Gerald Cadogan knew the race wasn't his forte.
But then again, not many future NFL offensive linemen are captains on the varsity swimming team in the first place.
So when one of the relay sprinters on the Portsmouth (Ohio) High School swimming team went down with an injury, Cadogan stepped in. It would have been easy for the senior to blow it off – for senioritis and potential embarrassment alone.
But there was Cadogan at the starter's block, goggles ‘n all.
"I could have allowed the team to scratch or just said I wasn't going to do this event," Cadogan said, "but I needed to step up and be focused and show that work ethic."
As April 25 nears, Cadogan hopes this work ethic helps distinguish himself from a stacked offensive tackle class. Whereas Alabama's Andre Smith – once considered a possible first overall pick – ducked out of the NFL Combine, Cadogan turned heads.
The 6-foot-5, 309-pound Penn State ran the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds, good for fourth among all offensive linemen. Cadogan said he talked to Green Bay Packers' offensive line coach James Campen about the importance of versatility in Indianapolis. Since the Packers only travel seven linemen, double-duty is a prerequisite. Outside of the five starters, one backup must be able to swing at center and guard and the other at guard and tackle.
Cadogan started at both guard and tackle through his tenure at PSU.
"To be able to go there in a split-second and make all the adjustments at tackle and then go in at guard and make those same adjustments is important," Cadogan said.
But really, switching from guard to tackle isn't a quantum leap for Cadogan. The overused term "versatility" (which you'll probably hear from talking heads in every draft preview segment for the next month and a half) only begins to define Cadogan.
Gerald Cadogan started every game at tackle the last two seasons at Penn State.
Cadogan is an avid musician – he has put out two individual gospel albums. As part of the Sunday Praise singing group at PSU, Cadogan also sang the national anthem for Barack Obama's rally at State College during the presidential campaign.
Now there's a combination: Lineman, Swimmer, Musician. The Packers aren't just inheriting a rotational lineman if they take Cadogan.
"One of the songs I wrote is called a ‘New Day,'" Cadogan said. "It's basically about God's forgiveness. Things from yesterday don't matter. God's giving you the blessing of having a new day. Take advantage of it. There are different songs about different parts of my life. There's a song called ‘Gotta have you,' about if I didn't have anything at all except God, that's enough."
Still, in an age where scouts nitpick any possible red flag, Cadogan's love for music has some questioning his dedication on the gridiron. One draft magazine said he isn't "a nail-eater – has diverse interests and passion for the game has been questioned," under its "Downside" section.
Right. "Diverse interests" really seemed hamper Kurt Warner's career. Not sure how expressing one's self through God and music could ever be construed as a negative. But anyways…
Contrary to the quick-trigger criticism, music and football is not a balancing act for Cadogan. Pads first, microphone second for those counting.
"I definitely prioritize," Cadogan said. "(Music) will always be there. Basically, my focus and my passion right now is football. Every moment I have is showing that I can compete against everybody else and showing how bad I really want this. Once things settle down, I'll have more opportunities to get back into music. But as for now, it's football all the way."
Cadogan is the 14th ranked offensive tackle on Scout.com's draft rankings and the 10th best on DraftCountdown.com. Chipping away into the upper tier of tackles is difficult this season. Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Michael Oher and Andre Smith could all be drafted in the Top 15. Still, the premium on blindside protection has never been higher in the NFL – remember the slew of tackles overreached in last year's draft (five in the first round).
In Green Bay, Mark Tauscher's status remains in doubt and Chad Clifton isn't getting any younger. The Packers will almost certainly draft an offensive tackle with an early pick. Some of the top four are bound to slip to No. 9 overall – and also it was reported Wednesday that the Packers had set up a meeting with Andre Smith.
But if Thompson chooses to wait at tackle, Cadogan could be a steal in the third or fourth round. Scout.com draft expert Chris Steuber said Cadogan's standout performance in Indy bumped him up charts everywhere.
"He has a great frame, but has to add more bulk," Steuber said. "He has quick feet and a strong base; tremendous leg drive. He moves well laterally and uses his length to his advantage. He's a great athlete and a hard worker. He plays with a nasty streak, but can be overwhelmed by strong speed rushers. He tends to play off balance and struggles to keep defenders in front of him when they transition inside."
Cadogan helped anchor Penn State's upstart offense in 2008. The Nittany Lions led the Big 10 – by far – in points per game (38.9) and were ranked second in rush offense (205 yards per game). The unit churned out 449 yards of offense per game, which was best in the Big 10.
Cadogan showed great versatility at PSU, starting at guard his sophomore year.
Cadogan credits former PSU tackle Levi Brown for showing him the ropes. He played apprentice behind Brown for one year, started alongside him at guard as a sophomore and then succeeded him at left tackle as a junior and senior – starting every game. Brown, who was selected fifth overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2007 Draft, served a key role in jumpstarting Cadogan's career.
"He was a great role model for me," Cadogan said. "He showed me what it takes to be a competitor and a dominating force on the field."
Teams looking for a gem beyond the Big Four may find an instant starter on Day 2 in Cadogan. Then again, he still has time to fly up the charts. Cadogan just got back from Athletics Performance Inc. in Pensacola, Fla. and is working with a personal trainer to gear up for Penn State's Pro Day on March 18.
He knows what he's up against. Smith, Oher and Monroe are the brand names. He's more Sam's Club. For now.
"There are so many good offensive linemen in this draft class," Cadogan said. "I just need to prove I'm athletic and strong enough to compete. I want to show people my work ethic, my ability to compete and the drive that I have."
Cadogan will always have that swimming edge. A captain on Portsmouth's team, Cadogan learned how to temper his breathing in the aquatic sport. Anybody who watches those token camera shots of NFL offensive linemen huffing and puffing like blowfish in the fourth quarter realizes just how important endurance is.
Cadogan's body is hardly Phelpsian – "I'm not a swimmer, you can look and tell," he laughs. But through all those laps in the pool and Joe Paterno's sprint-heavy training program at Penn State, Cadogan laid a stamina foundation that'll last a lifetime.
"In a land sport when you're conditioning you're able to breathe air that's readily available," he said. "But in swimming, your head's under water and you're timing your stroke. When you can't breathe under water, your stroke goes to shambles."
And when you don't have a left tackle sealing the back side, so does your passing game. For the first time this decade, the Packers' blindside may begin reconstruction. Keep an eye on Gerald Cadogan.