The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 03, 2020 1:00 am

IU hopefuls' plans for draft disrupted

Waiting to see if it happens after virus canceled pro day

CAMERON DRUMMOND | For The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – Reakwon Jones' Twitter bio lists his most important information.

There's mention of his time at Indiana as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten and as a student, as well as references to his upbringing in the Florida panhandle.

But at the end of Jones' bio there's a message of his ultimate goal, with “#PathToTheDraft” written as a reminder of Jones' NFL aspirations.

The coronavirus pandemic has limited the opportunities for Jones and his graduating Indiana teammates, including offensive lineman Simon Stepaniak and wide receiver Nick Westbrook, to display their skills to team scouts ahead of this year's NFL Draft (scheduled to start April 23).

Circumstances outside their control have taken away events such as IU's Pro Day (scheduled for March 31), but the trio has continued pre-draft preparations nonetheless.

“I'm just trying to continue to stay ready and continue to get better through this process,” Jones said.

Scattered across the country, each player is adjusting in his own way to the new normal for athletes faced with an uncertain future.

Of the three players, Stepaniak is the most likely to be drafted.

A third-team All-Big Ten selection last season who made 31 starts in four seasons, Stepaniak also has a sizable cloud over him as a professional prospect.

He tore his ACL last December while practicing for January's Gator Bowl, and he was unable to play in the eventual loss to Tennessee. This limited Stepaniak to only the bench press workout at the NFL Combine in March in Indianapolis, but he impressed by completing 37 bench press reps (second-most among offensive linemen).

Recent weeks have seen Stepaniak continue his rehab and he remains on track for a full recovery by the time NFL offseason workouts normally begin in the summer, although he's had to adjust to being unable to get practice time on a turf field due to coronavirus-related restrictions.

But Stepaniak knows he's lucky.

The combine invite gave him plenty of face-to-face interaction with NFL scouts. This led to virtual interviews for Stepaniak with teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers and his hometown Cincinnati Bengals, situations in which he leans on advice from family, friends, his agent and past IU teammates now in the NFL.

“Finding ways to get what I need done done,” Stepaniak said. “Just picking and pulling from all those resources, that really helps me continue to progress.”

Jones didn't have a chance to impress scouts during a Pro Day workout, a disappointment considering he'd spent weeks in Colorado training for the event.

Now back in Florida, Jones is trying his best to simply find grass fields to work out on, enlisting the help of past IU teammates Jonathan Crawford and Donavan Hale.

Jones, who finished his IU career with 100 total tackles, was able to get some in-person contact with draft scouts in January when he took part in the 2020 Tropical Bowl with other seniors.

He said this was a chance to showcase his character and playing ability (he recorded one tackle in the game), something important in hindsight now that Jones is reduced to private workouts instead of a showcase event such as Pro Day.

A similar reality exists for Westbrook.

He was “working his tail off” at a training facility in Seattle in the lead up to Indiana's Pro Day before its cancellation.

“I'm ready to perform, I've done everything I can to be ready for this moment,” Westbrook said of his thought process during Pro Day prep. “For it not to be there, it's just tough to handle, especially for a guy like me who didn't have a combine invite ... I really could have benefited from it (Pro Day).”

Instead, Westbrook's professional fate hinges in part on a video tape.

Before he left Seattle early because of the effects of COVID-19 on the city, Westbrook recorded an impromptu Pro Day session on film.

That, combined with Westbrook's respected legacy at Indiana (the sixth-most catches in program history with 144 and the seventh-most receiving yards with 2,226) and his participation in January's East-West Shrine Bowl (where he recorded one catch), are things he must lean on to latch on with an NFL team.

In the meantime Westbrook, like Jones and Stepaniak, can do little aside from wait.

A healthy diet, and modified backyard workouts with a sandbag help Westbrook stay active.

When predicting the future, one in which he reaches the NFL, Westbrook hopes to be able to look back on this time with admiration.

“I was basically doing 'Rocky' workouts in my backyard,” he said.

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