Transitioning to life in the NFL is difficult for any rookie, even those who come from glorified college conferences such as the SEC or the ACC. Like going from the highway to a NASCAR superspeedway, things are faster, crazier and much harder as a professional.
For Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Cominsky, that transition might as well be three-fold. A former option quarterback coming out of high school, Cominsky received just one scholarship offer – from the University of Charleston.
When he arrived at the Division II school, weighing all of 215 pounds, Cominsky was in for a bit of a shock.
"Charleston was my only offer, and when I showed Day 1 of orientation it said defensive line across my book that they gave me," Cominsky told reporters Friday after his first rookie minicamp practice at the team's practice facilities in Flowery Branch. "There wasn't really much of a choice of maybe I could play receiver or maybe I could play linebacker. It was what they decided on Day 1, and here I am now."
After spending a redshirt season working with the scout team and eating every Little Caesars pizza he could find, Cominsky improved in each of the four years he played for Charleston. That work culminated in Cominsky, who was 6-foot-5 and 286 pounds by this point, earning Mountain East Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2018.
That climb certainly looked as hard and challenging for Cominsky, the college freshman, as the current one he faces as a rookie in the NFL. But his past success is reason to believe in Cominsky's future. On just his first day, he sees the benefit of working on his craft with a professional organization.
"Charleston was an awesome place, obviously, but you're limited with your resources and all the funding," he told AtlantaFalcons.com. "You come out here and even some of the bags I got to work with was incredible … Just the resources, (that) was my first impression of it being a little bit better."
Cominsky certainly looks the part of an NFL player. Possessing broad shoulders, long arms and a tall frame, it would be easy to confuse him with a college star or even a pro wrestler. But size doesn't mean much without the substance behind it.
As he was learning the position, Cominsky tried to learn from those he enjoyed watching on television. It was during this time that he gained admiration for Falcons coach Dan Quinn, and he calls it "a dream come true" to get to work so closely with him. But the player he kept a close eye on to learn technique at his position was none other than Houston Texans All-Pro J.J. Watt.
"He's an incredible player; he's tall, long-frame," Cominsky said. "I feel like what he's able to is what I'm able to do. If I can push myself, I can learn to do some of the things that he does and have the skillset he has."
Watt, who checked in at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds at the NFL combine, put together one of the best workouts in recent history. Cominsky, who was four pounds lighter, ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.69 seconds) compared to Watt (4.84 seconds) and had respectable testing numbers in his own right.
From a mindset standpoint, Cominsky cited Ray Lewis as a role model, saying he admires the relentless effort the Hall of Fame linebacker gave on every single play.
Those are two great players for Cominsky to idolize, but his own journey has just begun. In his first rookie minicamp practice, the Falcons used Cominsky as a defensive end in their base package and slid him inside in their nickel sets. He proved to be effective in a similar role while at Charleston, recording 140 tackles, 39.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks in his final two seasons.
"I do rush the passer on third down a little bit better when I'm on the inside. So, in the nickel packages you can see that they put me down as a defensive tackle, lined up over the center and the guard. I seem to give those guys a little bit of a fit because of my athleticism."
With one rookie minicamp practice under his belt, Cominsky has taken the first step on his NFL path. As a fourth-round draft pick, Cominsky has a challenge ahead of him. In a time full of brand-new experiences, that part, at least, is familiar.