Stephen Paea originally hoped to use the NFL Scouting Combine as a launching pad into the draft day elite.
NFL personnel wanted to see what the former Oregon State defensive tackle would do on the bench press, since he's known for his strength. He wanted to show that for a 311-pound big man he is agile.
Instead, Paea will be limited in the workout portion of the combine due to a recent knee injury. He tore his meniscus early in the first workout at the Senior Bowl last month.
"I was worried about it when it happened, but the MRI showed me it wasn't serious," Paea said. "I was blessed."
The surgery to clean out the loose cartilage was done by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Alabama on Jan. 27. Top athletes in various sports use him.
Paea started jogging and mixed in some squats last week. He won't run during the combine, which begins Thursday and runs through March 1 in Indianapolis. He will lift, interview with the scouts, meet with the medical personnel and take the IQ test.
"The most important thing is the interviews with the teams," Paea said. "They'll get to check out my knee. I feel comfortable talking with them and showing the MRIs. It's just a matter of time getting back to full strength. It won't be long."
Paea, a Tongan native, speaks English as a second language but improved in his speaking role while at OSU. He said he had no problems with the interviews during Senior Bowl week.
Former Beavers Jacquizz Rodgers and Alex Linnenkohl will be with Paea at the combine. While Paea is still considered a first-round draft pick, they have to prove their worth.
Rodgers, a running back, left OSU a year early after the NFL Players Association told him he could be a second- or third-round draft pick. However, a flood of underclassmen left school early due to the uncertainty surrounding the coming NFL season.
NFL Draft Countdown ranks Rodgers the 14th best running back in the draft. Rodgers, at 5-foot-7, 205 pounds, hopes to stand out among the crowd with a strong workout and solid interview.
"It will always be the same," Rodgers' uncle Rodney Williams said of his obstacle. "He has the production and shows well on film. It's height, not size. The medical portion is not bad because he had no surgeries. He's completely healthy. He had that shoulder (injury his freshman year) but he let that heal on its own."
Linnenkohl is considered the third best center available by NFL Draft Countdown. At 6-2, he also has the "too short" tag.
He is coming off a strong showing at the East-West Shrine Game where he played guard most of the game. Linnenkohl said that was to show his versatility.
NFL teams carry few extra linemen on the active roster, so someone who can play guard and center is valuable.
"I'm pretty comfortable with the medial examinations, but the interviewing with the teams can be nerve-racking," Linnenkohl said. "I got some practice at the East-West. The mock interviews from majoring in business helped, too."
Linnenkohl is mostly worried about the sprints and agility drills.
"I've never been a great tester in the physical stuff," he said. "I never stacked up well. I've been working hard to put up better numbers, for me. I'm looking for numbers to help me stand out there."
All three plan to be at OSU's pro day in the middle of March. That's when the scouts go to the colleges to gauge the athletic ability of each draft-eligible player.
Paea hopes to run and do the agility drills then. If Rodgers or Linnenkohl don't like any of their combine numbers it's an opportunity for a redo.
"I should be 100 percent by pro day," Paea said. "I'll need two weeks to train for that. If not, I'll set up my own personal workouts with the teams."
He has that luxury because of his high draft status, ranked the third best defensive tackle available. Before the injury he was a middle-to-upper first-round pick. He is now considered middle-to-low first round.
Paea was fortunate his injury occurred early enough for him to heal for the summer mini camps.
"I feel pretty good now," Paea said. "I've still been working out and rehabbing it. I've only had two days off since the surgery."