Otah pleased with Pro Day performance

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, April 10, 2008

A lingering ankle injury hampered Jeff Otah at the NFL Scouting Combine and caused him to postpone his performance at Pitt's Pro Day late last month.

Now healthy, the 6-foot-6, 324-pounder wanted to ensure his first-round status in the NFL Draft by improving on a statistic by which few offensive linemen are measured, but one with which Otah was clearly dissatisfied.

Otah ran the 40-yard dash in a reported 5.67 seconds at the Combine, but he shaved that time to 5.3 while doing drills before 30-plus NFL personnel Wednesday at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side. Otah, however, did not run the short shuttle drill, which he also skipped at the combine in February.

"The 40 time did play a role," Otah said. "I ran a 5.6 at the combine, and I felt that I was more explosive than that and I wanted to show them face-to-face how explosive I am.

"When it wasn't 100 percent, it was affecting my change of direction. It's 100 percent now. I felt great today."

Although the workout was closed and those in attendance declined comment, Otah was pleased with his performance in one-on-one drills against another former Pitt offensive tackle, Mike McGlynn, who likely will be drafted.

"I feel like I moved well today," Otah said. "My ankle felt way better than it did. My change of direction was better. I was good with my hands and I finished (blocks).

"Hopefully, the coaches were impressed."

One team that made a strong impression by its interest was the Carolina Panthers, which sent general manager Marty Hurney and head coach John Fox to see Otah. The Panthers own the 13th overall pick, and NFL.com analyst Vic Carucci projects them to take Otah in his latest mock draft.

"It does feel good to know it's a possibility," Otah said. "You know they are interested because they came here, and that's a good thing for me to know. But you never know. There are other tackles out there who are big, and you never know what they like and what they feel best fits their system."

Although Otah's struggles at the combine might have sounded some alarms, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt was confident that it didn't drop him from the first round. If anything, delaying his personal pro day gave Otah more time to heal, train and improve his stock.

"I know he was not pleased with his workout at the combine," Wannstedt said Tuesday. "That's why he felt like he needed some more time to be 100 percent for this workout."

If, as expected, Otah is drafted in the first round, he would become Pitt's 23rd player to earn that distinction and it would mark the second consecutive year a Panthers player was selected so high. Last year, the New York Jets chose former Aliquippa cornerback Darrelle Revis 14th overall.

Pitt hasn't had back-to-back first-round picks in almost two decades, since running back Craig Heyward was the 24th selection by New Orleans in 1988, and defensive end Burt Grossman went eighth to San Diego and former Franklin Regional High School offensive tackle Tom Ricketts 24th to the Steelers in '89.

"That would be very nice, and I think that's probably going to happen," Wannstedt said. "Everything I've heard, he's being talked about in that echelon."

The only other team to send both general manager and head coach was the Steelers, with director of football operations Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin, who only had to walk across the parking lot.

Although Otah could be gone by the time the Steelers pick 23rd overall, "Everybody wants to go higher," he said, "but you don't get remembered for where you get drafted, you get remembered for what you do in the league. I always keep that in mind. You can go higher, but once you get there you've got to earn the respect."

For now, all Otah can do is sit and wait until his name is called April 26.

"My goal was always to be a great player in the NFL," Otah said. "I'm on a good pace right now. If I keep working hard, I can accomplish my goals."

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