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Leftovers & Links: Some Notre Dame football workouts are more elective than others

Jalen Elliott combine

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 01: Defensive back Jalen Elliott of Notre Dame runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 29, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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The NFL draft is still scheduled for two weeks from now, and as Roger Goodell will most likely stubbornly stick to that timeline, a few former Notre Dame players needed to find a way to impress front offices from a socially-acceptable distance. Defensive end Julian Okwara, in particular, wanted the NFL to know he is not only healthy (November, broken leg) but also faster than realized.

He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash a year ago, per an interview with NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth in the series premiere of “Distanced Training,” so Okwara was hoping to crack 4.5 seconds and perhaps move his way up a few draft boards.

Biding his time in South Bend — having returned for a pro day scheduled for this coming Saturday, one that is now obviously canceled — Okwara joined former teammates cornerback Donte Vaughn and safety Jalen Elliott in a bare-bones combine over the weekend. For the most part, it was done in as responsible a manner as possible.

Okwara did not reach his past displays of speed, logging a 4.60 while Elliott improved on his 4.80 showing at the combine by dropping to a 4.50, but Okwara did show he is healthy and moving well, all the same. Vaughn ran a 4.56, though his chances of getting drafted remain slim.

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Goodell’s insistence on sticking with the draft on April 23-25 has been met by frustration from the league’s front offices, in part because they do not want to force prospects into holding these types of combines when they should be staying home. Even if holding the workout without other teammates, conceivably with the physical contact coming against only those within an isolation cell, it is an event that does not need to be occurring.

In that respect, the combines were just like all sports, elective. (Yes, this runs the risk of undercutting my source of income.) The lack of uproar or protest as all games were postponed or canceled last month underscored that reality. For many of us, they are the preferred focus of our dispensable energy, but they are elective, nonetheless.

For Okwara, Elliott and Kareem, they are a bit less elective at the moment, especially with Goodell sticking to his scheduling guns. The starts of their professional careers hinge on the draft. Giving front offices reason to believe in them right now is a priority for them. It is hard to begrudge their decisions, even if Elliott’s work included a football. Yes, it makes sense for a safety to want to work in coverage, but it goes against explicit recommendations these days.

For current Notre Dame players, continued public workouts go against every piece of respectable logic. All 130 Division I college football rosters are at home; not getting in work right now is not an inherent competitive disadvantage. Their careers do not hinge on making catches these next few weeks.

And yet …

It’s an impressive catch, notable since Kyren Williams was yanked from his first collegiate action after a drop in the 2019 opener. At a position with playing time available and the pecking order in flux, the sophomore running back has every motivation to work on his skill set.

But there is a reason basketball hoops have been removed from backboards across the country. Passing a ball back-and-forth is not advisable with a highly-contagious pandemic having changed all social norms. Per Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman, this workout was before St. Louis closed parks Friday, but social distancing has been the societal norm for 26 days now. Everyone should be smarter than this.

To be clear, this folly undoubtedly extends past Notre Dame’s roster; it is just the group that crosses my eyes most often, and thus the group that currently aggravates me the most.

If these players want to make catches that matter, they need to stay home.

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