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It Rained on the NFL's Parade

Bartell's Workout at Howard Turns Into a Soggy Outing for a Small Crowd

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page D03

The rain was unrelenting. The wind was chilling. The field was a mess, and representatives of only three NFL teams showed up.

If Howard University cornerback Ronald Bartell is going to become wealthy and well-known in pro football, he's going to have to earn it.

Ronald Bartell sloshed through drills for about a half hour at Greene Stadium. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

Bartell's workout for scouts took place as scheduled yesterday at Howard, but the weather rendered it more a test of willpower than athletic prowess.

Bartell sloshed through drills orchestrated by Houston Texans defensive backs coach Jon Hoke for about a half hour at Greene Stadium. Bartell slipped trying to make sharp cuts. Wet footballs slid through his hands as he tried for interceptions. His feet sank into the mud when he rested.

But he improved as he warmed up, and that -- given the conditions -- was enough to score points.

"You've got to give the guy credit for going out there," Hoke said. "This wasn't exactly conducive to having a great workout. He went out there and did a good job. He's a tall guy for a corner, and you saw the athleticism. . . . Once he warmed up, his drill work got better as he went along."

When he dried off and got warm in the tunnel leading from the field, Bartell said he was reasonably satisfied.

"It started off pretty slow," he said. "But it ended up pretty well, considering the weather and everything. . . . You've got to go through it. You've got to do what you've got to do. You can't sit around waiting for perfect weather."

Camera crews from Black Entertainment Television and D.C.'s WTTG-5 filmed the proceedings. But if anyone was looking for a scene depicting the glamour of readying for next month's NFL draft, this wasn't it.

Bartell's agent, Jeff Griffin, and girlfriend, Nicole Francis, were among those huddled beneath umbrellas that did little good because the wind was blowing the rain. As soon as observers left the tunnel to walk toward the field, they were greeted by a huge, ankle-deep puddle.

Pools of water on the track surrounding the field quashed notions Bartell might better the 40-yard dash time he set at last month's scouting combine in Indianapolis -- 4.37 seconds. Most players run sprints at their workouts, attempting to improve on their combine times, but Bartell performed only football-related drills.

Corwin Brown, the New York Jets' assistant defensive backs coach, and Ryan Jones, a scout for the New York Giants, joined Hoke. One of Bartell's representatives had said Tuesday 31 of the 32 teams indicated they were planning to attend. But Griffin, Bartell's primary agent, said yesterday while Bartell had been contacted by 31 clubs (all but his hometown Detroit Lions), there was no way of knowing how many would show.

This is the time of the year when it's toughest to read clubs' intentions. Teams disguise their draft intentions by bluffing or refusing to be pinned down. Griffin said he knew the Texans would be on hand because they had been adamant about wanting to see Bartell at his Howard workout.

"Teams saw him at the Senior Bowl," Griffin said. "They saw him at the combine. I don't know how necessary this was, but the Texans really wanted to do it."

Bartell's workout fell at a busy time on the NFL calendar, with the annual league meetings this week in Hawaii and workouts scheduled for yesterday at close to a dozen other schools, including Texas, Virginia, Boston College, North Carolina State and Purdue. The ominous weather forecast proved accurate, and the workout was the modest production to which Howard has been accustomed.

"I did everything at the combine," said Bartell, who will spend the coming weeks participating in a series of meetings with individual clubs. "A lot of teams said they didn't need to see me work out again."

He said he didn't take the presence of the Texans, Giants and Jets to mean they're the clubs most interested. "The team that ends up drafting you will probably be one that you didn't even talk to," Bartell said.

But Hoke said he was happy he showed up and thinks he learned some things about Bartell.

"You want to see with your own eyes: Does he listen? Does he take instruction well?" Hoke said. "I had high expectations coming in from what I'd seen on tape and what I'd seen at the combine, and I didn't see anything that disappointed me."

Hoke said he envisions Bartell being selected in the first three rounds -- perhaps even the first -- but added: "It's an unusual draft. You don't know who the top players are. You don't even know who the top five are at this point."

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