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Titans draft picks show common theme: Wrestlers make good football players

June 25th, 2012 by Tom

 As they wrestle with where to place players on their draft board, one thing that carries value for the Tennessee Titans personnel department is a background in wrestling.

It was apparent in the 2012 draft, which included second-round pick Zach Brown, undefeated (29-0 with 17 pins) as a high school heavyweight in Maryland, and third-round choice Mike Martin, a Michigan state champion as a high school junior. A year ago, one of their most productive rookies was defensive tackle Karl Klug, whose personal athletic history includes plenty of time spent in a mat room.

"It's something that to me, when a guy has been a wrestler, especially when he has been a successful wrestler, it says something about his toughness and his commitment," general manager Ruston Webster said.

The benefits of wrestling for interior linemen " both offensive and defensive " are obvious.

Players attempting to block or shed blocks use their hands, react to the shifting weight of a player with whom they are engaged and try to gain an advantage through leverage. All are central elements to wrestling.

"It's close quarters, and it happens fast, very fast," said Martin, a defensive tackle out of the University of Michigan. "In wrestling, that's all it is. Being able to have leverage, being able to be athletic and shoot on guys and work your hands.

"Especially in the pass rush and even the run, you have to shoot your hands, you have to get guys off of you, and you have to make plays."

Martin's wrestling career was brief " two seasons " and officially ended four years ago when he accepted a scholarship to play college football.

However, he still incorporates the sport as part of his regular training regimen.

"I do some unorthodox training, I guess you could say," he said. "I roll around on the mat at my training facility because it's one of the best conditioning sports you can do. You're in the best shape of your life if you can wrestle live for two minutes. So I try to do that as much as I can."

As a nose guard/defensive tackle at Michigan, he was a three-year starter and a four-year contributor who registered at least two sacks every year.

Klug led the Titans as a rookie with seven sacks last season, which was nearly as many as he had during his entire college career (9.5). If Martin's skills translate to the NFL in comparable fashion, it is opposing quarterbacks who could find themselves pinned more often than they'd like.

"To me, wrestlers do have that natural leverage, and they understand leverage and they understand how to use their hands, and typically they are tough guys," Webster said. "That's why I think that you see it more in guards and centers and defensive tackles."

You don't see it exclusively at that spot, though.

Brown, Tennessee's second-round pick, is a linebacker out of North Carolina who excelled in multiple sports during his prep days. Beyond being a two-way star in football (tailback/linebacker), he also was Wilde Lake High School's first track state champion, with Class 3A titles in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. They followed the state championship he won as a wrestler.

For him, the lingering benefits have less to do with his hands than his head.

"It's just something to push me to see how good I can get, how much better I can get," Brown said. "It is very mental, because you do a lot of movement. Even though you are only in there for six minutes, you do a lot of movement in six minutes.

"So wrestling makes you mentally tough because sometimes I'd be in wrestling matches and I'd be dead tired, but you just have to push through it."

It certainly gives the Titans something to think about.

Titans like to draft players with wrestling backgrounds

June 23rd, 2012 by Tom

 When the Titans spent their second-round draft pick on linebacker Zach Brown and their third-round draft pick on defensive tackle Mike Martin, they saw one aspect of the players' backgrounds that they particularly liked: Both were successful high school wrestlers.

Titans General Manager Ruston Webster said the team views it as a plus when players on the draft board have a background as a wrestler.

"It's something that to me, when a guy has been a wrestler, especially when he has been a successful wrestler, it says something about his toughness and his commitment," Webster told the Nashville City Paper.

Drafting a player with a wrestling background worked last year when fifth-round defensive tackle Karl Klug led the team with seven sacks as a rookie. Webster said he'll keep looking for wrestling backgrounds when he's looking for promising prospects in the draft.

"To me, wrestlers do have that natural leverage, and they understand leverage and they understand how to use their hands," Webster said, "and typically they are tough guys."

Cole Konrad Tries Out for Minnesota Vikings

May 13th, 2009 by Tom

Add Cole Konrad's name to the list of former top college wrestlers who want to play in the NFL.

The two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for the University of Minnesota in 2006 and 2007 tried out for the Minnesota Vikings in April.

Konrad, who hasn't played organized football since he was a high school freshman, was granted the opportunity to meet with the organization, and was put through a brief set of drills for offensive linemen.

In an article originally published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Konrad's college wrestling coach, J Robinson, is quoted as saying, "What I heard is someone from the Vikings grabbed a tackling dummy, held it up and told Cole, 'Go ahead, hit me as hard as you can.' And Cole knocked the guy right on his butt."

The former Golden Gopher heavyweight was a bit more modest in his account to the Star-Tribune. "I knocked the guy back quite a ways, and the dummy flew up in the air," said Konrad, a four-time NCAA All-American on the mat for Minnesota. "I think that was the deciding factor in the long run."

Whatever happened at the Vikings' Winter Park training facility, it earned Konrad an invitation to come back for a three-day rookie mini-camp, held this past weekend.

It's not Cole Konrad's first taste of an NFL mini-camp. In 2007, the 6'3" wrestling champ "who now reportedly tips the scale at a hefty 315 pounds "was invited to the New York Jets rookie camp along with Tommy Rowlands, a two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for Ohio State in 2003 and 2005.

In talking about his April tryout with the Vikings, Konrad said, "They said they'd like to try me as a guard. And they want me to get comfortable snapping the ball, in case they want to try me at center. I've been doing that. I'll do anything they want."

Konrad and Rowlands aren't the only veterans of the college mat to test their mettle on the football field. In late April, it was reported that 2009 NCAA All-American heavyweight Jermail Porter of Kent State University was about to sign a contract with the New England Patriots. Porter will join one of the more successful big men of amateur wrestling, Stephen Neal, a two-time NCAA heavyweight champ at Cal State Bakersfield in 1998-1999, and 1999 world freestyle champ, who has played right guard for the Patriots since 2001.

A couple years ago, another NCAA heavyweight champ for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Brock Lesnar, tried out for the Vikings as a defensive lineman, and even played a couple games before being cut by the team.

Cole Konrad, a friend and workout partner of Lesnar's, has talked to the current UFC heavyweight champ about his experience with the Vikings"¦ and weighed that against his expectations for a possible NFL career. "I just feel that offensive line is more similar to wrestling," said Konrad. "There's a lot of the same hand fighting for position, using leverage and stuff like that on the offensive line. What I'm trying to do is more like what Stephen Neal did in New England."

It's too early to predict what kind of future Cole Konrad might have in the NFL. However, he might find himself joining an elite group of former NCAA wrestling champs such as Jack Riley, Art Baker, Jim Nance, Sherwyn Thorson, Curley Culp, Carlton Haselrig and Stephen Neal who found success moving from grappling to the pro gridiron.