FORT WORTH, Texas — The query got here among the many slew that NFL draft prospects inevitably obtain, this time from one of many league’s 32 common managers.
“He was asking me why his head coach was telling the GM to go get me,” Sam Ehlinger advised USA TODAY Sports activities final Thursday from the APEC gymnasium the place he has educated for the NFL draft.
Why, the overall supervisor requested the Longhorns quarterback, did the pinnacle coach so admire Ehlinger’s fashion of play?
“I feel it’s the mix of emotion and intelligence,” Ehlinger mentioned he advised the overall supervisor. “From actually being an emotional chief and being an operator of the offense, after which additionally having the soccer intelligence to have the ability to perceive defenses and perceive your offense at a excessive stage.”
The GM quipped: “Did you script that?”
Ehlinger promised he didn’t.
After 43 begins for Texas the final 4 seasons, Ehlinger is a prospect about whom league evaluators concurrently know a lot and but have loads to foretell.
It’s a paradox that befits a 22-year-old who transitions with virtually uncanny fluidity from a smile reminding coaches of the cartoon strip “Calvin and Hobbes” to a glare that indicators intense immersion into the duty at hand.
“He has that Opie Taylor Boy Scout look,” Ehlinger’s quarterbacks coach Jeff Christensen advised USA TODAY Sports activities. “However inside, he’s a vicious, vicious competitor.”
That competitor in Ehlinger makes clear: He wishes and believes he’s able to turning into an eventual NFL starter. However he’s lifelike concerning the floor he’ll seemingly be anticipated to cowl earlier than attaining that aim.
Which leads Ehlinger again to a family-favorite “management what you possibly can management” mantra, a piece ethic teammates examine to reflect and a relentlessness that warrants fellow Longhorn NFL prospects labeling him because the bodily and mentally hardest member of their school staff.
“I like his competitiveness,” mentioned ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who initiatives Ehlinger as a “late-round, in all probability Day 3” choice. “He can run, he’s obtained nice pocket presence, he’s bodily, he’s robust. He takes care of the soccer.
“However what he’s obtained to do is get with somebody who can really assist enhance his consistency together with his deep-ball accuracy and his total accuracy as a quarterback.”
‘That is what individuals missed on Dak’
It’s 9:47 a.m. on a Wednesday in Fort Price, and Ehlinger is cramming in only a few extra throws beneath Christensen’s steerage in an empty indoor soccer area down the road from APEC.
“Shuffle. Shuffle. Shut your eyes,” Christensen directs earlier than issuing a refrain of “sure, sure, sure” when Ehlinger’s closed-eye throw hits his receiver simply as precisely as his seen heave had.
Ehlinger’s objectives in these periods are multifaceted: He goals to quicken his launch and tighten his mechanics, to extend his spin charge and velocity whereas additionally rhythmically incorporating clear footwork. Within the week earlier than he learns his draft destiny, Ehlinger meets Christensen alternately at this indoor area and the sprawling out of doors discipline of close by All Saints’ Episcopal College, the backdrop shifting however technical suggestions constant.
“Do you’ve got nephews or nieces but? Rocking the child,” Christensen compares the necessity to launch pressure in a single session. “Go babysit. Get the rhythm with the ball.”
Christensen asks repeatedly how the movement feels for his budding quarterback, happy when Ehlinger studies he’s “nonetheless fairly rattling tight” after a collection of correct intermediate throws. “Which means,” Christensen responds, “your wrist and fingers are working at a excessive stage.”
Following the lead of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Ehlinger is working place fundamentals with Christensen and physique mechanics with efficiency coaches from the Fort Price APEC gymnasium. There, greater than a month after Ehlinger’s professional day has handed, he joins NFL gamers together with former Longhorn teammates for periods to bolster pace and power in addition to agility, flexibility and restoration.
“It’s like I went from majoring in enterprise in class to type of majoring in my physique and what it takes to achieve success on the subsequent stage,” mentioned Ehlinger, who graduated from Texas in December. “The way in which I’m capable of transfer and make the most of totally different angles and optimize the biomechanics of my physique utilizing the power to my benefit. …Letting my physique work for me as a substitute of working towards my physique.”
Bobby Stroupe, APEC’s founder whose NFL clientele consists of Mahomes, has overseen what he deems Ehlinger’s transformation from bodily getting ready like a fullback to bodily getting ready like a quarterback.
Stroupe factors to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott as a really perfect mannequin for Ehlinger’s post-college growth.
“If he continues to enhance at this charge, what’s going to he be in 12 months and in 36 months?” Stroupe advised USA TODAY Sports activities. “That’s what individuals missed on Dak: They didn’t say, ‘Wow, he’s had substantial enchancment.’ They only acted like, ‘That is who the man goes to be in perpetuity.’”
Stroupe is cautious to emphasise he’s not suggesting Ehlinger’s present capabilities equate to these of Prescott. However “his eval is on par with Dak’s (coming into the draft),” Stroupe says. “What’s fascinating is I’ve talked to a handful of groups that agree as effectively.”
Ehlinger isn’t Prescott — Prescott’s collegiate stats have been extra environment friendly by air and floor — however the Cowboys QB exemplifies how a dual-threat, still-developing passer would marry excessive mind, elite management and coachability with bodily instruments needing additional growth.
Ehlinger aimed to indicate his mental progress trajectory as he methodically studied the Dolphins’ offense on the Senior Bowl to grasp protections and route ideas, together with extra checks and kills than he had dealt with in school. He aimed to show that physiological growth the week of his professional day, when his vertical bounce hit 36 1/2 inches along with Stroupe posting video of Ehlinger crusing every a 77-yard deep ball and 58-mph dart.
“You’ve obtained to reply the questions,” Stroupe mentioned. “My job is go discover the (expletive)-talking and show to them that they’re improper so the child can transfer on together with his eval.”
It’s a high-quality line between resolving instant points and prioritizing long-term growth, a steadiness Ehlinger and people round him are cautious to strike. Stroupe and his colleagues innovate drills to focus on each, together with their Friday quarterback session throughout which Ehlinger was tasked with working, skipping and laterally shuffling across the heart of a basketball courtroom awaiting a clap from considered one of 4 receivers flanking every nook of the courtroom. The extra adeptly he can nail the receiver whereas askew and in movement, the higher.
“To enhance the neurological and physiological parts,” Stroupe says, “that assist quarterbacks resolve issues on the sector.”
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‘Humble and hungry’
Whereas at Texas, Ehlinger was tasked with fixing — or no less than confronting — a bunch of issues off the sector. In 2020 alone, he was navigating the worldwide pandemic, racial unrest that prompted questions on each society and faculty traditions, a coach on the new seat and coordinator adjustments. Ehlinger, who turned 22 final September, set the tone first together with his actions. He spearheaded a pandemic aid GoFundMe that supplied greater than 150,000 meals, and he produced a uncooked video within the wake of George Floyd’s demise.
“I’ve had a few of the most vital deep conversations I’ve had with him,” former Texas security Caden Sterns mentioned of the quarterback who discovered vulnerability and power faster than he meant after his father, Ross, died immediately in 2013 throughout a San Francisco triathlon. Sam was 14.
“He’s that man who’s going to be vocal and converse when no one needs to,” receiver Brennan Eagles added. “On the finish of the day, Sam’s going to be the kind of individual I can invite to my marriage ceremony.”
Ehlinger is aware of intangibles alone don’t win NFL jobs or draft spots in a league through which 10 to fifteen quarterbacks have been drafted annually since 2016. However these near him look to his management as a trait that can additional stabilize no matter roster he joins, his soccer intelligence an asset in any quarterback room he contributes to. His 27 wins fell far wanting his championship objectives at Texas however “with the ability to lead this system via such opposed occasions,” he says, “we didn’t sink fully like we may have.”
Add in a résumé with greater than 11,000 passing yards and 1,500 speeding yards, simply the second such one in Energy 5 school soccer historical past, and Ehlinger is assured he’ll additionally depart his subsequent group higher than he finds it.
Doubt him? He welcomes it.
“When persons are hating or speaking trash, in the event that they suppose that it’s really hurting anyone, it’s really serving to me,” Ehlinger mentioned. “So I admire them greater than they know. … Tweeting or commenting, some hater messaging me — that’s not hurting me in any kind of approach from being pushed.
“That’s really serving to me and giving me extra motivation. So I admire the haters.”
He’ll carry that gas into the subsequent set of dropbacks with Christensen, the subsequent sled he pushes at APEC and the subsequent so-long-his-face-turns-red plank that efficiency coaches assign.
Ehlinger’s highschool coach Todd Dodge, who coached Austin Westlake final season to a protection of the Texas highschool state championship, thinks again to how Ehlinger embraced his final transition to the subsequent stage.
“He’s stayed as humble and hungry as any human being I’ve ever been round in that place,” Dodge advised USA TODAY Sports activities. “You realize the outdated deal, ‘The hay’s within the barn’? Sam’s by no means a type of. The hay isn’t within the barn.
“He’s all the time obtained one thing to work on.”
Comply with USA TODAY Sports activities’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.