After playing his final college game for Oklahoma last December, offensive tackle Donald Stephenson didn’t know how realistic a shot he had at the NFL.
At 6-foot-6 and 307 pounds, he had the size. But he wondered if his resume was extensive enough to attract NFL coaches, officials and scouts.
Stephenson saw time as a reserve in 2008, but was academically ineligible in 2009. He started 10 of 14 games in 2010, and all 13 games in 2011.
But it wasn’t until the NFL Scouting Combine that Stephenson really started turning heads and believing that he would get a chance to play in the NFL.
Stephenson clocked a 4.94-second 40-yard dash – the fastest of any offensive lineman and faster than some defensive ends – at the combine. Teams, including the Washington Redskins, began showing interest in him.
Most college scouting sites have Stephenson’s stock rising, but with his given his limited playing experience and track record of inconsistent play, they don’t rank him as an elite prospect.
The Blue Springs, Mo., native describes the last month and a half as a whirlwind. He has juggled his training with a busy travel schedule, zipping from one city to another to meet with NFL teams. Stephenson paid Redskins Park a visit Wednesday.
“It’s been pretty crazy, flying in and out of different cities, but I’m trying to enjoy it,” Stephenson says. “It’s always something I’ve wanted to do. And it’s fun seeing different cities, and meeting coaches that you’ve always seen on TV. The only hard part has been flying and the airports.”
Stephenson says most of the feedback he has received from teams has centered around his athleticism.
“They talk about how crazy my athleticism is, and how shocked they were at the way I ran at the combine,” Stephenson says. “They say it’s showing up on film. They also like they way I finish.”
Stephenson knows he is far from a finished product, however, and at every visit, asks coaches what weaknesses they see in his game.
“Most of them say I need to be more consistent, and that’s something I’m working on,” he says.
Stephenson, who is projected as a third-round pick, said he likes the familiarity he has with the Redskins’ zone blocking schemes. Oklahoma uses some of the same techniques, so he felt confident discussing concepts with Washington’s coaches.
Stephenson also is familiar with some of the Redskins’ linemen. He played behind Redskins left tackle Trent Williams for three years, and took over for Williams after Washington drafted him fourth overall in 2010. The Redskins’ right tackle, Jammal Brown, and right guard, Chris Chester, also played at Oklahoma.
Brown has spent the offseason rehabilitating a surgically repaired hip that has hobbled him the last two years, and faces an uncertain future. The Redskins wonder whether Stephenson – if he’s even still available when they are on the clock with the sixth pick of the third round – would be a good fit.
Stephenson believes he would be.
“At Oklahoma, you have to be able to run to fit into the offense, and it’s the same with the Redskins, them running a similar style,” Stephenson said. “I felt pretty good at my visit. I feel like I could fit into their organization. I like the coaching staff, and [Mike] Shanahan seems like a real cool dude.”
Stephenson said as soon as he got off the plane for his visit with the Redskins, he called Williams. “He wasn’t in the area at the time, but he told me he’s been talking me up,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson believes that although he doesn’t have the body of work to rival the top tackles in the draft, his athleticism and physical tools are comparable and he has the ability to start as a rookie.
“I feel like I’m a guy that can help a team early,” Stephenson says. “I’m a guy that enjoys the grind, a nasty player, athletic; I excel in pass protection and can offer all the things you need in a tackle today. … I watched Trent and learned from him for three years, then he came to the NFL and hit the ground running. That’s a confidence booster for me. I feel like if he can do it, I can also.”
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