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Ryan Connelly-draft series part 2

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson (2) runs from Wisconsin linebacker Ryan Connelly (43) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Anthony Hobgood won’t soon forget the experience of watching former University of Wisconsin inside linebacker Ryan Connelly perform a three-cone drill.

Connelly approached each turn perfectly without wasting a single movement. He seemed to glide through the drill — his process standing out far more than his actual time. It didn’t seem possible to complete the back-and-forth, zig-zag pattern with any more smoothness than Connelly displayed in roughly seven seconds from start to finish.

Of all the premier athletes from around the country training at EXOS in Pensacola, Fla., where Hobgood works as a performance coach, no one looked better executing the drill than Connelly.

“It was incredible to see. It was unbelievable, man,” Hobgood said. “It was just a work of art the way he ran that drill.

“That really showcased his athletic ability. You watch him do that and say, ‘Man, he looks better than a lot of receivers do at that drill.’”

Connelly wasn’t even allowed to perform the three-cone drill until more than a month into his pre-draft training at EXOS.

The Eden Prairie, Minn., native played nearly his entire senior season with his ab torn off his pubic bone on both sides — something he finally underwent surgery for Dec. 11.

“It wasn’t until probably the halfway point, maybe two-thirds into the process where I actually saw him do it,” Hobgood said, “and I was super shocked. I just think he has that natural ability as it is.”

Despite his limitations, Connelly put himself out there when the time came.

His 7.09-second three-cone drill ranked among the top-10 times for linebackers at the NFL Combine, and the former Badgers walk-on also finished in the top 15 at his position in every other on-field drill at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

As next week’s NFL Draft approaches, Connelly can only hope his performance at the Combine, UW’s Pro Day and other private workouts will be enough to hear his name called April 27, the draft’s third and final day.

“I’m pretty happy with the way everything turned out,” Connelly said. “I don’t really have any regrets at this point.”

The waiting game

Many of Connelly’s pre-draft workouts, while more than respectable, weren’t performed at full strength. He came to EXOS this offseason severely limited after surgery, beginning with only a 20 percent workload. Although he felt fine, doctors still ordered Connelly to work his way back slowly.

He wasn’t able to perform certain lifts, including squats, throughout last season, either, putting him well behind the curve when trying to maximize his strength for the stretch run from February-April.

According to Hobgood, Connelly’s likely just now in a spot to perform at his very best.

“I’d probably say right now is the time frame where he’d be at his best as far as strength is concerned,” Hobgood said last week. “His body’s had time to adapt to that kind of stress.

“He was healthy at the combine. He was just so limited from that procedure. … He was as good as he could have been given the circumstances.”

Connelly hopes his game tape can answer any questions that his on-field drill work couldn’t. He managed to produce another stellar year for UW despite playing through his core injury, finishing with a career-high 89 tackles in just 12 games.

He admits to sacrificing some strength, explosiveness and top-end speed throughout that final season in Madison, but Connelly also earned recognition as a Butkus Award semifinalist.

“I don’t think it really affected me in the box necessarily,” Connelly said. “For the most part I feel like I was still able to have a successful year.

“There’s a translation there between field work and actually doing it on the football field. So I think that’s always important to make sure they can see that (athleticism) in both areas.”

Athleticism aside, Hobgood believes Connelly possesses the intelligence and intangibles to succeed at the next level.

Connelly always knows where to be, and his instinctive reaction time allows him to get to those spots faster than most. Plenty of NFL linebackers slower and less athletic than Connelly, Hobgood said, make a career out of being able to do just that.

“I don’t care how fast you are or what kind of athlete you are,” Hobgood said. “If you can’t change direction and you can’t make the right decisions on the field, they’re going to find somebody who can.”

Connelly took local visits to the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers earlier this month before visiting the New York Jets this week.

Now, he waits.

Prospects ride a thin margin of error between earning a spot in the later rounds and becoming an undrafted free agent. Connelly’s dreamed of hearing his name called during the draft, but he’s also prepared for the possibility that moment never comes.

Either way, Connelly’s anxious to begin work on making a roster.

“I’ve thought about it a couple times, but at this point I just want to get to a camp,” Connelly said. “I just want to get somewhere and actually start playing football again because I feel like that’s more my strong suit — just my ability to play football.”

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