Defensive linemen take the stage Friday at the NFL combine. Iowa’s Drew Ott, a top pass-rusher who collected five sacks in six games in 2015 while playing at times without use of one arm, attended the mega-event this week in Indianapolis to talk with scouts and NFL decision-makers.
Ott can’t work out. He’s four months into rehab from a torn right ACL suffered against Illinois in Week 6. He underwent surgery on Oct. 22.
With an NFL career on the horizon and his future earnings at stake, Ott was dealt a bad hand by the timing of this injury. But that’s football. People in the game have little control over injuries or the time required to heal.
As the April 28-30 draft nears, the frustration in Ott’s camp grows more real. Ott wants to return to Iowa in 2016. The school filed paperwork with the Big Ten late last year, asking the league to grant him a medical-hardship waiver.
The league is tasked to make this decision by deciphering NCAA rules. Guidelines allow for Ott to receive a fifth year -- he has not redshirted -- if he played in 30 percent (or less) of his team’s games in the year at stake and did not compete after the midpoint of the season.
Ott meets the second criteria but not the first. Iowa has asked the Big Ten to consider that Ott dislocated his elbow in Week 2 against Iowa State and played a limited role over the next month.
The Big Ten can interpret Ott’s elbow injury as it wishes. His case may hinge on that point. Yes, it requires more than a basic ruling.
But no one has been asked here to map the human genome.
Unlike Ott’s knee injury and the time required for him to get back in position across the line of scrimmage from an offensive tackle, people control this wait.
Ott deserves for it to end. If he’s done at Iowa, he deserves a chance to move on and make the best of a challenging situation created by the injury.
With potential college eligibility remaining and his case unsettled, Ott can’t sign with an agent and benefit from the expertise available. If denied the fifth year, Ott will have lost this time to capitalize financially on his status as a professional.
And if the Big Ten rules against him, Ott could appeal to the NCAA, though it’s difficult to envision that the NCAA, of all organizations, would offer a swift ruling in advance of the NFL draft.
All of this is puzzling. Iowa offers no details. Coach Kirk Ferentz expressed some optimism on signing day but has remained vague in his comments -- probably because he knows nothing specific. Asked this week for details on the process of Ott’s case, a school official referred questions to the Big Ten.
Scott Chipman, Big Ten associate commissioner for communications, in an emailed response this week, said the league has "no update" and suggested checking back in “the coming weeks.”
Iowa opens spring practice on March 23. Time marches forward, everywhere outside of the Big Ten office.
If an explanation exists for the length of Ott's wait, the Big Ten should offer it.
Illustrated by his affinity for eating raw eggs, Ott is a no-nonsense guy. It’s not in his nature to complain. He’s been working to get healthy and likely aced the interviews in Indianapolis without some of the advantages afforded to his fellow NFL prospects.
That is, if Ott is, in fact, an NFL prospect. He deserves to know.