Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
The seniors of the Ohio State football team did not get to finish their career by playing in a bowl game, but some will have the opportunity to play in postseason all-star games in an effort to improve their stock for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Two former Buckeyes, cornerback Travis Howard and defensive end Nathan Williams, will have that opportunity at the East-West Shrine Game Saturday.
Howard and Williams are among a select group of college football players projected as potential NFL draft selections who were invited to St. Petersburg, Fla., to make an impression on NFL scouts, coaches and executives. The players practiced in front of NFL personnel Monday through Thursday, and the week culminates with Saturday’s game.
Howard said the opportunity has been a “great experience overall” thus far.
“It’s just a tremendous game to be a part of,” Howard said. “Just to go out there and just to showcase your talent … it’s definitely a great feeling. You can definitely see where you stand out at and see if you fit in with certain guys at certain positions.”
Williams, who returned to play 10 games as a fifth-year senior after missing the entire 2011 season due to microfracture surgery on his right knee, said it was an honor just to get invited to the Shrine Game.
“I feel very blessed to even be considered to be with all these guys, all these great players here,” Williams said.
Williams played defensive end for the Buckeyes last season but began his OSU career as a linebacker. He said he has played as both a middle and outside linebacker this week and thinks he has impressed scouts with his versatility.
“It’s been great to get back behind the line and kind of have everything develop in front of you, and to have those big bodies take up gaps,” Williams said.
Williams said he believes he is best suited to play linebacker at the next level.
“I think I’m best at being a linebacker for sure because of my body type and my versatility as far as rushing the passer and pass coverage responsibilities go,” Williams said. “Hopefully I get to a team that knows where they can have a position for me … I just know that whatever team gets me is going to have a great one and hopefully I make the most of my opportunities.”
Howard also said he believes he has made a positive impression on those in attendance this week.
“I’ve been getting a lot of great looks and making great plays on the ball and been talking to a lot of scouts,” Howard said. “There’s been a lot of interest (from NFL teams) … A lot of scouts said they love that I was there to compete and make plays on the ball.”
Williams and Howard both have the ultimate goal of making it to the NFL, and are considered possible late-round selections in April. NFLDraftScout.com currently projects Howard as a sixth- or seventh-round pick as the 29th-best cornerback in the draft class, while DraftCountdown.com ranks Williams as the No. 18 outside linebacker in the draft.
Howard said one of his greatest takeaways from the week has been the opportunity to work with Al Harris, who played cornerback in the NFL for 14 seasons and is the cornerbacks coach for the West squad this week.
“He did so many tremendous things as an NFL player,” Howard said. “He told us so much stuff within these three days that we’ve been here, just little things just to elevate your game.”
Most of the week has revolved around football, whether that be performing on the field or meeting with and learning from NFL personnel off the field, but Williams and Howard both said one of the most valuable experiences of Shrine Game week was visiting the Shriners Hospital for Children – for which the game was created to benefit – in Tampa, Fla.
“Having a day with those kids … when you do things like that, it really opens up your eyes and makes you realize just how blessed and how thankful you are to be in a position where you are as a person,” Williams said. “Going to the hospital and playing with those kids … it was a lot of fun.”
The Shrine Game is set to kick off at 4 p.m. Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will be televised on NFL Network.
Former OSU safety Orhian Johnson, who played in 49 games and had six interceptions over the past four years, will also have to showcase his talent in front of NFL scouts Saturday. Johnson, who could not be immediately reached by The Lantern, will play for the American roster at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which is scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. EST from the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and will be televised on ESPN2.