COMMENTARY | Keith Nichol's approach to free agency is rather simple. Simple, but smart.
"It's all about being patient and jumping on those opportunities when I get them," said the former Michigan State Spartans wide receiver who went undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Nichol was projected to a be a late-round draft pick. But he slipped through for one reason or another. However, there are plenty of drafted players who are cut in rookie camp -- which Nichol attended last week with the Washington Redskins -- and being invited essentially put him on a level playing field with others.
It was different, sure. But not all that different from what Nichol went through in college. He just went head-to-head with bigger and faster players.
"Football is still football at the end of the day," Nichol said. "It's about going out there and working on your technique. You have to be an elite athlete to make it in the NFL. You have little room for error."
He's right. One missed step, blown route or dropped ball could result in being cut. But Nichol held his own during the three-day, five-practice schedule, catching balls from one quarterback he was more than familiar with, former Spartans teammate Kirk Cousins, and one whom he grew to know, Baylor's Robert Griffin III.
"I felt really good," Nichol said. "You build your confidence when you go against and play with guys who were drafted."
Nichol feels he did particularly well when put against Washington's existing receivers and defensive backs. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he had a distinct height and weight advantage over most.
"It felt good to go out there and prove that you do belong there," said Nichol, who played just two years at receiver during his college career. "It's one thing you think about, 'How do I stack up against the best of the best?' It felt good to go out there and compete."
Feeling good was part of the overall experience, says Nichol, who was "comfortable" while in the D.C. area. Of course, having Cousins around helped. That was "one of, but not the primary reason" Nichol chose to accept Washington's invitation. Having another Michigan native, Redskins quarterback coach Matt LaFleur, in the mix was an added bonus, too.
Nichol exchanged words with LaFleur from time to time, discovering that he played against LaFleur's younger brother in the MHSAA playoffs during his sophomore year at Lowell.
However, Nichol says he realizes that the NFL is a business, and his relationship with LaFleur would "only go so far."
Nichol didn't know it at the time, but his stint at Redskins camp would strengthen his bond with Cousins, whose locker was "shoulder-to-shoulder" with his at Michigan State.
"Rookie mini camp brought us closer together," said Nichol, who caught Cousins' Hail-Mary pass in a win over Wisconsin in October. "We're finally into the NFL stuff after such a long process. We have a certain level of comfort working together at the rookie mini camp. We have a strong relationship. I think it grew there."
Nichol also developed a friendship with Griffin III, who was named Washington's starter Monday. He lives up to the hype, says Nichol -- "RG3" is the real deal. The two sat next to each other during lunches, swapping college stories and sharing "real" non-football conversation. Griffin III recognized Nichol from his famous play that thwarted the Badgers in 2011, and Nichol says his respect for the world-class athlete skyrocketed during camp.
"There's going to be a lot of expectations on him -- how good is his ball?" Nichol said of the Heisman Winner. "They want to know how talented he is. They'll be surprised to know that he throws a very good ball. His football IQ is great and he has a much better ball than some people give him credit for."
All is not finished for Nichol, who had workout invitations from a handful of other NFL teams. He's not yet signed by Washington. Some find out "within a week" if they made it, while it takes longer for others, says Nichol. But he can rest assured that he did what he could to impress the Redskins brass.
And if Washington passes, it's back to work. But he's no stranger to that.
"It's a little bit of a waiting game," Nichol said.
Adam Biggers has followed NCAA football for over 20 years, specifically the Michigan State Spartans. He can be found on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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