Ryan LaCasse didnt start playing football until he was a freshman at Stoughton (Mass.) High School. Now, hes heading to the NFL after being selected in the 2006 NFL Draft. A defensive end and Syracuse graduate, LaCasse attended the NFL Combine in February and improved his stock by running the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds, the second fastest time among defensive linemen. LaCasse, who had 16 1/2 sacks over his college career, shared his weekly thoughts with Boston.com leading up to draft weekend. Entries are as told to the Globe's Mike Reiss.
Stoughtons Ryan LaCasse was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the seventh round of the NFL Draft (219th overall). His thoughts on heading to minicamp:
The next step starts this weekend. Im heading down to Baltimore, flying down, on Friday morning for our rookie mini-camp. When I get down there, the first thing is to get medically cleared and then get fitted for equipment. We get started early in the morning on Saturday. Its a three-day rookie mini-camp, which should be a good introduction to everything. After that, well have three more days of 7-on-7 type of stuff, then well have Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. It should be a chance to get a solid week of work in. I have a lot to learn.
Im going to be wearing number 98. Its not my favorite number, I was hoping for a little more of a linebacker number, but when youre a seventh-round draft guy you take what they give you. As long as they didnt give me 102, or a number that doesnt exist, then everything is fine. I wore 94 in college and 21 in high school.
Things have been good since the draft. A lot of people have congratulated me and thats been nice. Ive been in touch with my linebackers coach and have learned more about the teams system and where I fit in. Special teams, too. One thing thats nice is just knowing where youre headed and what role you might play. Baltimore is a multiple defensive team that uses a lot of linebackers. The type of role I might play is linebacker on early downs, then defensive end, rushing the passer, on third down. That was exactly what I was looking for.
As for my Syracuse teammates, I spoke with [tight end] Alex Shor, my old roommate. He signed a free-agent deal with Arizona and just went through a mini-camp. I asked him what it would be like and that was sort of nice, getting an idea of his experience. He said it was a lot like college, except the consequences are more severe. You make a mistake and you could be cut.
Another former teammate, Kader Drame, signed a free-agent deal with the Patriots. I played right next to him for the past three years. Hes a good player who I think will be making a transition to defensive end -- at Syracuse, he was more of a 3-technique defensive tackle. He has big, long arms, thats probably his No. 1 thing. He knocked down a bunch of passes for us; its almost like hes holding up a broomstick. He hustles and is a good guy, so he really fits the Patriots mold.
For me, Im heading to camp with the idea that I want to be an overachiever. Whether I was drafted in the seventh round or not, thats the same way I would have felt. It keeps you humble and I certainly wont take anything for granted.
Overall, the whole process has been a great experience. Its been a dream to come this far. Now I want to keep on working at it, and keep on moving forward.
Baltimore, here I come
Stoughtons Ryan LaCasse was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the seventh round of the NFL Draft (219th overall). His thoughts shortly after the selection:
Im feeling a lot better now. That was a long two days. I felt I had an outside chance of sneaking into the first day [round three] and then I almost ended slipping past the entire second day. I was watching a lot of guys get drafted, at the same position I played or to teams I had been talking with. I had a number of calls with teams saying they were thinking about drafting an outside linebacker, but then they either picked someone else or went with another position.
I think I ended up in a great spot. Im real excited. When the call came, [Ravens head coach] Brian Billick was on the other line and that took me back a bit. He basically said Go turn on the TV and watch your name across the screen. Then I talked with [general manager] Ozzie Newsome and Ill be in touch with them later today to set things up for mini-camp.
They project me to play outside linebacker, and I feel like thats the best position for me in the NFL. Another good thing is that one of my former teammates, [offensive tackle] Adam Terry, was drafted there last year. Im close with him. He called me about five minutes after the pick was announced and Im looking forward to talking to him a lot more.
Baltimore plays a multiple defense, like the Patriots. They do a whole lot of different stuff. Im just really excited about everything, really couldnt ask for more. It was always one of my dreams to get drafted.
I've had a pretty hectic phone schedule over the last week. There were probably about 25 calls, from 25 different teams, looking for phone numbers on where they can reach me during the draft. They also asked for backup phone numbers in case the cell doesn't work, and asked other questions, like what teams I visited with, what teams worked me out, what airport would be the best to fly out of, and how is my health.
As we've discussed, I visited with the Jaguars and Colts. The Browns, with general manager Phil Savage, also worked me out at my Pro Day. I also had the chance to sit down with Matt Patricia, the Patriots' assistant offensive line coach. He's a friend of mine and coached at Syracuse.
The last week has also been filled with more media interviews. I spoke with the Quincy Patriot Ledger and a bunch of web sites. That has kept me pretty busy on the phones. I almost feel like a sports agent, more than an athlete. But overall, it's been a good experience, something I don't mind doing.
Right now, I'm just feeling anxious and kind of ready to get the whole thing over and to get into a routine. Once I know what city I'll be in, that should help.
Pretty much the biggest question everyone wants to know is what team I'm going to, and basically what I say is that it's like predicting the NCAA Basketball Tournament. One thing can happen and it can mess up your bracket. I don't know what will happen. A lot of teams are playing poker now and no one wants to show their hand.
In the first round, I'll be keeping an eye on two of the top players who fit into a similar category as I do as defensive end/linebacker types -- Kamerion Wimbley and Manny Lawson. Wherever they end up will affect the needs of teams and that should start to give me more of an idea of where things could lead. For example, if Cleveland picks one of those two players at No. 12, it's unlikely they'll select me later in the draft.
I decided to be at home for the draft and it's been nice to be back at Stoughton, back to my roots, my home base. I've enjoyed watching NESN, catching some Red Sox games. The one thing about being in New York is that you get a lot of the YES Network and it seems any old Red Sox stuff they might put on is when the Yankees beat them. So it's been nice to be back home for that hometown flavor.
The Indy city
The trip to Indianapolis went well. I left Tuesday [April 18] around 3 oclock, they dropped us off at a hotel, and didnt have to do much the first day. I woke up at 6:30 the next morning and went to the hospital, where I was checked out by the doctors. Then we went to the facility, which was real nice. The trainers had me do a couple things, then the strength coaches had a few things to do, like a balance test. Then I went into the meeting rooms and met with defensive line coach John Teerlinck.
In Indianapolis, they would flat out want me to play defensive end, no linebacker. Theyre an attacking style defense and they dont put a high priority on body weight. Theyre more about speed, motor, quickness and moves. Theyre a smaller defensive unit and [at 6-foot-2, 257 pounds] I fit into the scheme at defensive end. That was different than when I visited Jacksonville and met with the linebackers coach and the defensive line coach. Id be excited to play either position.
One of the nice parts about the visit was that I got to see a few of my old teammates from Syracuse, Josh Thomas and James Mungro. They play for the Colts and I was asking them how they liked it. They both said theyre really happy. It was nice to talk to someone you know. I think they were surprised to see me at first. I was coming through the facility and they were going through their daily routine in the weight room. They gave me some advice, just to bust my butt, no matter what team I go to. They also reminded me that its not where you get drafted, but where you finish your career that helps a player make his mark.
I dont think Ill be taking any more trips. Thats good because I can keep focusing on my training. Ill have my phone, so teams can call if they have any questions. Chicago called to ask a few questions.
As the draft gets closer, and thinking about the NFL, one guy Ive pretty much looked up to in recent years is Mike Vrabel. Being from New England, I watched him emerge. He did some things early in his career with the Steelers, but made a name for himself with the Patriots. He does everything from playing in goal-line situations, to defensive end, to rushing the quarterback at outside linebacker, to inside linebacker last year. He first caught my eye when they made their first Super Bowl run in 2001. A lot of my teammates from Syracuse like the way he plays. He always seems to be on the bottom of the pile, doing the right thing.
The Jacksonville visit
The trip to Jacksonville went well. I got in there Tuesday night and we started early on Wednesday morning. I had a physical and was checked out by their doctors. After that, we all got a tour of their facilities. It was a real nice area and at 78 degrees, I wasn't complaining coming from Syracuse. We sat down with the director of pro personnel [Charles Bailey], their director of scouting [Gene Smith], as well as a number of coaches.
There were four or five of us there. On my flight down, I was connecting through Atlanta and found out I was on the same plane as Cortland Finnegan. He played at Samford and we spent some time training at the same place [Velocity in Georgia] earlier this year. When I saw him at the airport, I asked him where he was headed and he told me to meet with the Jaguars. That was pretty cool, just having someone you knew on the same trip.
When I met with the coaches, I was pulled in two different directions, with the linebacker coach [Mark Duffner] and the defensive line coach [Ray 'Sugar Bear" Hamilton]. I talked with Ray Hamilton quite a bit. When he asked me where I was from, and I told him Stoughton, he said that's where he lived during a decent amount of his career when he was playing for the Patriots. His condo was about one-third of a mile from my house. That was a nice connection, to talk to someone from Massachusetts. I also sat down with the defensive coordinator [Mike Smith] and when he asked me what I thought was my best position, I almost didn't know what to tell him. I like both linebacker and defensive line. That was one of the things we talked about, how I could be a Sam linebacker [strongside] on early downs and then rush the passer on third down. The other thing could be a full-time defensive end. The way I look at it is that as long as I'm on the field, it will be a good thing.
When it was over, they just tell you that they'll be in touch and wish you the best of luck. It's left open ended. They had someone drive us to the airport and that was it. I was back home by around 10 that night.
Next week, I'm headed to Indianapolis to do the same thing. I wasn't rally expecting that, but it's good news. Apparently, they like Syracuse defensive ends, with Dwight Freeney and Josh Thomas. They also have Syracuse guys in [receiver] Marvin Harrison and [running back] James Mungro. That should happen either Tuesday or Wednesday.
I also got calls from the Raiders and Steelers, just kind of general stuff. As the draft gets closer, it seems like some more feedback is coming from more teams. That's good.
As I've said before, my favorite team is the Patriots. From what I've heard about them, they're one of the most tight-lipped teams, straight down from Bill Belichick to Scott Pioli, to the scouts. I guess they don't let a whisper out. It would definitely be nice to get some feedback from them, but I think one of their keys is not letting any information out.
Job interview lined up
Things have heated up a bit within the last week. Jacksonville has asked me to come down for an interview on April 11. It should be a meet-and-greet with the organization to allow us to get to know each other better. I spoke with the team at the Combine and their defensive line coach [former Patriot Ray Hamilton] came to my Pro Day, so there is some familiarity there.
My first thought after learning of the visit was that it's another step closer to playing in the NFL. It was just like when I found out I was going to the NFL Combine. You're one step closer to your dream. I'm looking forward to making the trip, letting the coaches get to know me better, and me getting to know them.
After my agent [Ralph Cindrich] relayed the news to me about the interview, I researched the organization a bit. I'm treating this like a job interview. Just like anything else, you'd better research the company and know who you're going to be speaking with. You don't want to go in unprepared. I looked at the positional coaches for the linebackers [former Holy Cross coach Mark Duffner] and the defensive line to learn more about them. The reason I did that is because I could fit at both positions. I also looked at their roster and some of their possible needs in the draft.
There won't be any workouts in Jacksonville, but they might give me a physical. Overall, it's a way for a player to get used to the organization and the organization to get to know a player they might invest money in.
I still imagine myself in 32 different cities right now, and it's overwhelming in a way. You hear guys talk about how they sometimes end up being in the city they least expected. It's kind of weird to have that uncertainty, but exciting nevertheless.
In addition to Jacksonville, I received calls from Seattle, Miami and Tennessee. I feel pretty good. The way I look at it, the more interest, the better.
Meanwhile, I'm continuing to train up here in Syracuse. It feels a little different getting into football shape in the early spring. That's not something I'm used to. On Saturday, Syracuse had a scrimmage and I watched some of my old teammates. It was nice to see some of the younger guys stepping up and becoming leaders. I wish them the best.
Rounding into form
There's a month to go until the NFL draft and I'm getting a little anxious. I've decided to stay in Syracuse and train here. The reason why is because I'm familiar with the facilities here -- there are a bunch of indoor facilities and outdoor fields -- and they're readily accessible. Also, in the weight room, our strength coach Will Hicks still makes up workouts for me to do. It's really a comfort thing, which I find more beneficial than going to, say, a place like a local gym. The other nice part is that the weather has been great the last couple of days and I've gone outside and done some work. That's a rarity at this time of year in Syracuse.
Right now, my focus is on staying in shape. But one interesting part about that is that I'm no longer working on track-based stuff. Now it's getting in shape for football drills, because it's getting ready for mini-camps. Before this, you had to run the 40 and that type of stuff, which is different than strictly football drills. With the track stuff, that's why you see guys spending all types of money to attend these training facilities. They have to learn movements and they feel that's the type of place to do it. The NFL loves numbers like that, and the track numbers are one way to stack people against each other. Think about it, a guy could run fast and jump high, have all the measurables, but can he play football? You've seen track guys try to make it in the NFL and it usually doesn't work out. There's a different type of mentality you have to have.
Things have been kind of slow this week in terms of contact with NFL teams. I think the owners meetings had something to do with that. On the rules changes, the celebrations caught my eye. I liked Steve Smith's, when he slid down the pole. Somewhere, though, a line has to be drawn. I think as long as there are no obscenities, it's usually an OK part of the game. It might create interest.
From a hometown perspective, I've been talking to some of my good friends from back home in Stoughton. Family members, too. We're just touching base and they're excited for me. Like me, they're fans of the game. So this is an exciting time.
Pumped after Pro Day
We had our Pro Day at Syracuse on Tuesday [March 21] and I'm happy with how it went. Overall, there were about 30-40 scouts there, representing 23 different teams. I started with getting measured and I came in at 6-foot-2 1/4, which was 1/8 taller than the Combine. I weighed in at 254.
Then we went to the Dome and worked out on the same type of surface [field turf] as we did at the Combine in Indianapolis. My 40-yard dash time improved to 4.46, which was actually faster than all but five of the running backs that ran at the Combine. I also had a good three-cone drill -- 6.96 -- and hit my 20-yard shuttle in 4.24. The 20-yard shuttle is like a quick basketball suicide and is used to measure an athlete's ability to change direction during an explosive movement. My broad jump also went up, from a 9-5 to a 9-11. So with the numbers going up, I'm feeling pretty good.
After those tests, it came time to do positional workouts. That was interesting. A lot of the staff from the Falcons was there, as was the defensive line coach for the Jaguars. They had me work at defensive line and both teams had me work at linebacker. The general manager from the Browns and their linebackers coach were also there to work me out, so I was tag-teamed a bit there. I worked on basic pass-rush moves, the bags, defensive line stuff, and then jogged to the other side of the field and did linebacker drills dropping into coverage. There was a Patriots scout there but he didn't work me out. I would have loved it.
Right now, I think the biggest question mark about me is if I can drop into coverage and do that linebacker-type of stuff after playing defensive end in college. I think I've showed I can play both positions. The thing that was interesting about working out with the Browns is that they are a 3-4 team, with Romeo Crennel there. I thought the fact their GM showed up was a good sign because those are usually the guys who pull the trigger. Then you have Atlanta, which is a 4-3 team, a totally different system. The hardest thing about the whole day was that the workout was so long, about 3 1/2 hours, but I would have stayed out there all day and night if they wanted me to. I would have worked until I literally dropped dead. I want this too much. At the end, our video guy had made a season highlight tape and I handed them out to whoever would take them.
So the next step is with my agent. He sent out a sheet to every NFL team containing all of my stats from the Combine and Pro Day, as well as stats from the past season and told them how to contact either of us to set up an interview or individual workout.
As for being drafted, or where I might be drafted, I've seen myself rated as high as a second round pick and as low as free agency. It really depends. The big knock on me -- and it seems like if one draft guru says something, everyone follows suit -- is about dropping into coverage. I look at it and it doesn't seem like too many people are bold and go by what they see. They sort of take one guy's word and run with it. So I'm trying to get the word out that I can play linebacker. I want to correct that misperception of me and I think my workouts and film will do that.
I don't look at too many of the draft sites. I don't take too much stock in them. I think of myself entering this past season as an example. I wasn't an all-league pick in any of the preseason magazines. It just goes to show not everyone knows what they're talking about, not everyone does the research. I know it's tough to evaluate so many players, but some of these people are such powerful voices and they're not fully informed. What I will do is check some of the other schools' Pro Days and see how other guys' numbers match up with mine. I like to compare numbers better than opinions.
Looking ahead, I'm looking forward to work out for teams. Each day that passes means we're closer to the draft. I can't wait.
Versatility is the key
The big thing right now for me is just getting ready for our Pro Day, which is March 21. A lot of pro scouts and coaches will come to campus here at Syracuse to work out players. For me, I've been working on linebacker drills, getting used to catching the ball. It's a lot of the stuff I didn't do as much of playing defensive end. It seems like you see more of that these days in the NFL, where under the salary cap more teams are looking for more guys who can do a lot of different things. So I'm working on dropping into coverage, in addition to getting after the quarterback. Because of my height (6-foot-2 3/8), weight (257 pounds) and speed (4.54 in the 40), it's something I can do and that's how I'm trying to market myself right now.
I did take a decent amount of drops this year. I might have been in coverage about 30 percent of the time, so I'm getting more and more comfortable in space. Coach [Greg] Robinson let me do more of that this past season, in addition to quarterback spy stuff, moving me around between the A gap, B gap, C gap. Teams often didn't know where I was coming from.
I'm open to playing wherever a team has a need. When I look at a system that I'm most familiar with, the Patriots, I see a guy like Mike Vrabel. In college, he played defensive end and then switched to outside linebacker in the pros. He even moved to inside linebacker last year. I look at that and say "Versatility is the key."
I'm real excited about the Pro Day. It's a hard day because of all that goes into it. We'll get measured again for heights and weights and then you have your bench press and vertical jump. I'm not going to partake in the bench press and vertical because I did those at the Combine in Indianapolis last month -- and I'll stand on those results. Then we'll be inside the Dome and we'll run 40s, have the broad jump, shuttle, 3-cone drill -- and I'll do those all over again. Then there's positional work and I'm expecting to get worked out at two positions -- defensive end and linebacker. It's kind of been getting hectic, working out at two different spots, although I think I can handle it all right.
One of the nice things for me is that my track coach from Stoughton High School, Jeremy Ng, has taken some time to work with me here in Syracuse over the past two weeks. He's been doing a great job, going over my footwork. It's good to have another set of eyes. He trained me for the fastest time I ever ran when I won the state championship in high school and knows what to look for better than I do. I've been working out every day, typically taking the weekends off.
The Jacksonville Jaguars had called about a private workout this past Wednesday, but that got changed at the end. It's a hectic time for all those coaches now and the coach called and said he'd catch up to me at the Pro Day. Another call came in from the Carolina Panthers. They were looking for my driver's license number so they could do a background check.
As the Pro Day gets closer, it's all about focusing in and keeping your head straight. You give up a lot of things when you're preparing for a Pro Day -- I'm on a certain diet and making sure I'm getting enough rest. All in all, I can't wait to show the coaches and scouts what I can do.
Put through the wringer
Right now, there is a mix of emotions. A part of me is nervous because of the uncertainty of things. I'm anxious too, because I can feel something good happening around the corner. You're sort of on edge every day. The one thing I can say is that you wake up every day and feel good, because there is something in front of you that's been a dream. I think I started to think about a career in football in Stoughton, after my junior year in high school. I had never played until I was a freshman but after my junior year I knew I wanted to continue on, playing in college. I had watched college football growing up -- Saturdays in the fall were sort of reserved for that -- and I loved the level of competition, the rivalries. Then you get to college and it's almost like the Navy Seals. You have so many players and every year only about 300 end up in the NFL. It's interesting to see how it breaks down. I'm definitely hoping to be drafted. That would be a great feeling. Anything can happen and there is still a long way to go.
Going to the Combine last month was a different experience. For me, I came in senior year as somewhat of a sleeper. I had decent statistics my junior year, but I'm not sure a lot of teams knew who I was. Senior year, I earned all-conference, and that might have opened some eyes a bit. I had nine sacks and some of the better performances were against top competition -- Florida State, Louisville, Virginia. But coming to Indianapolis for the Combine, I still felt like some people didn't know who I was. I wasn't like a lot of the other players because I bloomed a little bit later. I looked at it as another great opportunity to show what I can do, with the best of the best. You're doing drills with a lot of the players who are expected to be first-rounders.
Another part of the Combine is interviewing with teams. I had a sit-down with the 49ers, the GM, the head coach, the coordinators. It's a pretty interesting experience. You're in a hotel meeting room with 6-8 big-time guys from an organization. They sit in a half circle around you and pepper you with questions. It's almost like going into an interrogation room. It can be intimidating. They talked about football and family. I sensed they were really trying to determine what type of character I had, because no one wants a liability. That was my one formal interview, then you go to another building, a conference center connected to the hotel, and there are a slew of position coaches there. I went over and introduced myself to coaches, which people say is a good idea. They say sometimes if you make a good impression on one of those guys, they could go to bat for you on draft day when their team is picking. Those were quick conversations, 10-15 minutes.
Overall, I was in Indianapolis for four days. I got there, checked into the hotel, and had 10-15 minutes to change into clothes. They give you gear -- black shorts that say NFL on them, a gray shirt that says "D-Line" and a number that's based alphabetically. I was No. 30. The shirt had my name on the back of it. You almost feel like you're cattle. The first two days were all about medical stuff. It was pretty invasive, but also understandable. If I was going to buy something that is comparable to the value of a house, I'd call up inspectors and want to know all about that house. We went to the hospital and they ask you a lot of questions. After that they send you to a big waiting room -- ESPN was on the TV -- and you're waiting for radiology. They're looking for any nick, bruise or bump and they X-ray you thoroughly. I thought I was going to pee neon green by the time I was done.
After 2-3 hours, they sent us down to a lab technician and they took some urine and blood. From there, you're almost home. They took an EKG, and then it was just getting past some of the autograph hounds in the lobby. That was what they call the prep medical day. That way, teams have everything on you when you show up at the RCA Dome the next day.
The second day, I showed up at the RCA Dome and we all lined up numerical order. They set up rooms and in each room there are three medical tables. Once you get called, a team doctor comes over, looks at X-rays and starts pulling on your knees, elbows, shoulders. Anything that's noted in your files, they check. Then you do the same thing in another room. Each room has about five teams of doctors in it. At the same time the doctors are checking you out, there are guys in front of computers taking notes, shouting out everything about you. They also check for hernias, which wasn't the highlight of anyone's day. By the end of that, you're pretty tired. I made it through, no MRIs or anything.
On that second day, we also did body weigh-in, height, arm length and hand length. You get up on a stage in front of almost 200 coaches, with your shirt off. They also measure your body fat. After that, I had to take the now infamous Wonderlic test. You get 12 minutes and there are 50 questions. You can see how some might have a hard time. You have 14 seconds per question when you break it down. The questions get numerically harder and the way they're worded, you have to read them over a few times. I can see it as somewhat of a good thing -- it shows how you take in information under pressure and digest it quickly, and that translates to football. Following that, we did the bench press and that draws a lot of attention -- raising the 225-pound bar. I had 34 repetitions.
On the third day, we had an early wakeup and there was a meeting with the NFL Players Association. They tell us what they do and then it was time for psychological tests that teams give you. That went from almost 9 in the morning to almost 2 in the afternoon. I felt sane when I went in there, but crazy once I came out. They ask questions like "Do you ever think of killing people? Do you ever think of harming a family member? Do you do drugs? If you could pick one, would you be a cat or a dog?"
The New York Giants' test was the hardest. It was word association, so they'd say something and you'd have to associate a word with it. That was the biggest relief to get finished.
Finally, on the fourth day, we did what we came to do. In terms of what we did for drills, we ran the 40-yard dash, did the vertical jump, broad jump, bench press, three-cone, shuttle and bags. They also take your measurables (height, weight). Overall, I think it went pretty well. I wasn't fully satisfied with it, which is why I'm excited for our Pro Day, March 21 at Syracuse. That will be another opportunity to show more coaches what I can do.
Right from there, I had 20 minutes to shower up and catch a plane to get out. It was a pretty hectic four days. You're seeing all the guys you hear about all year. One day, I was walking through the lobby and saw Bill Cowher and Bill Belichick walk by. They said hi. Overall, it was a great experience. It was a hectic schedule, which is what it would be like in the NFL.