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Wisniewski ready to answer call

| Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak thought he could catch Stefen Wisniewski napping, he picked the wrong guy.

When the two former Penn State offensive linemen sat down at the NFL Combine to discuss Wisniewski's future, Munchak asked, "Do you think you could block your dad?"

Munchak and Stefen's father, Leo, a former Nittany Lions defensive lineman, were teammates at Penn State from 1979-1981.

"Yeah, I can," the younger Wisniewski said, confidently and proudly, like he does everything. "I know his weaknesses. I'll just go for his knees."

Answers such as that -- combined with his strength, football savvy and 6-foot-3, 313-pound frame -- likely will make Wisniewski one of the first local players chosen when the three-day NFL Draft begins Thursday.

Wisniewski, a Central Catholic graduate, also is one of the few players from the WPIAL who could get drafted. Others include Pitt receiver Jonathan Baldwin (Aliquippa), Panthers offensive tackle Jason Pinkston (Baldwin) and Slippery Rock center Brandon Fusco (Seneca Valley).

Wisniewski, who gained 10 pounds since the end of the season, isn't sure where he will land, but the second round to the Oakland Raiders isn't a bad guess. His uncle Steve, who also played at Penn State, is a Raiders offensive line coach.

"I was prepared for everything they threw at me (at the combine)," said Wisniewski, an All-American and three-time Academic All-American at Penn State. "I interviewed really well. I am a guy who can speak well and speaks clearly and have good football intelligence."

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said most teams have "late-second- or mid-third-round grades" on Wisniewski, who played guard last season but is viewed as a center by most NFL teams.

"He is a tough kid with quick hands and feet," Mayock said. "The question on Wisniewski is, 'Can he anchor against the 340-pound nose tackle?' But I think he is going to be a good player."

Regarding Wisniewski's bloodlines, Mayock said, "The last name means something to everybody in the league."

With no such name recognition, Fusco was lightly recruited out of high school, but he said he gained more than 50 pounds in the past five years. He was invited to the Senior Bowl, in which he tangled with defensive lineman Phil Taylor of Baylor and Christian Ballard of Iowa, both of whom may get drafted in the first three rounds.

"The first day was kind of iffy," Fusco said. "I wasn't used to the speed and strength, but I came back the next day and had a really good practice."

At the combine, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan tested him with this question: "If your house was burning down, and you could only go back in and get one thing, what would you grab?"

"My wallet," Fusco said.

"That's a helluva answer," Ryan said.

Another small-college prospect, quarterback Josh Portis of California (Pa.), set a school record for career touchdown passes (69) and is fourth in passing yards (6,072) despite playing just the past two seasons.

Roll call
Here is a list of local players who could be chosen in the NFL Draft beginning Thursday or signed as an undrafted rookie after the lockout:
Player Height/weight Position College
Jon Baldwin 6-5, 224 WR Pitt/Aliquippa
Dom DeCicco 6-4, 239 S Pitt/Thomas Jefferson
Elijah Fields 6-1 3/4, 219 S Pitt/Duquesne High
Dan Hutchins 5-11, 195 K Pitt
Henry Hynoski 6-2, 265 FB Pitt
Dion Lewis 5-6 1/8, 193 RB Pitt
Jason Pinkston 6-3, 317 OT Pitt/Baldwin
Greg Romeus 6-5, 265 DE Pitt
Jabaal Sheard 6-3, 264 DT Pitt
Evan Royster 5-11 5/8, 212 RB Penn State
Stefen Wisniewski 6-3, 313 C Penn State/Central Catholic
Noel Devine 5-7 1/2, 179 RB West Virginia
Brandon Hogan 5-10 1/4, 192 CB West Virginia
Chris Neild 6-1 3/4, 319 DT West Virginia
Robert Sands 6-4 3/8, 217 S West Virginia
Jock Sanders 5-6 1/8, 181 WR West Virginia
J.T. Thomas 6-1, 241 LB West Virginia
Tommie Campbell 6-3, 205 S California (Pa.)/Aliquippa
Brandon Fusco 6-4, 306 C Slippery Rock/Seneca Valley
T.J. Green 6-4, 215 WR Robert Morris
Tom Keiser 6-5, 252 OLB Stanford/North Allegheny
Josh Portis 6-3, 21 QB California (Pa.)
Ryan Travis 6-2, 242 FB West Liberty (W.Va.)
Darrin Walls 6-0, 190 CB Notre Dame/Woodland Hills

He is a cousin of Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis and was tutored at California by former Pitt coach Walt Harris, the school's offensive coordinator last year.

"He got me pro-ready," Portis said. "I was very fortunate to have him. He is a great teacher and a great coach."

Portis was recruited by former Florida coach Urban Meyer but was behind Tim Tebow on the depth chart and transferred to Maryland, where he earned an undergraduate degree in American Studies before going to Cal.

At the combine, Portis averaged 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash, behind only Nevada's Colin Kaepernick (4.53) and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton (4.56) among quarterbacks.

Draft day could be agonizing for former Pitt defensive end Greg Romeus, whose back and knee surgeries last year could push him down many teams' lists.

"I'm not sure if I will be watching (the draft)," he said.

Still, 19 1/2 sacks from 2007-09 will attract attention by NFL teams, who "killed (me) with MRIs and X-rays" at the combine, Romeus said.

Romeus said he will be cleared for full workouts by the second week in May, and he expects to be 100 percent by training camp.

Defensive end Jabaal Sheard lined up opposite Romeus at Pitt, but he may play outside linebacker in a 3-4. He could get drafted in the first two rounds, but he has simple thoughts about turning pro.

"My mom's happy, my sister's happy, and I'm happy I'm making them proud," he said.

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