State of the Hogs: Jamaal Anderson

HI.com publisher Clay Henry caught up with former UA assistant Jim Washburn at the pro timing day at Walker Pavilion.

It's all about the ability to sell when it comes to getting the best players for your position in the NFL. Jim Washburn thought he was onto something, but it turned out to be too good to be true.

Not that it's a dead issue just yet, but Washburn thought the Tennessee Titans had a shot at Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson in the upcoming NFL draft. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore.

But Washburn, the former Arkansas defensive line coach, had his guys chomping at the bit to take Anderson until the 6-foot-6, 286-pounder saw his stock soar in the last month.

"I want Anderson, I really like him," said Washburn, veteran defensive line coach with the Titans. "I was thinking about ways to make sure our head coach (Jeff Fisher) and general manager (Mike Reinfeldt) remembered him when we were at the combine."

Washburn had done his homework on Anderson. He knew his background and that of Anderson's father. "His father is deaf and I knew that Jamaal could sign," Washburn said. "I had visited with Jamaal in one-on-one interviews before our head coach and GM came into the room. I just told Jamaal to go along with me on this one. I told him when they came in, to answer every question in sign language.

"It went perfect. Jamaal answered all the questions. Then, I told him to tell my guys what he'd just said. He blew them away. I knew he would. He's very sharp.

"See, I wanted him. And, the best way to get someone is for your head coach and GM to really remember someone. I knew that would do it."

The only problem is that the Titans don't pick in the first round until 19th. Most projections say Anderson will be long gone. The latest draft projections at NFL.com put Anderson as the No. 6 overall pick, going to the Washington Redskins.

"I like the kid a lot," Washburn said. "I wanted to coach him. First, he's just getting started. He hasn't played a lot of defensive end. His background was as a wideout. He is still learning the position and he's just 21. So he has a huge upside.

"It's almost scary how high he's listed for as little as he's played at the position. But he's a true defensive end. He's 6-6, 286 and he can run. So he's not one of those ‘tweener guys. He isn't someone you are trying to project and say, ‘Well, he isn't big enough, or he isn't good enough as a pass rusher. He is all you want to play that position.

"He has it all and he's smart. His interview was great.

"Here's a chance to get a true defensive end, so I wanted to make sure my head coach and my GM wanted him, too. But it's no chance probably now."

Washburn didn't just like the way he measured, tested and talked.

"I watched every tape," he said. "He just got better and better. I think he's just getting started. I guess everyone else sees it, too."

The conversation with the head coach and GM — or lack of one — went awesome.

"They come into the room and ask him questions and it's just dead silence, except that he's signing," Washburn said. "It went exactly like I'd hoped it would go. I think Jamaal liked it, too. I explained it to him and it really relaxed him and made it a great interview.

"Those interviews can be awful, too. It's one after another one, every team in the NFL is asking you all of these questions, some of them off the wall. If you are a player, they can wear you out. It all becomes a blur with one group of coaches coming into a room, then another and another. I think what we did helped him show all he is to our guys."

It's vintage Washburn. He likes to have fun with his coaching. He gets close to his players. During his time at Arkansas, he was an effective recruiter and coach. He enjoyed cooking in his backyard for his players and his personality always ended up winning over newcomers.

Washburn's defensive lines were among the strength of the team during the Danny Ford era at Arkansas. Players like Ryan Hale, Curt Davis, D. J. Cooper, Melvin Bradley, Ken Anderson, Geno Bell and Junior Soli always played tough for the Hogs.

One of his tricks to promote togetherness, perhaps as old as the hills, was to take a chain apart link by link and hand each member of his unit one piece. They'd take it home, then reassemble it each day before practice.

"I loved my time here," Washburn said. "It was great to be back here today. I hated to leave. I hated it when I didn't get to stay, but it was great for me. I've been in the NFL since then. I've got a lot of years in the retirement plan. I've building a big house with a pool in Nashville, big enough for all of my children to come back and stay with us and bring their kids. It couldn't have worked out better.

"But, man, Arkansas was good for me, really good. I'm seeing a bunch of people around here today and it's great."

It would be better if he thought another Razorback was headed his way. He enjoyed coaching Henry Ford and Carlos Hall, two former Razorbacks, with the Titans. He hopes for a shot at coaching Anderson, but knows it probably won't happen.

The only thing that could have changed that is if Anderson couldn't run Tuesday and there was a mystery about his 40-yard dash. When Anderson ripped off a 4.72 in the 40 early in the timing session, Washburn knew his thoughts were on target.

It would have been nice to get another first-round gem, perhaps as important to the Tennessee defense as Vince Young was to the offense last year.

"What did Vince do for us?" Washburn said. "All he did was save all of our jobs. We were 0-5 when we put him out there and he won us a bunch of games. He's something."

That's what everyone was saying about Jamaal Anderson on Tuesday. All along, Jim Washburn was reading the right signs.

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