INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Utah receiver Kaelin Clay has moved on from the most embarrassing play of his college career.
First, he fessed up to making the mistake of celebrating before scoring against Oregon. Then he poked fun at himself by tweeting out a Valentine’s Day photo of the ball being dropped at the 1-yard line with the words “Don’t let go of our love.” This weekend, he relived it again at the NFL’s annual scouting combine.
Here, nothing is off limits. Some place between the poking and prodding of medical exams, on-field workouts and the circus-like interview sessions, the league’s decision-makers key make sure they ask the tough questions.
“Sure, you ask about that,” Hall of Fame general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian said. “You want to know what was their motivation, what were they thinking.”
Clay is one of the lucky ones. His merely has to explain a momentary lapse in judgment and what he’s done differently since that forgettable play.
Others in Indy must find answers to far more serious questions than a dropped ball.
Receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was asked about his dismissal from Missouri’s football team. Notre Dame receiver DaVaris Daniels said he worked out six days a week while missing all of last season because of an academic scandal. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah dealt with questions about his propensity for fumbling.
Reporters even brought up videos Alabama receiver Amari Cooper and Michigan tight end-receiver Devin Funchess posted on Twitter. And Missouri defensive end Shane Ray couldn’t escape that vicious hit to the head on Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims in the SEC championship game, a play that drew an ejection.
“One thing I’ve learned from going after quarterbacks is, especially going to the NFL, I’ve got to aim a lot lower, and wrap up their legs instead of trying to get a hit on ‘em, and just try and bring ‘em to the ground,” Ray told reporters Saturday. “That would probably be the safest thing to do.”
NFL teams want to know everything about players. So when they start asking about corrective measures, they prefer actions to words.
Ray, for instance, could tell them how he and Sims have developed a friendship as workout partners. Or he could explain, the way he did in the temporary media room at Lucas Oil Stadium, how Sims’ parents have invited him to stay if he’s ever in town.
Cornerback Marcus Peters can demonstrate his changes another way. After getting booted off Washington’s team in November, reportedly for a series of confrontations with the coaching staff including a sideline blowup, he returned to Seattle, met with the coaches and made amends. Now his pro-day workout is set for April 2 -- on Washington’s campus and with the blessing of the football staff.
What do teams want to know?
“Am I a hothead? Which is false,” Peters said. “I made some immature decisions and I live from them and I learn from them, and I grow as a man.”
Fortunately, enough people inside these organizations understand mistakes happen.
Nobody knows that better than Pete Carroll, who spent nine seasons at Southern California between NFL gigs. There, Carroll put the Trojans back on the football map by winning two national championships that included a Heisman Trophy win for Reggie Bush. Years later, of course, Bush returned the back the trophy and the Trojans were stripped of the 2004 BCS title because of NCAA rules violations.
But NFL executives view the embarrassment of a few bad plays much differently from other problems.
“If a guy has a blotter of things, they usually don’t change that,” Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. “But again, these kids are really young. They make some bad decisions. You can’t kill these kids, 18, 19, 20-year-old kids, on the decisions that they make.”
Especially if they happen on the field and in the heat of the moment.
“Look, everybody makes a mistake,” Polian said when asked about Clay’s dropped ball. “The deal is you don’t want the mistake repeated.”