell is a mostly unknown cornerback from Howard University trying to prove his mettle alongside more celebrated prospects from high-profile college programs such as Auburn and Miami.

If he is the least bit overwhelmed, he isn't admitting it. "I'm not nervous," Bartell said Thursday. "I'm real excited. I know I'm a pretty good athlete. I think I match up well. A lot of the top cornerbacks in the draft are training where I'm training. We kind of sized each other up when we got out here, and I knew I could hang in there and compete with them pretty well."

Despite being a mostly unknown cornerback from Howard, Ronald Bartell is confident as he prepares for the NFL scouting combine. (Tom Story - For The Washington Post)

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He is being touted as one of the draft's possible surprises, a player yet to be introduced to the general football-watching public who could be selected in the second round if he fares well during the evaluation process that began at the Senior Bowl all-star game last month in Mobile, Ala., continues with the NFL scouting combine that runs through early next week here and culminates with prospects' pro-day workouts for coaches, scouts and front-office executives on individual college campuses in March and early April.

"I'm just taking it day by day," Bartell said. "The draft is such a funny thing. I'm trying to keep a level head. I don't want to get my expectations way up, and then maybe get let down. But I think with a good showing at the combine, I can hear my name called early in the second round."

Players no longer just prepare for the draft. They prepare for the draft preparations. For Bartell, that means working out six days per week at Athletes' Performance, a training facility in Tempe, Ariz., that is readying him for the tasks he will be asked to perform by NFL talent evaluators.

He gets to the facility at 8 a.m. and works out in the morning, then takes a lunch break and works out again in the afternoon. He has been tutored by former NFL general managers about how to handle the interviews with individual teams that will take place at the combine, and he has taken several warmup versions of the Wonderlic intelligence test to which the draft prospects are subjected.

"You pretty much know what all the questions are going to be" during the interviews, Bartell said by telephone from Arizona. "There might be a couple curveballs, but I don't expect to be surprised by too many questions. I think I've taken the Wonderlic test six or seven times."

He will have to prove he can handle the step up in competition from Howard to the NFL. Bartell says when he decided to transfer from Central Michigan to Howard midway through his collegiate career, he figured the pro scouts would find him if he was good enough. He was right.

"It still comes down to doing your evaluations, and how do you feel about the kid as a player and as a person," Carolina Panthers General Manager Marty Hurney said here Thursday. "There are players everywhere. It's our job to find them. You have to trust what you see. Obviously level of competition will come up when you talk about a player, but you have to go by what you see. He won't be discussed any differently by us than someone who played at Nebraska."

Said former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, who now works for the league: "It doesn't matter where you came from. People here just want to see how fast you are, see how you look going through the drills and get their evaluations on you."

Bartell says he's doing his best to avoid paying attention to draft-buildup media reports, some of which were uncomplimentary about his showings during the heavily scrutinized Senior Bowl practices.

"You can't get caught up in the draft hype," Bartell said. "If you read some of the things that are written about you on the Internet, you'd think I got embarrassed and I was overwhelmed at the Senior Bowl. But if you talk to people in the NFL, they think I did fine. I think I held my own. You don't know what to believe."

Bartell grew up in Detroit, where his parents and sister still live, and focused on basketball more than football until his junior year of high school. He left Central Michigan, he says, because he went through five position coaches in 2 1/2 years at the school and he felt he wasn't getting any better. He sensed after his junior season at Howard that he had a legitimate chance to be an NFL player.

Again, he was right. The coming days and weeks will determine where he will be in the rookie pecking order when he arrives at his new team's training camp in July.

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