TEMPE, Ariz. >> While Trent Steelman was on active duty in the Army, often his thoughts strayed to getting another shot at the NFL.
While Michael Bush and Felix Jones were at home, wondering why they weren’t still in the league, they also focused on one more chance.
On Sunday, all three were chasing the dream again at the first veterans combine.
Which is exactly the idea.
“This group either has outdated or brief or short resumes in the NFL,” said Matt Birk, a Super Bowl-winning center who played 15 NFL seasons and now is the league’s director of football development. “This is an opportunity to bring a large pool of players together for the clubs to evaluate at once. They are fighting for their football lives and will do whatever they can to get into a camp.”
For Steelman, that means changing positions. He was a quarterback at West Point, where they don’t throw the ball. So even though he was facing two years in the service, Steelman found time to work on his game — as a receiver.
Although he dropped one pass during the combine, he looked natural on the other end of throws. Considering he hadn’t played in anything more competitive than flag football while stationed in Savannah, Georgia, Steelman looked like he belonged on this hot, sunny day.
“I wouldn’t trade my time in the Army for anything else,” said Steelman, who attended a mini-camp with the Ravens in 2013. “It taught me to interact with teammates, with the different type of cultures and it’s that way in sports, with the different cultures and sportsmen. I put that to work when I am with these guys, too.”
All the while adjusting to a new position.
“It’s like the Julian Edelman path,” he said. “He did the same, played quarterback in college and making that transition. There’s not much call for a 6-foot, triple-option quarterback in the NFL.”
There’s plenty of call for a swift running back with receiving and kick return skills. Jones, the Cowboys’ first-rounder in 2008 (22nd overall) spent five seasons in Dallas, leading the NFL with a 5.9-yard rushing average in his second season. But he rarely was the team’s first consideration as a rusher. After spending 2013 with Pittsburgh, Jones was out of football last year.
The 27-year-old Jones showed some burst at the combine, and hoped it was noticed.
“Every veteran wants another opportunity to showcase what he can do,” he said. “I can bring speed, quickness and excitement. I’m a special teams player, I can catch the ball out of the backfield, I can even play in the slot if they want me to do it. Whatever it takes.”
Jones was stunned he didn’t hook up with anyone in 2014, and he had no intention of getting used to the feeling of idleness.
“It’s tough to leave from a game or from anything you want to be a part of,” he said. “It’s tough watching and knowing you can still play with these guys that are out there.”
Bush, a 30-year-old running back and six-year vet who last played in the league with Chicago in 2013, prepped hard for the combine. He said he practiced all kinds of drills, only to find few of them were being used Sunday.
Still, he seemed relieved to learn the three-cone drill and some others were dropped.
But when told he ran a slow 4.91 in the 40, Bush was almost despondent.
“There goes my career,” the usually jovial Bush said, a frown rapidly crossing his face. “It hurts.”
But, like the other 104 guys on hand, Bush has no intention of giving up the pursuit.
“Put it like this: You sign me, you’re going to get an angry, ticked-off football player who wants some respect,” he added.
Unlike most of the others, Bush had never been through a combine. He broke his leg coming out of college at Louisville and missed the draft-eligible sessions in Indianapolis.
And while happy for the chance to display his skills before scouts from all 32 clubs, Bush also was a bit irritated it had come to this.
“I’m still shocked I had to come and do this with all the film out there,” he said. “But it’s part of the process. I gave it my all; if it does not work out, it does not work out.
“Yeah, this shows people I am still around. Put me in pads. I always get the job done.”