This weekend, two of the most decorated linebacker’s in ISU history will be attending the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Both A.J. Klein and Jake Knott have been in two different places since Iowa State’s loss to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31, 2012, and both have taken two different roads to get to this year’s combine. But both have a common goal: Impress scouts.
The difference between the two at the combine, however, is that Klein will be doing all the tests — mental and physical — but Knott will do his interviews and mental tests while saving all of his physical tests for Iowa State’s pro day.
Klein and Knott will be a part of Group No. 9, which is the linebacker group at the combine. That group arrives on Feb. 22.
For a big chunk of November, Knott was in a sling and immobile, waiting for his shoulder to get strong enough to start rehabbing.
“The first month was in a sling for the majority of that unless you're lounging around because they want it to set and start developing scar tissue and all that in there to make it more stable,” Knott said.
While his team prepared for a Liberty Bowl appearance on New Year’s Eve, Knott was just trying to get his shoulder's full mobility back for the next two months.
“There was more building up that intense rehab just about every week and changing it up," Knott said. "Still not having your full mobility back and all that, I wasn't able to work out at the intensity I wanted to.”
This week is the four-month mark for Knott since his surgery, which is when Dr. Gordon Nuber of the Northwestern Orthopedics Institute operated on his shoulder. Nuber is the current team physician for the NFL's Chicago Bears.
It took Knott until now to be back to almost his full strength, but he still isn’t there yet. He kept his strength up during rehab doing things like stability exercises and push-ups. Right now, if Knott did the bench press at the combine, which consists of bench-pressing 225 pounds as many times as possible, he believes he’d hit “somewhere in the mid-20s” in terms of reps.
The difference between performing this weekend at the combine and waiting for Iowa State’s pro day is significant, however.
“I'd probably put up anywhere from 5-to-10 more reps at my pro day than I would know and that's a big difference,” Knott said. “I'd probably drop another tenth or two tenths on my 40, even from what I can run right now, versus what I can run after training and creating that muscle memory and all that for it.”
Knott also knows most of the questions that he’ll face from other teams’ executives will revolve around the injuries he’s dealt with throughout his time at Iowa State.
When asked if his shoulder was healed, he had a definite answer: "Absolutely."
Opposite of Knott, A.J. Klein has been in full health while training for the NFL Combine.
Klein has been working at the Athletes Performance Facility in Pensacola, Fla., for more than a month and has been able to operate at full strength while preparing.
“I’ve just been focusing on strength and speed and breaking down technique and trying to shave seconds or tenths of seconds off times and overall improvement,” Klein said.
Klein’s health also permitted him to participate in the East-West Shrine Game, which took place on Jan. 19.
Klein, who was one of the 23 defensive players who all saw snaps, finished the game third in tackles by a linebacker with two total tackles, with 1.5 tackles for loss.
Along with the experience of playing in another game, Klein got more experience with the interviewing at the game, much like what he’ll see at the NFL Combine.
"I know what the conversations are going to go like," Klein said. "I’ve already gone through interview processes at the Shrine Game and everything, so I’m really not nervous or anything about interviews."
While both of the former ISU linebackers have taken different paths after the season concluded, both have stayed in contact with each other.
“I’ve been in contact with [Knott], he was down here for a week visiting with the doctors and everything," Klein said. “We’ve been talking about everything and I know we’re both anxious and ready to get down there to Indy.”