INDIANAPOLIS — Before Jack Mewhort and Taylor Lewan became two of the top offensive line prospects at this week’s NFL scouting combine, they did not much care for the other.
Mewhort played for Ohio State and Lewan for Michigan, and, really, that was enough. Except that wasn’t the half of it. Lewan played an Oscar-worthy villain. He had the bad-boy bluster, refused to shake hands with Mewhort and the rest of Ohio State’s captains at midfield before the Buckeyes’ win in Ann Arbor last year, and afterward said of OSU, “That’s not the No. 3 team in the country.”
Asked if he thought Lewan was — to put it kindly — a jerk, Mewhort smiled.
“Yeah, well, Taylor’s got that on-field persona,” he said on Thursday. “He’s like a pro wrestler.”
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As it turns out, though, the rivals aren’t so dissimilar. In fact, while Mewhort won’t concede this on camera or in polite company, he and Lewan are now — gasp — friends.
The two tackles have spent the past six weeks training together at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., all the while developing a deep respect for the other.
“It’s over now,” Lewan said of the rivalry. “I’ll always be a Michigan man, I’ll always believe in Michigan when Michigan plays Ohio. I’ll always call them Ohio. I’ll never call them that other word.
“But Jack’s a great guy, [former OSU linebacker] Ryan Shazier’s a great guy, Michigan State’s [Isaiah Lewis] — you’ve all seen me grab his facemask — we’re great friends now. We’ve all worked together. It’s amazing how things change when you’re all working toward the same goal. It’s amazing how people aren’t really who they seem like on the football field.”
For Mewhort and Lewan, their shared NFL dreams have picked up urgency this week in Indianapolis, a four-day carnival where 335 of the top draft-eligible players are ogled and psychoanalyzed by league executives, scouts, and doctors.
A reported 1,900 NFL personnel — about 60 for each of the 32 teams — are in town to inspect their potential future investments. On Thursday, offensive line prospects awoke at 4 a.m. to report to Lucas Oil Stadium for a speed-dating blitz of 15-minute interviews with interested teams — the strangest question: Three players reported being given a minute to come up with as many uses for a paper clip as possible — and medical exams. Mewhort and Lewan were looked over by doctors from every team.
They will continue with a battery of strength and agility tests today and Saturday.
Mewhort is widely seen as a future NFL starter, with NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock forecasting the St. John’s Jesuit graduate to be selected in the second round of the May draft. One coveted strength is his versatility, especially with some teams counting only seven offensive linemen on their 53-man roster. He played center at St. John’s Jesuit, then guard at Ohio State before shifting to left tackle for his final two seasons.
Mewhort says he does not have a preferred position.
“It’s like asking a parent to pick a kid,” he said. “I truly believe I can thrive at every position on the offensive line. I know that sounds crazy. I know you guys are thinking in your mind you have a favorite position, but it really doesn't matter.”
Lewan, meanwhile, is forecast as a potential top-10 pick — one of the draft’s top three tackles along with Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Auburn’s Greg Robinson — despite increasing questions about his character. He spent much of Thursday mounting a defense, denying reported accusations that he intimidated a woman who accused recently expelled ex-Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons of sexual assault in 2009 and that he fought a Buckeye fan after the UM-OSU game in November.
“It kills me inside,” Lewan said. “It probably kills my mother, too. It hurts definitely, because of the player I am on the field, it’s probably really easy to assume that stuff about me. But that's not who I am at all.”
Mewhort has now seen the other side, too, and it is not what he expected. While he is not about to let the handshake snub slide — “He took that personal,” Lewan said, laughing — Mewhort concedes his former adversary is a “good dude.”
“He’s a good competitor, and it’s been good to have him down there [in Florida] to match myself against and see where I measure up,” Mewhort said.
“But I won’t say we’re buddies on camera.”