COLUMBUS — Tracy Sprinkle was eager to show his skills to the 32 NFL teams at Ohio State’s pro day Thursday.
Then he found himself with one extremely famous, intense and interested observer.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick stood just feet from the scripted defensive line drills — well in front of any other onlooker — then led the four linemen, including Elyria High School graduate Sprinkle, to the other end of the field for extra work.
Belichick explained exactly how he wanted them to hit the blocking dummies and talked to Sprinkle about the proper hand placement.
“It’s a blessing. That’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, so to be out there working with him to kind of walk you along,” Sprinkle said. “He’s a very cool guy, very laid-back, chill guy, but he can get after it.”
Sprinkle (6-foot-3, 293 pounds) wasn’t invited to the scouting combine, so he’s playing a bit of catch-up as he tries to catch the eyes of NFL teams and impress one enough to get drafted in late April. He’s been training the last couple of months in Florida for the pro day and capitalized on the opportunity.
He led the Buckeyes on the bench press with 33 repetitions of 225 pounds, was told he got under five seconds for the 40-yard dash and showed impressive quickness in the drills.
“Kind of got a little hurt on my last 40, but I still fought through it and was able to show how versatile I was,” he said. “All I’ve been doing is training for this day. I feel like I went out there and proved myself a little bit today.”
Strength coach Mickey Marotti cheered on all his pupils but said Sprinkle stood out.
“Really did a great job today, ran great, did great in the weight room, looked really good in drills,” he said. “So hopefully he’ll get an opportunity, which I think he will.”
Belichick, who’s won a record five Super Bowls with New England, reunited with new Lions coach and former Patriots coordinator Matt Patricia for the extra lineman work. They tested quickness, agility, flexibility, technique and adaptability.
Patricia even held the blocking dummies while Belichick stood behind judging.
“It was some different drills that we haven’t done before,” Sprinkle said. “He was just trying to focus on our eye discipline and fitting different guys, moving different ways and see how we can work with that.”
The final exercise was running figure-8s around oversized hoops while bending to pick up and put down tennis balls. Belichick yelled, “Turn. Accelerate. Finish.”
Marotti said the Buckeyes responded.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, Coach Belichick. We’ve got to go. It doesn’t matter how tired we are. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to go,’” he said. “It was good.”
Sprinkle credits coach Urban Meyer, defensive line coach Larry Johnson and the reputation of the Ohio State program for drawing coaches like Belichick to pro day. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer also attended.
“Coach Johnson, Coach Meyer, those guys, they just attract guys like Bill Belichick and create players like us,” Sprinkle said. “And building us up to be able to go out there and perform in front of them, it just shows the Ohio State program.”
Sprinkle said he talked to representatives from the Eagles, Colts and Broncos and hopes to get called for some private workouts.
“A couple teams liked me and all you need is one team,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Sprinkle’s no stranger to adversity, including a torn right patellar tendon in the 2016 opener, so he didn’t sulk when he was the only one of 12 nonreturning Ohio State starters not invited to the combine. He simply shifted his focus to the pro day.
“It’s a blessing. I feel like it’s kind of the same environment, the same type of thing,” he said. “Still having all the top coaches, GMs, I feel like it’s kind of the same thing.
“I feel like every time I step on the field I want to prove something. So today was just another day to top off my Ohio State career to prove something.”
Sprinkle played nose guard for the Buckeyes but will probably shift to tackle in a 4-3 scheme or end in a 3-4. He was already amped up to prove himself to the NFL before Belichick’s attention made the day even more special.
“I would call it more excited than nervous because I know how hard I prepared and how hard I trained,” he said. “So I knew I’d be ready for it.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.