INDIANAPOLIS – The growth has been undeniable, and on occurred on two continents and two fronts.
From a purely physical standpoint, consider Bernhard Raimann at the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie minicamp last weekend.
“I’m probably 306, 310,’’ the team’s 3rd-round pick offered.
He first stepped foot on U.S. soil in 2015 as a foreign exchange student – from Steinbrunn, Austria to Delton, Mich. – as a 6-6, 217-pounder with wide eyes and lofty goals.
NFL, here I come.
But first, the growth, which was enhanced as Raimann embraced the American cuisine at his disposal, first at Delton-Kellogg H.S. and then at Central Michigan.
“I’ve been enjoying food over here,’’ he said with a sheepish smile. “And then you get to college and you enjoy the cafeteria a little bit more.’’
From 217, the scales registered a steady climb with the Chippewas: 240 as a freshman, 245 as a sophomore, 290 as a junior, 305 as a senior.
Putting on weight wasn’t unusual. He was an active, growing boy.
But that led to a constant positional transition in football: a receiver at Delton-Kellogg, who was recruited as a tight end at Central Michigan, who was moved to left tackle for his final two seasons because, well, the Chippewas were woefully thin at the position, no pun intended.
In his first two seasons and 24 games at Central Michigan: 20 receptions for 164 yards.
“Two years ago in the spring of 2020 my coaches at Central Michigan approached me to move from tight end to tackle because we were short at tackle,’’ Raimann said. “I obviously was a little hesitant at first. I was like, ‘Oh wow, is that going to interfere with my dream of playing the in the NFL?’
“It was going on a whole new track, but we were short at the position and there really wasn’t much choice. I was going to give it up for the team and win a MAC championship.
“At the end of the day it really worked out for the team and ultimately for me as well.’’
Central Michigan finished 9-4 last season and defeated Washington State in the Sun Bowl, and along the way, Raimann established himself as one of the best at his position.
Several mock drafts projected him as a late-first/early-second round prospect, but he lasted into round 3 where the Colts grabbed him with the 77th overall selection. He was the eighth offensive tackle taken.
That might have been a reflection of Raimann having less-than-ideal arm length for a tackle: 32 7/8. The top two tackles off the board – North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu (6th to Carolina) and Alabama’s Evan Neal (7th to the New York Giants – have 34-inch arms. Former-long time Colts’ left tackle Anthony Castonzo had 34 3/8-inch arms.
Size, though, isn’t always a red flag. Braden Smith, a 2018 2nd-round pick by the Colts, has 32.2-inch arms, and has developed into one of the NFL’s top right tackles.
The apparent hesitancy of teams to invest a higher draft pick in Raimann probably had had more to do with his lack of experience at tackle: two years and 18 games. Total. He also turns 25 in September.
General manager Chris Ballard and his scouting staff looked past the experience/age factors. They saw an athletic tackle who has barely scratched the surface on what he could be.
“We think he has starter talent,’’ Ballard said.
Raimann was one of the most gifted tackles at the NFL Scouting Combine. He ranked 1st in the bench press (30 reps of 225 pounds) and broad jump (9 foot, 9 inches), 2nd with a 30.5 vertical and 10th with a 5.05 in the 40-yard dash.
And what cannot be overstated: this is Raimann’s third year at tackle.
At rookie minicamp, he worked at left tackle and initially that’s where most of his offseason work, perhaps even training camp work, should come.
“I think that helps everybody, including the rookie’s development,’’ said offensive line coach Chris Strausser.
However, Ballard said the Colts will play their best five linemen when the season opens Sept. 11 at Houston, and that could mean yet another position switch for Raimann. Veteran Matt Pryor is considered the starting left tackle following Eric Fisher’s departure. If he secures that spot during training camp, no one should be surprised if the Colts move Raimann to right guard and have him compete with Danny Pinter.
As his football past attests, Raimann is willing – and able – to do whatever is asked of him.
“I’m just trying to get better every single day and take in as much as I can,’’ he said. “I’m trying to pick up as many coaching points from obviously the coaches here as well as the players, the vets coming back.
“Comparing myself to them, I’m on the very bottom.’’
The starting point
Participating in the Colts’ rookie minicamp is the next step in a journey Raimann hopes leads to a long, distinguished NFL career.
It’s a dream he first envisioned as a youngster in Steinbrunn, Austria.
Raimann spent most of his early years dabbling in the various European sports: soccer, skiing, snowboarding. Finally, at age 14, football hit his radar. American football.
“I ended up loving it,’’ he said. “I learned the game as I played it.’’
His development came with the Vienna Vikings, an American football club. He advanced through the various age groups: under-14, under-16, under-18, the adults league.
After spending his junior year at Delton-Kellogg in Michigan, he returned to Austria for his senior year and participation in the adults-level league.
“I got to play with a couple of really great guys,’’ he said. “Some of them were as old as my dad.
“I think it really prepared me for playing in college and ultimately playing here.’’
Raimann exposed himself to as much American football as possible. He was at Wembley Stadium in September 2013 for the Minnesota Vikings-Pittsburgh Steelers game, and attended several Central Michigan and Western Michigan games during his time in the U.S. as an exchange student. He also took in the Oregon-Michigan State game in East Lansing.
He was a big fan of “Friday Night Lights’’ and envisioned himself playing in such a football-crazed environment.
That portion of his dream was realized at Delton-Kellogg. Friday nights. Under the lights.
“We made it to the playoffs in like the first time in 10 years for the high school,’’ Raimann said. “The whole town went crazy. It was super cool.’’
As he grew into his body and on the football field, the dream kept motivating him.
When Raimann was 14, the NFL “kinda of seemed out of reach. My dream was the NFL, but it was far, far away. So it was just to play high school football, because that seemed super cool at that time.
“I get to college and I’m like, ‘This is cool, but I just want to take it all the way now.’ That’s what I did and now I’m just taking it day-by-day until I reach my goal of becoming All-Pro and win a couple of rings and have a long career.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.