John Crist: After the tremendous junior season he had for you guys, were you convinced Corey Wootton was going to declare early for the NFL Draft? And if so, would the Northwestern coaching staff have understood and been on board with that decision?
Marty Long: It was a fear of mine that Corey would come out because I thought at that point in time Corey was having a great year, and then he had a really good game in the Alamo Bowl. And we felt like that it was a possibility that he would come out. I know that coach [Pat Fitzgerald] would have been on board with whatever decision Corey would have made, but I do know that his parents wanted him to stay in [school] and finish his education.
JC: Talk about the knee injury itself. How did it happen? Just how severe was it? What kind of an effect did it have on his play this past season?
ML: First, the injury itself, Corey was coming off of the left edge of our defense, and he was moving pretty quickly. He planted with his left foot, and the quarterback was booting back out to the quarterback's right. And at that point, Corey saw him. His upper body wanted to go with the guy, but his lower body didn't. And that's what happened with the ACL. The ACL popped, and Corey was out at that point in time.
I would say that Corey probably had maybe 10 or 15 minutes of time where he felt sorry for himself, and we have a guy that comes in and talks to our players. His name is Chris Skinner, who is a really, really good friend of Corey's who is a paraplegic. Chris was at the game and he kind of wheelchaired over to Corey, and they had a conversation. And the next thing that I know, Corey was on the phone with me saying, "Coach, I'm alright. I'll be alright." And that was the attitude from that point in time, and everything from there was his full focus on returning. I remember talking to Corey at his room that night back at the hotel, and he was all smiles. I mean, that's the type of personality you're dealing with. If something knocks him down, he's not going to stay down.
And he came back his senior year. He came back, and he competed on an injury, I believe it was seven months return, which it's a year-long injury before you're back at 100 percent. I would say that Corey probably played about 80 percent, but his presence on the field still allowed our defense to do the things that we do well on defense. Just having Corey on the field was a plus. I just remember during the season there were some games where he knew that he could not go, and he would trot out on the field to just be there. As his season went along, he got better and better and better, and even when he ran for the pros, he was not 100 percent at that point in time. But he's got this time off and the [mini]camp, and I look forward to seeing some great things out of him.
JC: What were the kinds of things he was doing as a healthy junior that he simply wasn't able to do as a returning-from-injury senior?
ML: He still had a very good get-off, but in the earlier year, it was hair-trigger. I mean, if the ball just flinched, he was off of the ball and he could get in and out of his pass-rush move in a hurry. And the ability to get in and out of that move, he lost some of that because of the knee. You're kind of cautious once you've got your motor up to 100 miles an hour, and then getting out of that, that was the scary part of it for him. But I thought, even though he wasn't able to give us all of that on the field, just his attitude that he brought to the game, that he brought to practice, it kind of was contagious to the team. I thought his leadership just really developed that last year. Guys looked up at him as a guy that always did things right but led by example, but then he became a vocal leader also on our team. And that's what was good because we needed it on defense, and [quarterback Mike] Kafka was the guy on offense that brought it for us, and it was an exciting team to be around.
JC: Bears coach Lovie Smith prefers lighter and quicker defensive linemen, as opposed to bigger and beefier guys. The right end tends to be a speed rusher, while the left end is usually a little sturdier against the run. Is this scheme a good fit for him, and on which side would he be better?
ML: I'm not sure, but I do know [Bears defensive line coach] Eric Washington coached him here, and Eric probably had a little bit to do with him getting there. I think Eric will probably find a place for him. He has the ability. He was as heavy as 282 for me and played as light as 270 and kept all of his speed and quickness. So that's for the Bears to decide. I'm not sure.
JC: Aside from the injury and his struggles coming back from it, can you think of any other reason why he slipped so far in the draft? Just how surprised were you when you found out he lasted all they way until Round 4, when he may have been a first rounder the year before?
ML: Well, the NFL does a lot of work as far as determining where they take their picks. I can't say that I know why he slipped. I'd heard things that he had a second-round grade, but the draft is the draft, alright? I feel that he'll have a lot to bring to the table, and I really look forward to seeing him play the game because I think he's been blessed with some talents and I do know he has a burning desire to play this game. And I believe that we'll see it in the future.
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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
NFL Draft Q&A: DE Corey Wootton
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