Combine snub motivates Kroul toward NFL

April 21, 2009
Iowa defensive lineman Matt Kroul carries the Heartland Trophy off the field after the Hawkeyes' win over Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 18, 2008, in Iowa City. Iowa won 38-16. Iowa won, 38-16. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa defensive lineman Matt Kroul carries the Heartland Trophy off the field after the Hawkeyes' win over Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 18, 2008, in Iowa City. Iowa won 38-16. Iowa won, 38-16. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — It’s hard to overlook Matt Kroul’s impact to the Iowa football program.

The Mount Vernon native started a school-record 50 straight games. That’s every game for Iowa’s last four seasons, including three bowls. He has an award roll in Iowa’s spring prospectus that includes the Big Ten Conference Sportsmanship Award, permanent team captain status and second-team all-Big Ten honors by the league’s media outlets.

However, lost in his long list of accolades, was his name from the NFL Combine in February.

“After some of the stuff I had done, it was disappointing,” Kroul said. “But at the same time, it opened my eyes to keep working, and keep on … I figure, hopefully, for the next few years of my life to just keep competing every day, I took it heart, too, I guess.”

Kroul thought about the slight when he met with Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Getting left out stung Kroul.

“I used it as motivation and make the most of things on my pro day,” Kroul said. “Hopefully I put good enough numbers up there that there’s more interest.

“Yeah, it hurt a little bit, but at the same time, you just kind of roll with things and go on.”

Kroul, 23, finished his Iowa career with 238 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He’s forever linked with fellow defensive tackle Mitch King, with whom he paired in the starting lineup for 45 games. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz often references “King and Kroul” when talking about leadership and work ethic, whether it’s in a spring practice or a game.

“From my vantage point, he’s a guy that’s going to make someone’s team better and help them win football games,” Ferentz said.

“I’ve had several people say they were really impressed with him,” Ferentz said. “It’s going to be him finding the right spot, right place, right time.”

Dan Shonka, general manager and national scout for Ourlads Scouting Services, LLC., graded Kroul as a seventh-round pick despite Kroul not receiving a combine invitation. Shonka said Kroul has several intangibles teams are looking for, including his physical skills.

“He’s an excellent technique player,” Shonka said. “He can run those guards back; he can drive them back,. He uses his hands really well, he keeps a low pad level, he’s instinctive. …”

“If you study Iowa’s tapes, he’s one of those guys that’s always in the picture frame, He’s always around the ball. I think that he does so many good things.”

Kroul has improved his stature with a strong showing at Iowa’s pro day in March. He’s up to 291 pounds and stands nearly 6 feet, 1.5 inches. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.99 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times.

“If Matt Kroul gets signed as a free agent, he’s going to be a steal for somebody,” Shonka said. “Because, again, there’s not a lot of true 4-3 tackles out there because there’s so many of the nose tackle types. Matt would fit right in that 4-3 scheme.”

The Sporting News listed Kroul as a priority free agent for teams. The magazine touted Kroul as a punishing tackler who “wants to be in on every play … a hard-nosed player who shows intelligence and toughness.” The magazine’s assessment of Kroul is “he’s limited at the next level, (but) he’ll make it tough for a team to cut him.”

Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul takes down Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer during the fourth quarter at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Oct. 27, 2007. (JONATHAN D. WOODS/THE GAZETTE)

Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul takes down Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer during the fourth quarter at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Oct. 27, 2007. (JONATHAN D. WOODS/THE GAZETTE)

Kroul has heard from several teams interested in either drafting him or signing him to a free-agent contract after the draft. Kroul is confident he’ll get a chance to play in the NFL either way.

“I don’t want to be arrogant or anything, but I’ve done enough the last four years that I should be able to compete with these guys,” Kroul said. “It’s definitely going to be enjoyable. I’ll be looking forward to doing that.”

This weekend, Kroul plans to enjoy the time with his family when he shifts from college to pro player. His thoughts range from “stressful” to “exciting” to “satisfying” when thinking about his journey from Mount Vernon all-stater to Iowa four-year starter to the NFL. He also said the gathering won’t be “too flamboyant.”

“All it takes is one team,” he said.


Fletch a rising star on NFL draft charts

April 21, 2009
Purdue's Greg Orton, left, looks to make a reception over Iowa defender Bradley Fletcher (29) during the first half on their game Nov. 15, 2008 in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Purdue's Greg Orton, left, looks to make a reception over Iowa defender Bradley Fletcher (29) during the first half on their game Nov. 15, 2008 in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY — Bradley Fletcher keeps a low profile, doesn’t say much but does so in an articulate manner.

In many ways, Fletcher’s play at cornerback reflect his outward impression. He’s confident, assertive and talented. His personal drive, combined with physical skills and a solid work ethic have parlayed Fletcher into one of the fastest risers in this year’s NFL draft. It also could land the former Iowa defensive back a spot in the first three rounds this weekend.

“He’s a guy that we kind of call one of the sleepers in this draft,” said Dan Shonka, general manager and national scout for Ourlads Scouting Service, LLC. “He’s got loose hips, he’s smooth in transition. We’re going to give a third- or fourth-round grade at the very worst. We think he should be a third-round guy.”

Fletcher, 22, has been one of Iowa’s most traveled players in recent weeks and has met with multiple NFL teams, including the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. He said he’s worked on his speed and quickness since the end of Iowa’s football season, and the results are proven.

Fletcher ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds at the NFL Combine in February. He shaved off a little more time at Iowa’s pro day last month, running it in 4.44 seconds. He’s a good-sized cornerback at slightly taller than 6 feet and weighing nearly 200 pounds.

Shonka grades Fletcher 14th among cornerbacks, but he’s the second-tallest among those players. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. lists Fletcher ninth among cornerbacks and has Jacksonville selecting him in the third round.

Fletcher’s draft stock soared with East-West Shrine Bowl in January. He recorded six tackles — including three solo — and he broke up one pass. His play and athletic ability launched him into the discussion as a potential man-to-man NFL cornerback.

“He was at least one of the best corners, if not the best corner there,” Shonka said. “He played really fast, he was impressive when he drives on the ball. The thing that was impressive about him at the combine was his ability to turn and run. That is supposed to correlate with your 40 time. A lot of guys didn’t run the drill real well, and Fletcher, his times were like 4.47, which obviously correlated with his 40 time.

“His back peddle turn and run was 4.46 and 4.46 which is outstanding. Plus he’s got long arms and can leap. His runs were real smooth in his turns. He’s very athletic.”

Fletcher started 17 games for Iowa, including all 13 his senior season. He recorded 152 tackles, including 60 last year. He had three interceptions last season and 10 pass breakups. He totaled five interceptions and 17 breakups in his Iowa career.

Minnesota's Tray Herndon, left, is upended by Iowa's Bradley Fletcher after making a reception during the first half, Nov. 10, 2007, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 21-16. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Minnesota's Tray Herndon, left, is upended by Iowa's Bradley Fletcher after making a reception during the first half, Nov. 10, 2007, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 21-16. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“You get a sense there’s a lot of interest in him,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Fletcher spent most of his off-season speed training to prepare for the combine. As the draft approaches this weekend, his focus is on conditioning.

As for any indications where the Youngstown, Ohio native might go, Fletcher is taking it in stride.

“I have no idea right now,” Fletcher said. “I’m just going into it open minded and see what happens.”

Along with speed and size, Fletcher’s athletic ability is a plus. He recorded a vertical jump of 38.5 inches, third-best among the top 14 corners on Shonka’s board.

“As Deion Sanders used to say, ‘I don’t need that playbook, I’ve got that guy right there,’” Shonka said. “That’s what Fletcher can do. I think he’s a third- or fourth-round guy. And if he goes later, somebody got a steal.”


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