TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Cyrus Kouandjio’s stock took a significant slide at the NFL combine in Indianapolis last month. The former Alabama offensive tackle didn’t perform as well as he would have liked, and then, to make matters worse, he received a disturbing phone call the night before he was set to leave. Suddenly his health was in question.
A report from NFL Network circulated during the combine saying that several teams failed Kouandjio on his physical. His knee, which hadn’t been an obvious concern during his last two seasons at Alabama, was being described as “arthritic,” according to the report. In a draft process during which every ligament and abrasion is scrutinized, the news was potentially devastating -- so much so that Dr. James Andrews felt compelled to send a detailed report he described to CBSSports.com as Kouandjio's "true medical history” in which he said he “put out fires that aren’t even justified.”
Kouandjio was baffled.
“After the combine that night, my agent called me and said, ‘Hey, is there something wrong with your knee?’ I was completely confused. I said, ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with my knee,’” Kouandjio said at Alabama’s pro day Wednesday afternoon. “I thought he was joking. But he kept asking. I was surprised. I was like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with my knee. Is there a rumor out there?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, a couple of media things came out that there was something wrong with your knee.’
“It was interesting, but I never worried about it because I know and the film will tell you there’s nothing wrong with my knee.”
Kouandjio sustained a season-ending knee injury eight games into his freshman season at Alabama. The No. 1-ranked offensive tackle coming out of high school in 2011 made an apparent full recovery, starting every game as a sophomore and junior. Though he did play somewhat shakily in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma, Kouandjio nonetheless decided to turn pro on the basis of a first-round draft grade.
The report about his knee sent red flags up as the draft looms in early May. But neither Kouandjio nor his agent were ever told he’d failed a physical. Kouandjio said it was stuff that “you guys wrote,” referring to the media.
Alabama coach Nick Saban echoed Kouandjio's statement. Saban lectured the media on inaccurate reporting and that he “can’t find anybody that failed the guy on a physical.”
“I’m not a doctor, but Cyrus played every game since he’s been here since he’s been back [from injury],” Saban said. “Never missed any time, never missed practice. You look at history being the best indicator of what the future is going to bring, he’s been able to perform extremely well, so that’s all I can go on -- my experience with him. It wouldn’t be a concern for me because I have watched the guy perform after his injury very effectively.”
Kouandjio, for his part, isn’t giving in to the potential distraction. Though he didn’t run the 40-yard dash at Alabama’s first pro day, he said it felt good to be out there and show how athletic he really is. While he was potentially nervous at the combine, he felt right at home in Tuscaloosa.
“I just went out there and did what I was born to do,” he said.
Kouandjio said he measured in at 6-foot-7 and 311 pounds, down 11 pounds from when he was weighed at the combine. It translated to the drills, he said.
“I felt lighter on my feet,” he said. “I wake up feeling lighter on my feet.”
Kouandjio will do more at Alabama’s next pro day in early April, but for now he’s pleased with his progress. He said he feels like he should be considered the top offensive tackle in the draft but that he’s not worried about where he’s taken. As with the medical reports, he’s willing to let the chips fall where they may and prove his value when he does get to the next level.
“I’m not the type of guy to get frustrated over matters that are out of my control,” he said. “All of these coaches know that there’s nothing wrong with my knee. I played two years. The fourth month after my knee surgery, I was out there playing until now. I didn’t miss a practice. I haven’t missed a game because of my knee. All the guys out here, all the coaches, know that. It didn’t bother me one bit.”
The team that drafts Kouandjio will be getting a player with high expectations for himself.
“I have personal goals,” he said. “I want to be known as an offensive tackle in the league that you can stick him there on the left side and he’ll block the guy, no matter who it is and no matter what week it is, and the quarterback never has to worry about that side. That’s my goal.”