By Beau Wicker For the Kokomo Tribune
---- — NFL training camps are opening up around the country this week. Lewis Cass product Kitt O’Brien hopes to land in one soon.
O’Brien is currently finishing up a season playing for the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League. He thinks that experience is helping him improve his chances for a shot on an NFL team as an interior offensive lineman.
“When I first got here, I didn’t know what to expect having always played outdoors football. I had never really seen a game,” he said of the AFL. “There’s only three down linemen. It’s all one-on-one blocking, so that’ll help me a lot going forward pass blocking one-on-one.”
O’Brien, who went undrafted out of Ball State, participated in the New York Giants’ rookie minicamp in May. So if he does end up landing on an NFL squad this year, the Giants could be the team.
“That’s the goal right now,” O’Brien said of landing on an NFL roster. “I’m pretty high the Giants’ call list. I’m their 1 or 2 guy. The problem was at the minicamp they just didn’t take any offensive linemen.
“The Giants’ offensive line coach, Pat Flaherty, told me if a guy goes down on the interior line, I’ll be one of the first calls they make. That was encouraging to hear. I’m in their system; they know who I am.”
O’Brien, who’s listed at 6-foot-5, 325 pounds for the Gladiators, thought he matched up well at the Giants’ rookie minicamp.
“When I got out there I thought it was going to be a giant step up. I didn’t go against the first-team guys, they weren’t there at the mini-camp, but there wasn’t much difference between me and their No. 1 draft pick [offensive lineman Justin Pugh of Syracuse],” O’Brien said. “We’re the same weight. I just have to play as fast as I can. Ten minutes after learning plays in the film room we went out and ran them. I’m physically capable strength-wise. There’s just a lot of information to download and regurgitate on the field like that, knowing all the calls and protections and getting all of the terminology down.
“It was eye-opening. It was like college, but it was different in that they will take time to correct you, they’re just not happy when they correct you.”
O’Brien played at center at the rookie minicamp. At Ball State he played mostly at guard. He started in 36 games in his four-year career as a Cardinal.
He joined the Gladiators about midway through their season. He said he quickly worked his way into a starting role and that he sometimes goes up against players with NFL experience.
“I came into a good situation in Cleveland,” he said. “I’ve progressively gotten better every week. I’ve corrected small mistakes every week, small technique things I’m learning here that will translate to the outdoors game. I’m putting good film together against good competition.”
The Gladiators are 4-13 but have won two of their last three. They conclude their season Saturday night at the Utah Blaze.
O’Brien thought he might get drafted in the sixth or seventh round last April.
“The day that Round 5 started, Philadelphia called my agent and said they were going to take me in the sixth round. They called back three picks before the pick and said I ended up losing out in the war room and they ended up taking another guard,” he said. “So I was disappointed not getting drafted. But there are disappointments in life and that made me work that much harder and be that much hungrier. I came to Cleveland with a chip on my shoulder. I’m going up against good competition. I want to prove that I’m that type of player. I love the game too much to not be out there.
“If I don’t get in a camp, my goal is to develop as a player in the winter and get with an NFL team for workouts at an OTA camp and try to make a team there.”
O’Brien was an all-state performer at Cass, where he helped lead the Kings to a Class 2A state runner-up finish in 2008.