Michigan State RB Javon Ringer is a talented, multi-dimensional player, who has the ability to be an every down back. But after he tore the meniscus in his left knee this past season, which required offseason surgery, Ringer had to prove to NFL personnel that he's healthy. In this Scout.com exclusive with Chris Steuber, Ringer talks about his health, longevity and much more.
Chris Steuber: Prior to the 2008 season, you were mostly known as a scat back or a change of pace runner that would keep defenses honest. But this past year, you proved everyone wrong and became the featured back for the Spartans; in doing so, you had a workhorse like 390 carries. How much of an adjustment was that for you?
Javon Ringer: Well, I have to thank God for helping me keep my body together as well as I did and to handle that kind of workload. I have to thank Coach [Mark] Dantonio; he trusted me with the ball in my hands that many times. Each time I got the ball, I just wanted to make sure I did everything I could to help my teammates. In the end, I did get a lot of carries. There were games where I didn't even realize how many carries I had until the end of the game. I think with me carrying the ball that many times, I really showed my durability. With my size, a lot of people think I'm a scat back. I can do that, but this past year I showed that I'm really good between the tackles. I really think this past year helped me out with all the touches I had.
CS: Obviously you'll never get 390 carries in the NFL, but was last year's heavy workload what you wanted, or is it something you accepted?
Ringer: I just accepted it, and yeah I did get a lot of carries last year. But I pretty much didn't carry the ball during my freshman and sophomore years. The first time I got a lot of carries was during my junior year. I've only ran the ball heavily for two years. I think during my freshman year I only had eight to ten carries a game, and during my sophomore year it was a little less than that. That's how I look at it; the fact that I didn't have many carries at the beginning of my career. With all of those carries this past year, I still feel pretty good. I'm relatively young, so I feel like I have a lot left in me.
CS: After losing the first game of the season last year against California, you personally put the team on your back and led them to six consecutive victories. Your production was off the charts, and you were playing strong. But your production suffered after your incredible performance against Michigan. Did you hurt your knee against Michigan, and if so, did your meniscus tear contribute to your lack of production?
Ringer: [Pause]… I'm not really sure, but yeah, sometime during the Michigan game that's when the injury happened. I felt it when I was out there playing, but I still wanted to participate in the game. I wanted to make sure I could still do what I had to do to help my teammates. I really kind of ignored it. It did hurt, and every week I kept playing on it, I made it worse and worse, but I tried to fight through it and deal with it. At first I didn't even know what it was, and I didn't find out that it was a torn meniscus until after our bowl game.
I do feel like it bothered me a little bit, but teams started to stack the box against me between the middle and end of the season. Coach [Dantonio] likes to establish our dominance up front, so we continued to pound and pound and pound. A lot of my success last year had to do with my offensive line. When they're on, I'm on. If things do go well upfront, there's not much I can do, because the offensive line is the No. 1 part of the offense. It's not the running back, quarterback or wide receivers, it's the offensive line. Towards the end of the season, things got a little rough, but I am thankful that my offensive line continued to go out there and work hard.
Despite suffering a torn meniscus, Ringer played through the pain and had a breakout season.
CS: You said that the injury got worse and worse, how much worse did it get from the initial instance that it happened to the end of the season; do you know?
Ringer: [Pause]… Well, yeah, when it first happened it was just a small tear. But as I continued to play on it my knee was getting a little sorer; it would ache a little more. I lost some strength in it, and each week it kept getting lower, lower and lower, so finally during the bowl game it kind of bothered me a little bit. But I just thank God that I was able to have my surgery in California. The rehab went really well, and I think I was able to show how well it went at the Combine, and show more of it at my Pro Day.
CS: I know that you weren't completely healthy at the Scouting Combine, but you still participated. Even though you were still hurting, how was your experience?
Ringer: The Combine was a really great experience, because I like being around a lot of great running backs. I like talking to them and seeing how everyone's personality is. It was good to talk to a lot of NFL coaches and everything. The one thing that was difficult for me compared to a lot of the other guys is that most of them were training, and I was rehabbing. That was the hardest thing for me to deal with; that other guys were training hard and I was just trying to get healthy. I knew I wasn't completely healthy, but I still wanted to run and show the NFL coaches that I was there to compete. I wanted to show them that I'm not scared of anything, and only being around 75-percent, I still felt I could perform well. I think I did pretty decent at the Combine with my numbers and everything, but they also knew I wasn't myself, and I still did well.
CS: Doing well on the field is what counts, but teams also focus on how you conduct yourself during interviews. What did teams ask you when you met with them at the Combine?
Ringer: A lot of teams ask you the same questions. They want to know about your childhood, your mother, your family, if you have any brothers or sisters, they want to know about high school, how I felt my career went in high school, they want to know about your experience at college, if you've ever been in trouble, any run-ins with the police and they want you to be upfront and honest with them. If you don't tell them the truth, they will find out.
CS: What teams did you interview with at the Combine and was there a team that stood out to you over another?
Ringer: I interviewed with the Chargers, Seahawks, Bills, Buccaneers, Colts, Jets; that's all I can remember right now. There wasn't an interview that stood out to me; I just felt that they all went really well. I was very comfortable with everyone that sat in the room with me. I think they were very impressed with me, especially with me working out not at 100-percent.
CS: Pretend that I'm a personnel member from one of the teams that you met with, but I never had a chance to see you play. If I gave you 20 seconds to describe yourself and your game to me, what would you say?
Ringer: I'd say that I'm a hard working person who loves God and is always ready to go out on the field and help his team. I'm willing to do more for a team than just having the ball in my hands; I feel like I'm a versatile player, and I just don't need the ball in my hands to be productive. I'm a selfless person, and I don't get into trouble, I'm proud to say. I have a clean slate, and I'm definitely going to keep it that way. I think I'm a pretty nice guy, an ambitious guy… yeah, just a nice guy… [Laughs].
CS: How do you assess this year's running back class, and where do you see yourself in the mix?
Ringer: I think I'm one of the best in this class. There are a lot of great running backs this year. There are running backs of all different sizes, speed, agility and quickness. We all can catch. I was watching everyone at the Combine, and we all have quick feet, and I feel that we're all good between the tackles. We all are similar in a lot of ways, but obviously we're different. I feel like any team that drafts any one of the great running backs coming out this year will get a really productive player. And me personally, I feel like I'm one of the best.
CS: If you could compare your game with somebody in the NFL today, who would it be?
Ringer: I'd say Willie Parker.
CS: That's a really good comparison, because you guys have similar attributes. But what sets you apart is your ability as a receiver. Parker isn't asked to participate in the Steelers offense as a receiver too often, but you possess that extra dimension NFL teams desire. With teams asking more and more from running backs, how important is it these days to be as versatile as possible?
Ringer: It's very important. I think any team would want a running back who can do a little more. At my size, I can be a scat back; I'm really good running outside, but I'm also good between the tackles. I take a lot of pride in that. I feel like I run good, crisp routes, and I can catch the ball. Besides doing all of that with the ball in my hands, I feel like I'm a really good pass blocker. You'll find a lot of running backs who can do amazing things with the ball in their hands, but what can you do without the ball? I really take pride in pass blocking as well. I don't always need the ball in my hands, although, with me being a running back, I'll make this clear, I definitely love having the ball. But I also take pride in protecting the quarterback. I'm willing to do anything it takes to help win a game, so it helps to be versatile.
Injuries have played a huge part in Ringer's career, but he's never let them get the best of him.
CS: Playing at a position that is so physically demanding like running back, injuries tend to occur and sometimes you can't prepare for that. During the course of your career, you've suffered multiple injuries to your knees. In high school you tore your ACL; as a sophomore at Michigan State you tore your right MCL; and this past year, you tore your meniscus. Do you worry about your longevity and how your past may catch up with you in the future?
Ringer: No, I don't worry about that at all. I come from a very religious family and I'm a very blessed person. God has helped me overcome all of my knee injuries, and each time I was able to come back a lot better than I was prior to the injury, and I didn't miss a beat. When I tore my ACL in high school, I came back strong and I played a whole lot during my freshman year at Michigan State. The following season, I tore my MCL and missed four games. I didn't have surgery; I just had my knee in a brace for about two weeks. I got out of the brace, rehabbed for about a week and came back and finished the season. The next season, I had a really good junior year. And now, with my torn meniscus, I fought through it and didn't miss a game. And now, I did my rehab and God has blessed me to come back stronger and better than I was before. I'm still not 100-percent right now, but I'm doing tremendously and I'm able to put up some really good numbers. I'm blessed, and whoever drafts me will definitely be getting a blessed individual. I have a lot of faith in God, and he's helped me out tremendously with all of my past injuries.
CS: Nobody knows your game better than you, and at your size speed and quickness is a major factor for your success. Over the years, have you noticed a decrease in your speed from the knee injuries you've endured?
Ringer: No, I haven't noticed.
CS: Do you think you ran faster in high school prior to your ACL injury than you do now?
Ringer: [Pause]… No, I think I'm pretty much the same as I've always been.
CS: At your stature, you have to make sure that you're strong enough to take a consistent pounding week after week. And the thing about you that has always impressed me is your physical condition. Do you ever get confused for an action figure, because you're ripped?
Ringer: [Laughs]… Well, I put in a lot of hard work. Like you just said, at my size I have to make sure my body is as hard as I can get it. With me being a running back; running backs probably take the most contact in a game, besides linemen. I've been working on my body for years, and I've worked hard on my body, because I knew I needed my body to be a certain way in order for me to be successful. I take pride in my body. I have a strong lower body and I need that because I believe that you play the game from the ground up. Without my lower body, it would be rough, especially playing football. I take a lot of pride in keeping my body fit and keep it right so I can go out there and give it my best.
CS: This offseason you haven't been at your best, and it's been a roller coaster ride for the most part. But it got a little better at your Pro Day. How do you feel your Pro Day went overall, and do you think teams were impressed with your performance?
Ringer: It was a fun event. I know a lot of coaches were really impressed with my quickness, change of direction and cutting ability; how I got in and out of my cuts. They really liked that. With me running a 4.42 in the 40, they were really happy, especially with me not being 100-percent. I feel like I did really well with the drills; [Brian] Hoyer was throwing me perfect passes. I don't think Hoyer threw a bad ball the entire day. He threw everything right on the money; nothing but spirals. Hoyer did a tremendous, tremendous job. He's really helped me out a lot. I caught everything that was thrown my way. I was able to show my hands, and I thought my route running was really good. I feel like a lot of coaches were impressed, and overall it went really well. Hopefully one team fell in love with me; I don't need all 32 teams to draft me, I just need one.
CS: Speaking of that one team, how do you envision draft day, and what are your plans?Ringer: I'll be at my house. April 25th isn't just draft day; it's also my mother's birthday. We're having a little get together at my house with friends and family. I'm going to have a good time, be patient and enjoy her birthday. I'll wait and see and pray that I get drafted on her birthday.
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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber's features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.