– California WR Keenan Allen is right in the mix to be the first wideout taken in April’s Draft. But if he wants to get there, he’s going to have to prove a few things to teams first.
– At the top of the list is finding a way to show that he can run with the speed teams look for in NFL receivers. He’s been compared to Anquan Boldin for his physical approach, which isn’t a bad thing but it also doesn’t speak highly to his speed.
– Problem is, Allen won’t have the chance to show that speed here as he continues to recover from a knee injury. So he’ll have to wait until his pro day in March to make his case to be the top wideout and a potential first round pick for teams.
– Here’s how Allen answered the questions from media here in Indy.
What are you telling teams?
KA: That I’m a starter. I feel like I’m a starter, self-motivated, a humble guy. My work ethic is there. I’m a film junkie so I’m definitely doing that type of preparation for the game.
Where his film-prep originates
KA: Working with my past coaches at California. Coach (Jeff) Tedford, he’s definitely big on film. Having the last coach I had, receivers coach Wes Chandler, he was definitely great on film.
What is he working on?
KA: Just my strength and my speed, definitely. I know people have been doubting me on my speed, but I don’t feel like I’m a slow guy. I feel like I’m pretty fast, but I definitely put some effort into it.
Are you disappointed you couldn’t run the 40?
KA: Yeah, definitely disappointed. I definitely wanted to come out here and show everybody that I could run. Definitely looking forward to running a 4.4 as my times are getting closer to clocking that. We ran the 10s and 20s in training, then we ran the 40. 10 and 20s were definitely on target for a 4.4, so it’s kind of disappointing.
Is the knee injury a carry-over from the season or is it new?
KA: Carry over from the end of the season, then I tweaked it during training. That’s why I’m not running.
Will you run at your pro day?
KA: Yes, sir. March 14.
Did you run a 4.4 40?
KA: No, that’s what I was training my target at. I ran the 10s and the 20s, that’s what I was aiming for. … We never ran a 40.
Who do you try to emulate?
KA: Calvin Johnson, of course. I like to compare myself to Anquan Boldin — aggressive, physicalness like that.
What do you like about Boldin?
KA: His physicalness, going up and making catches you don’t think he’s going to come down with. Flacco just throws it up there sometimes, and he always makes incredible catches, including the Super Bowl game, so that’s what I like about him.
Did you play much out of the slot?
KA: I played a lot in the slot, definitely in college. Third down, second down, I get in there with the linebacker and they’d get a mismatch. So, did that a lot. Definitely comfortable in the slot.
What are you hoping to accomplish here despite not working out?
KA: Just getting a knowledge of the football game, just talking to the coaches …
(What are you telling teams about yourself?
KA: Great character, great team play. Trying to make an impact as soon as I get there. My work ethic is there, determined to be successful.
What do you need to work on?
KA: I can work on everything, really. Most important, route techniques. Getting in and out of my breaks.
– Many of the mock drafts out there have Allen pegged for the Rams with one of their first round picks. He’d be a logical pick so long as he can prove healthy and capable of running a decent time. He’s a physical type who can run a bunch of different routes and might be a nice complement to Chris Givens in time. His ability to play anywhere also makes him more valuable.
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– Gavin Escobar is trying to make the two big E’s, into a trio. While Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz are drawing most of the acclaim amongst tight ends, Escobar is widely regarded as the guy who is next in the pecking order. And the truth is, Escobar might actually have the most upside of them all.
– Escobar combines size, speed, athleticism and hands to be considered a dangerous pass catching tight end. He has a chance with strong workouts here to land in the top two rounds.
– Here’s what Escobar had to say during his time with the media.
About playing with hand on ground:
I’ve done a lot of that at San Diego State. They moved me around a lot. I’m fine with my hand in the dirt. About what TEs position has become in the NFL: The way they use tight ends these days is really translating with my body frame and abilities, being able to be a red zone target and threat, being able to create mismatches.
Why come out now:
Ultimately I was just really confident in my abilities t play at the next level … Over the few seasons I’ve been playing, I’ve been playing against guys in the NFL now.
Did he actually consider staying in school:
I definitely did. It’s hard leaving your teammates. Especially having a good season like we did … It was a great journey, a great experience. I’ll be an Aztec for life. Said he talked with former SDSU QB Ryan Lindley (Arizona Cardinals) and linebacker Miles Burris (Oakland Raiders).
About his pass catching being rated way above his blocking:
I think some people look past my blocking ability because of my pass catching ability. It’ something I’m willing to do and I’m always working hard to get better at.
What working at getting better right now at IMG Academy:
(They’re) really helping us in the blocking game … footwork and hand placement.
Staying in Florida for a while?
I’ll be back in San Diego after the combine. I’m still enrolled in school. I’m enrolled in 12 units. I’m 19 units away from graduating.
So he’ll go back after next season and graduate:
I made a promise, and I would like to graduate too. My mom made sure that was a priority for me. Major is Public Admin.
Feedback from teams at Combine:
The feedback I’ve been getting from most teams is they like my pass catching ability. They’re a little concerned with the run game. I’ve been trying to tell them I’m willing to do that and I’ve been working hard at that, and over time I can only improve.
Weight: Last season weight between 245 and 250. Weighed 253 on Wednesday.
What WR did he emulate/learn from at SDSU:
The first year I was playing I was around guys like Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson. Vincent Brown is a great role model. He’s one of the hardest-working practice players I’ve ever been around
– The Rams certainly wouldn’t shy away from adding a play maker of Escobar’s caliber but the key will be finding the right value. Some think he’s a late second round pick or even an early three. But he’s got the chance to move up with a strong performance here today and convince teams he’s every bit the athlete and player Ertz and Eifert are.
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– Alabama guard Chance Warmack is viewed as a once in a generation type of interior lineman, the type who could find himself getting drafted in the top 10. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock calls him the best player in this year’s draft regardless of position.
– Warmack wasn’t available to the media on Thursday but did come through on Friday. He talked about a wide range of topics and the laid back but focused guard made a strong impression on the media.
– Word on Warmack is that he is a dedicated lover of the game, someone who will put in the extra work to excel and dominate.
– Here’s what Warmack had to say:
What do you think of Eddie Lacy calling you a freight train:
“That’s my running back. I’ll do anything for my running back, so whoever’s in the way, he needs yards, they’ve got to get out of the way. Push ‘em out of the way.
Three biggest strengths:
“I consider myself real explosive, tough player, real physical player.”
How playing in big games at Alabama help transition to next league: “I don’t think the number of people attending the game will affect my level of play.”
No guard has gone in the top five since (check year 1975):
“My mentality right now is not even thinking about the draft. I’m just trying to perform well, perform for pro day and just stay in shape.”
Thought play into guard not seen as a high pick:
“It’s widely known that guards aren’t drafted that high. If that did happen, that would be an honor as a player that plays guard. I’m not thinking about that right now.”
How did you get your name Chance:
“It came from a movie. My mom and my dad went to see a movie and the main character was named Chance.”
Name of movie: “I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t born yet.”
How do you not think about the draft:
“It’s pretty easy, just don’t turn on ESPN or NFL Network and just try to stay focused on the task at hand. I know I’m not perfect. Just try to work on the little details of what I’ve got to work on and just get better every day.”
What’s the deal with these jerseys, did you request a small jersey:
“No, not at all. We were playing Florida two years ago and it was really hot. That jersey’s a little tight, so I had to roll it up. It’s been like that ever since.”
Like a signature like that:
“I didn’t even know it was a signature until somebody told me. That’s just what I had to do. I was hot. I do it in practice and in the game. They don’t me I won’t be able to do it here; I’ll get fined. We’ll find out.”
Not willing to pay the price?:
“No, no, no, no.”
Did you always have this athleticism for your size:
“It’s a blessing. God’s blessed me with this ability. I work with what I have and I’m appreciative of what I have and try to apply the things that God has given me and amplify them as much as possible.”
Parents tell when you young you were advanced:
“I thought everybody was like this. Everybody’s good. It’s just working what you’re good at.”
Mayock called you the best player in the draft, how that make you feel:
“It makes me feel good to get the level of respect in that manner. But at the same time I don’t really pay attention to that too much. I know where I came from, I know where I started and that’s the same mentality I have now. I appreciate the praise, but nothing’s perfect. I’m human. I make mistakes. I’m just going to continue to get better.
What part of your game do you take most pride in:
“I like being physical and explosive. I like that word a lot, explosive. I consider myself to be very explosive. In terms of where I want to be, I want to be the definition of that word.”
Did you always have that:
“It was like that in high school, just took it to another level in college after I learned a little bit about how to be more explosive with my steps.” S
Saban’s background, prepare you for the NFL:
“It’s like a mini-NFL. If you’re not on time, if you’re not early you’re late. (a reporter says ‘If you’re early, you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re late, if you’re …”) All I know is if it’s 10:30, I’m getting there at 9 o’clock. (laughter) And it’s been like that since my freshman year. Everybody’s programmed that way. That’s just how we do it at Alabama.”
A lot of people say you’re best run blocker. Do you have a certain mentality?:
“First and foremost, I want to give it up to God for making me 6-2. I appreciate that because I can get under players very well with not a lot of difficulty. That’s just technique, technique from my coaches, coach Joe Pendry and coach Jeff Stoutland. They do a really good job just explaining how to take a step and exploding on your second step, and I’m taking that with me wherever I go.”
Legacy of Alabama’s class with guys who are here and guys who aren’t here:
“Off the field, which I think is more important, I think everybody who graduated or is leaving the team this year has a mentality of trying to be the best at their position no matter where they get drafted. I feel like a lot of players have a chip on their shoulder even though we won the national championship. We all want to strive to be the best players at our position as possible. That goes from Eddie Lacey, Nico Johnson, myself, Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker, so on and so forth. That’s just the mentality that we have at that school, in that program that coach Saban instilled in us.”
You’re not playing a glamorous position. Have you come to grips with that?:
“I’m not a glamorous person. Look at what I’m wearing. I love it, though. I love being big and mean. That’s what I like.”
With explosiveness you have, you could have been a defensive lineman:
“I had the option to play defense, but I love the offensive line and I embrace what I do. I love what I do. It’s not a job to me. So that’s why I like it, love it so much.”
How do you flip switch:
“It’s not hard. You just get into that zone and you just block everything out. You know what you do and you have to execute on the play. Whoever’s playing against you is the enemy. I don’t know them. They don’t know me, so it’s fair game.”
Have you always played with that type of mean streak:
“Yes, but as I got to college, I kind of understood it better in terms of no mercy. It’s not play. This is a real game and I think that’s the mentality that you’re going to have to have going to the next level.”
– It’s quite obvious that Warmack would be a fit with what the Rams are looking for and with their opening at left guard, he’d be a quality pick at No. 16. But here’s the reality: it’s very unlikely he’s going to be available at that pick. Rams coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead said they are not against taking a lineman in the first round, not even a guard. But it remains to be seen if they’d pull the trigger if someone of Warmack’s stature was available. Thing is, he probably won’t be.
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– Were it not for a second devastating knee injury suffered in 2012, South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore might be considered the top back in this draft and maybe even a top 10 pick. He’s that talented.
– But Lattimore does have those injury red flags and he is still recovering from the injury that ended his final season at South Carolina.
– Now, there is precedent for a player with his talent at his position entering the draft and landing in the first round and going on to a great career. Willis McGahee has done just that. So Lattimore is one of the most intriguing prospects on the board.
– Lattimore discussed the injury, coming back from it and who he takes inspiration from in his comeback attempt.
On medical testing:
“I was in there a good 3.5, 4 hours. They’re investing a lot of money into you, so I understand the process, and why they have to make sure everything’s OK, everything’s progressing.” “I’m pretty sure every team was there.” “Havent sat down with any teams. I start that tonight and Saturday.”
How does Willis McGahee’s story help you?
“As you know, he had a similar injury, pretty much the same kind of injury. He’s helped me a lot. Guys always bring that up when I come in there and talk to them. Willis came back from it, Frank Gore – bunch of guys. He’s a guy that worked hard. That’s what I’m going to do, and trust in God. I haven’t talked to (McGahee) lately, but I’ve talked to him a bunch of times. He just tells me keep grindin’. Keep doing what you’re doing. Trust in God, you’re going to be fine, you’ll come back from it.”
Will horrific injury be some sort of silver lining if he slides to the back of the first round and ends up on a really good team?
“No doubt. At this point, it really doesn’t matter where I get drafted, because I’m going to go in there and work hard, I’m going to do what I do, I’m going to do what I’ve been doing my whole career, and that’s just being myself. If I get a chance to play this year, I’m going to make the most out of it. And I feel like I will.”
Does Adrian Peterson inspire him?
“He’s a different kind of person. There’ll never be another Adrian Peterson. That definitely gives me a lot of motivation, knowing that he came back from it the way he did, he came back better. And that’s what I plan on doing, just coming back better. Seeing him do what he did this year, I think about that all the time.”
Comparing himself with Frank Gore
“I feel like we both run hard. He runs like nobody’s there. He runs with total destruction. I feel like if I could compare my game to anybody, it would be Frank Gore. He’s got low pads, he’s got great vision, he can see the whole field. Great balance.”
Taking it slow w/rehab
“Definitely, it’s very tough. You get frustrated. But you know it’s the right thing for you, the right thing for your future. I have to think about long term. Rushing back may not be the right thing to do, but if I’m ready, I’m ready. Just like RG3 said – he won’t put his career in jeopardy if he’s not ready.”
Thinking about what might have been?
“Yeah, I used to. The day after it happened, of course. I was thinking about what could have been, what could have happened, but I don’t think about that anymore. It happened for a reason. The reason for me to come back inspired a lot of people.”
McGahee changed style, didn’t have breakaway speed when he returned.
“I’m going to run the same way I usually do, because that’s all I know. I really can’t change my game. It got me here. I feel like if I change my game, I’ll be a different player. I’m just going to go out there with confidence, not thinking about my knee, just go out there and run like I usually do.”
What meant most from outpouring of support?
“I got letters from all across the nation and South America and everywhere. The main thing they relayed to me was they didn’t even talk about football, they just talked about what kind of person I was. It was an elementary school in Kentucky, they got on the field and made the ’21’ with the whole school full of students, and that really touched me. They say that in the end, it’s not about football, it’s about the person you are, so that touched me.”
People who helped him.
“It all started in middle school, grade school. I’ve always been fortunate to have great people around me, great coaches, great teachers, a great family. My mom, she’s been very influential in my life. I couldn’t thank those people enough, because they sacrificed a lot for me to be here today. I love everybody that I’ve come in contact with that’s helped me get to where I am today.”
Feedback from teams
“I met with three or four running back coaches last night. They all say they love my film. They think I’m a complete back, think I can do it all, but it’s really up in the air right now (as to when).”
Anxiety about getting hit?
“No, not at all. I mean, I’ve been hit 2,000 times, and that (an injury) happened twice. I’m not even thinking about it.”
– It seems unlikely that Lattimore will work his way into the first round. He might not even go in the second but somebody is going to take a flier on him and he’s got all the potential in the world to be a big time back at the next level. Even if that means putting a redshirt on him. The Rams could theoretically find themselves as the perfect fit for Lattimore in the third round or later. If they bring RB Steven Jackson back, they can take their time rehabbing Lattimore and have him ready to go in 2014.
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– Alabama RB Eddie Lacy is widely regarded as the top back in this year’s draft. It doesn’t seem likely that is going to change in the lead up to the draft. The only question is how high he will go in the selection process.
– With that said, there are some questions about Lacy, including how much his performance was a product of running behind a dominant offensive line.
– Here’s how Lacy responded to that question and more:
(3 OL here. How do you prove to scouts that your production isn’t all about them?)
“It all depends on how you look at it. I mean, I feel as though we complement each other because you have a great offensive line and you have a great backfield as well so I don’t feel as if one position is doing good because of the other. It’s just that we complement each other.”
(less mileage on your tires)
“That’s always an advantage because you didn’t get banged up as a lot of guys who did take all those carries early.”
(best attribute as a runner)
“Just being able to be a powerful runner if I need to or an agile runner and make people miss. With my size, being able to be agile and make people miss, that’s really key.”
(what do you expect to run in the 40?)
“4.4, 4.5, around there.”
(benefits to workhorse RB in today’s NFL?)
“I know they pass the ball a lot but at the same time, having a guy who can run the ball a lot benefits your offense. In short yardage plays, you can’t really throw the ball when it’d be easier to run it. If you have that running back, it’s not a problem.”
(How did Saban help you prepare?)
“Just his whole coaching philosophy. I mean, coming in as a freshman, you think it’s hard. All he’s doing is preparing you for days like today and whatever your future may hold.”
(Playing in big games…)
“Well, I mean, I was able to show up in the big games on the big stages and in the NFL, every game is a big game no matter what. So if I was able to perform well in those games, you know it should be an indication that I can do the same thing in the NFL.”
(pre-snap, what are looking for)
“Pre-snap read, if it’s a run play, depending on the play you have to locate the defensive linemen first. And then from the defensive linemen, you just go to the second level.”
(MLB…would you rather give a juke or run him over)
“Whichever one is convenient at the time. If it’s short yardage, I’ll just run into him. If not, and I have a little space to move, then I’ll most likely do that.”
(Ingram, Richardson help you in process)
“Um, a little bit. They didn’t tell me how long it was or anything. They’re just like ‘it’s a good experience to help raise your draft stock and talk to a lot of coaches and a lot of people on the offensive staff.’”
(was it difficult to go pro early?)
“It wasn’t too hard. I was there for four years. After a while, you can’t take as many licks because as a running back you don’t have that many years. At a school like Alabama, you get talent year in and year out so even when one leaves, the next person right behind him is going to be just as good if not better.”
(Many consider you the best RB. How do you feel about that?)
“It’s a good feeling but I’m just happy to be here.”
(Practices tougher in pros…Alabama help?)
“Tuesdays and Wednesdays, after a while you start to not look forward to those days. But it just gets you ready for the game during the week. I feel like we practice way harder than the game situations so like I said, it’s hard but we do it and we’re very prepared when game-day comes.”
– Should Rams RB Steven Jackson depart in free agency, Lacy would seem like a logical fit as the heir apparent. Heck, even if Jackson stays Lacy would be a logical heir. But if Jackson leaves, the need is obviously greater for help at running back. There’s almost no chance Lacy would be there in the second round for the Rams so they’d have to spend one of their first round picks to get him. That’s not out of the question but it would depend on Jackson’s status as much as anything.
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– There are three elite receiver prospects hailing from the University of Tennessee (or at least three that spent time there) at this year’s NFL combine. It seems that Cordarrelle Patterson is the top prospect out of the group but it wasn’t so long ago that Justin Hunter was considered the best at the position.
– A difficult leg injury, the emergence of Patterson and the departure of Da’Rick Rodgers made life more difficult for Hunter in 2012 and his previously lofty stock seems to have dropped.
– But Hunter believes he can still be the best receiver to come from this draft and he’s here in Indy to show that he can be more than just a deep threat who can run in the 4.4 range.
– Hunter offered his thoughts on bouncing back from the leg injury, working out for teams here and the competition among the receivers for the top wideout spot in this draft.
How’s the leg?
“I feel perfect about my leg. I haven’t even hurt my leg, really. I know it’s stronger now. I can run faster, I’m jumping higher.”
What do you think of this weekend, especially if you do really well?
“I think it will boost my draft stock, definitely. I’m going to go out there and work my hardest, try to beat everybody in every event. We’re going to see where it takes me.”
Is there a time you’re looking to run in the 40?
“Anything in the 4.3s, at least. If I get a 4.2, I’ll be happy.”
Decision to leave UT early?
“My decision to leave UT was real easy. I just had a son; he’s eight months now. I definitely thought about my life and everything. As soon as I hurt my leg, the opportunity presented itself to go into the NFL. So I took that. I didn’t want to be one of those players coming back, hurting himself.”
How has Tennessee helped for the next level?
“It’s helped me a lot. We’ve got a lot of good coaches. They coached me up pretty good.”
What learned during time off with ACL rehab?
“I learned that sitting on the sideline definitely sucks, and to never take anything granted. Just go out there and work your hardest. Compete every day.”
On Adrian Peterson’s comeback
“That was incredible. I think they said his (rehabbed) leg was stronger than the other one? Then he ran for over 2,000 yards? He’s the man for that.”
Why talented receivers congregate at Tennessee?
“It was labeled ‘Receiver U.’ We had a good coach. Charlie Baggett came there and recruited us tough. We bought into what he was talking about, and we had great success with him.”
3 Tennessee receivers at combine…
“It’s crazy. I wish we all were at school at the same time. It could have been so much success there on the offense, with three guys like that.”
All 3 trying to impress in Indy…
“It’s exciting. I love to see them here with me. We’re all going to go out and compete on Saturday. I’m really excited to see what they do.”
“I’ve put on 16 pounds since I’ve been there, and all my numbers have improved. So me and the weigh gain, good job.”
Speed intact with weight gain?
“I definitely got faster in my times and everything. So I think it helped.”
With size and speed intact, what else to prove to NFL teams at combine?
“I definitely need to prove that I can be an NFL player and I can outwork anybody out here.”
Does healthy competition at UT with CP (Cordarrelle) carry over to the draft?
“Not really. We definitely have made a bet about whose going to run the fastest time. I definitely made a bet with Da’Rick about whose going jump the highest. So I’ve got a lot on my plate to prove.”
On winning the bet…
“I just know I’m going to beat both of them, and they’re going to have to respect me then.”
What’s at stake?
“Uh, we haven’t talked about that yet. But after we make the NFL, we’ll think about something.”
Why you’re the best receiver in draft?
“I can go out there and make large catches. I’m a deep-ball threat. Just dedication.”
What about consistency?
“I know I had a problem with that, and that’s one of the tough things. I know that’s real important. You’ve got to be able to make that catch every time.”
Virginia Beach, fertile ground.
“Definitely, there’s a lot of talent in VB, so we compete a lot. Just to see Percy Harvin and Allen Iverson and all them guys come out, and we just want to be like them.”
“No. I’ve talked to Plaxico Burress a few times and everything, stayed real close with him.”
“He just said, ‘The NFL’s fast. You’ve got to work hard.’ ….
Besides Plax, another WR you’d compare yourself to?
“I love Randy Moss. He’s a deep-ball threat, just like myself. One of the greatest out there. So I look up to him.”
Growing up, people talk about your graceful running style?
“My coach actually said I run like a gazelle. He said that all through high school, because I’m a long-strider and a real skinny guy.”
Approach to combine?
“It’s one of the most important business trips of my life. So I’ve got to make it work.”
Anything specific, need to show NFL scouts?
“I think I just need to show that I can have great focus and be consistent.”
Response to people who say you’re just a deep threat?
“I don’t want to be just that. I want to be more than that. I want to be a complete receiver, so I can run short routes, take the big hit when I need to, going across the middle. I just want to be the best receiver.”
Fastest 40 time ever?
“I clocked in at a 4.35.”
How much have you been asked about the knee?
“A lot. Went into the meetings today, and they tugged on my knee a lot. And everybody said the same thing: They said it’s great.”
– Like many of the other wideouts, Hunter seems to be in a cluster of the top receivers and has a chance to gain some steam heading toward the draft. The Rams need help at the position but Hunter seems to be more of a deep threat cut from the cloth of Chris Givens. They could always use more speed so Hunter could be a factor in the second round but it’s logical they might be in the market for a more diverse route runner.
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– Wisconsin RB Montee Ball is one of the most prolific touchdown scorers in college football history. He also happens to be a St. Louis native. A year after finishing as a Heisman finalist Ball returned to school and went through a tough offseason involving a dangerous off the field incident.
– Now, Ball is here and hoping to stake a claim as one of the top backs in a wide open class for running backs. He talked about that, bouncing back from the fight that landed him in trouble and what he makes of the local high school talent coming out of St. Louis.
Is it Mon-tee or Mon-tay?
It’s MON-tay. That’s the name.
How’s it going?
It’s been exciting, just because n Not a lot of people can say they’ve been through this process, so you’ve just got to cherish it and that’s what I’m doing.
It seems like in recent years, more and more running backs have been going later in recent drafts. What’s your case for why teams should take a running back early on?
Because I know that I can help a team win. That’s what I truly believe in. My film shows that. I’m going to make sure I prove it a little bit more this weekend. And I think they should start taking running backs earlier.
You could have been here last year. How much better prepared are you to go to the NFL?
I’m immensely prepared for this, physically as well. I understand now the level of competition that I’m putting myself into and really looking forward to it.
Your numbers may have been bigger last year, but are you a better player, though?
Yes sir. I do believe that I’m a better player. I do a lot of things better without the football — blocking, chipping ends and being there for my team.
What players have you modeled your game after?
I try to bend my game after Terrell Davis. He’s my idol. But I hear a lot and I’ve been watching a lot of tape … I feel like I run a lot like Curtis Martin. Nothing really stands out — like speed or strength, but we’re very balanced overall and very consistent.
St. Louis is well-represented here at the Combine. What does it say about the talent in the St. Louis area?
St. Louis has the greatest talent in the nation. Just a lot of in the Midwest, there’s a lot of talent out there that a lot of college teams don’t find. Hopefully they start hitting the Midwest harder and getting that talent out of there.
Any moment in the past year where you doubted yourself?
Yeah. The challenges I faced after the season. I’m only human. I caught myself at times debating if I made the right decision or not to come back. But I’m very fortunate to have the players I had around me to really keep me comforted and just doing a great job of being around me.
What do you tell teams when they ask you what happened?
That you live and you learn. I learned that I live my life in a fishbowl the hard way. The bottom line is I learned my lesson and moved on from it.
After winning the Big Ten Championship game, after you won that game and heard your coach was leaving, now did you guys take it?
I think we dealt with it pretty [well]. Just because of the seniors and captains we had on the team. We understood that it was our time to really rally the team back together and keep us focused for one more game. Obviously a lot of us were upset, just because we were very selfish because we wanted to keep our coach in our program and he’s a great coach. Arkansas is really blessed to have him. I feel like we did a good job of staying focused.
Did you know about it?
We had no idea. But we understand it’s a business and understand that coaches have dreams as well.
They say RBs only have some many hits in them. Did you think about that?
Yeah. Of course. I took a huge gamble. I believe I benefited … I feel that any play you can go down. A player with zero carries. It only takes one play.
What do you need to improve on? What kind of statement do you want to make?
I’m really looking forward to the formal interviews where we sit down and talk to the teams and really show them how well I can apply my intelligence to the playbook and to the game, which gives me an advantage. Obviously I want to show them how well I can move on the field and with the football in my hands and how well I can catch the ball out of the backfield. This past season there’s not a lot of film on me catching the football. But the season when we had Russell Wilson, there’s lot of tape out there that really shows I can expand the offense.
What three strengths would you tell NFL teams you bring to their team?
Accountability, durability and consistent. I’m extremely consistent. You can count on me when I have the ball in my hands — 924 carries, only two fumbles. So I do a great job of protecting the football. I score touchdowns. You can count on me to make the play and be there for you.
– The Rams running back situation has been well documented here. If Steven Jackson does not return, the need for help at RB is far more apparent and a player like Ball, who is more of a workhorse type than a home run hitter would make sense as a complement to guys like Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. Ball figures to be around into the second round and possibly the third. But he too could boost his stock with a strong performance here.
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– Entering the 2012 season, many view USC’s Robert Woods as one of the top receiver prospects in the draft. He had the size, speed and route running ability to make big plays but none of that quite came to a fruition in what was a frustrating season in general in the land of Troy.
– Woods still possesses the physical skills to be a top wideout in this year’s draft but he’ll have to answer some off the field and attitude questions as well after an incident in which he criticized USC coach Lane Kiffin for not getting him the ball enough.
– Here’s what Woods had to say to a variety of questions from the assembled media here.
What separates you from the other receivers?
“I think my experience — I’ve been doing it for three years now. I’d say my knowledge of the game — I know every position — my route-running ability, and my hands.”
Is there a way to prepare for the combine?
“Somewhat. Not much of the medical part of it, but once we hit the field, we’ve been training for eight or nine weeks now. Just a lot of speedwork, a lot of strength and conditioning. So we’re definitely ready for that part of it, and mock interviews. But it’s not the same as being in a room with 10 coaches firing questions at you.
How did that go?
“A little bit different from each one. I sat in a room with the Bills, and it was about 10 coaches in there, one coach pulling up film, grilling me on some plays, some plays he liked. I went to the 49ers room, and it was just Coach Harbaugh in there. It was laid-back; he asked me a couple of questions, asked me why I didn’t go to Stanford coming out. I also sat in with the Raiders. That was a lot more boardwork, sitting there with a previous coach of mine, Ted Gilmore. Each coach and each team has been different so far.”
Any USC guys you reached out to for guidance?
“I actually went to USC on Tuesday, just to meet up with some friends before I left, and I happened to see Rhett Ellison coming by. He was just asking me, when do I leave, and he was just telling me, ‘Enjoy the moment. It’s only going to happen one time in your life. It’s going to be crazy — everybody’s going to be pulling you this way, pulling you that way. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Enjoy the moment and have fun. Enjoy meeting everybody you watched on TV.”
Who do you compare your game to?
“I would say Reggie Wayne. He’s smaller, one type of receiver. He’s not like a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, but he’s making plays all around the field, and I can see myself similar to him.”
Where do you want to play in an offense?
“Wherever, really. I just want to be a big impact to a team, whether it’s short passes, deep passes, or just even a few catches every now and then for a first down. Whatever role a team wants me to play, I’ll enjoy playing and make the best out of whatever opportunity I do get.”
Why do you think so many wide receivers have made a big impact right away?
“One, they’re probably not really scouted, I guess, early on, but once they make big plays and make a name for themselves, it can possibly change. I’d probably say they’re running around, making plays, just because they’re fresh and still young and exciting. That’s how I feel when I come in. I want to be running around the whole field making plays everywhere, down the field, short passes, wherever I can.”
What do you bring to the table?
“My speed, my route-running ability, and just my knowledge of the game. I feel like if I know the playbook early and study, I can come in right away and make an impact.”
Can you imagine a better way to make a living?
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I was training with Cordarelle Patterson, working out one day, and we were like, ‘Wow. This is work. This is our job.’ It’s really an honor to get paid and allowed to do something that I enjoy, that I love doing, wouldn’t mind putting in extra work for. That’s what I love. I love playing football, and I guess this is the time to get rewarded at the top level.”
What went wrong at USC this year?
“We had a rough year. We all kept thinking positive, after every loss. We still had faith in our team that we could still get to a bowl game and win every game. Our whole thing was, ‘OK, let’s just win the last four or the last three.’ Unfortunately, we lost them at the end, but we still had a positive outlook.”
What went into your frustration about not getting the ball?
“I would say that whole phrase in that interview got mis-worded. I had said that if Coach Kiffin’s game plan was to get me to come back, then he probably would have got me the ball more. But his game plan wasn’t to get me the ball; his game plan was to win football games, and he did that.”
Have a lot of these coaches asked you about it?
“No, they haven’t.”
How would you characterize Matt Barkley’s arm? It’s been criticized as not NFL-caliber.
“Right. That has been said about Matt Barkley, but I played with him for three years. Very confident in his arm. He’s made a lot of great throws under pressure, under duress. I feel like he’s still capable of making NFL throws. Some may say his arm is not strong enough, but the ball is right on point, every single time.”
How do you compensate for not being the biggest or fastest guy?
“My quickness to get in and out of my breaks at the top of my routes. My high school coach always told me, ‘One, two,’ which is, ‘At the top of your routes, get out in two steps.’ In high school, it seemed impossible. We were taking like three or four steps. But in my head, I still think, ‘One, two.’ And that allowed me to get out of my breaks a lot quicker. My hands, I would say, are a strength, looking the ball in. I caught a lot of passes, so that helps me as well. And my third strength, I guess, track background, with the speed and the quickness into my breaks. That allows me to stop on a dime, and I think that helps me as well.”
Did other players leaving USC impact your decision?
“Not at all. It didn’t have any impact on me. I mean, everybody is their own individual person. I made my decision based on me, not based on any other players from USC.”
– With the possible exception of Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson, no receiver has been able to separate from the pack here. Woods could move up the list with a strong workout and by doing well in interviews. The Rams have a need for play makers and Woods’ ability to line up anywhere and make plays could make him an intriguing option. That likely wouldn’t happen until the second round but Woods could do enough to take himself out of the second-round conversation and sneak into the first round.
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– Alabama’s star studded offensive line has three players in this year’s draft, each expected to go relatively early. While it’s guard Chance Warmack and, to a lesser extent, T D.J. Fluker stealing the headlines, versatile lineman Barrett Jones was considered one of the lynchpins of the group as he willingly moved from position to position throughout his career.
– By the time Jones was through, he spent considerable time at center, right guard and left tackle. He may be considered a jack of all trades, master of none but he does have experience all over the line. At the NFL level, he’s expected to be an interior player exclusively.
– Jones also is an entertaining interview. Here’s his thoughts on a number of topics, including playing with such dominant teammates at Alabama.
Ht./Wt: 6-6, 306
What it was like to end his career with two straight national champs:
“I’ve been very blessed to play on some awesome teams, had a really great career. Obviously, that means nothing here. I’m just trying to go to the next chapter. He sustained a lis franc injury to his left foot, had surgery, and is still in a walking boot.
Where does he stand?
He says it’s a four-month injury, and he’s six weeks from surgery. “I’m still not back for a few months. I had a lis franc injury where I tore some ligaments in my foot.”
Is he losing some ground not being able to compete?
“Obviously, that’s the first thing that comes to your mind. You’ve got to realize you can’t control that. I can’t control that I was hurt. I just have to focus on the things I can control. That’s interview well and doing all the little things right.
“I hope I have a lot of game film, maybe not at center, but at different positions. I feel like I’m intelligent. I know how to study the game well, make very few mental errors. That’s what separates me apart.”
“I think it’s very important to be balanced, and in college that’s something I put a big emphasis on, especially academics, obviously. My faith is something that’s very important to me. That’s a big reason I did a lot of this community service. I’ve been on several mission trips to different countries.”
He said he’s been to missions in Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua. What was the toughest position switch?
“They were all tough. But I’d say probably left tackle. That’s just a tough position. I played that in 2011. Especially in the SEC, you’re going against elite pass-rushers. It’s a tough position to pick up in a few months, but I did all right.”
The value of playing multiple positons?
“When you play a lot of positions, it allows you to learn the offense from diff perspectives. You stop memorizing the offense and start understanding it. That’s the biggest reason playing center mentally wasn’t that big a challenge. I understood the offense and what we were trying to accomplish.”
Where does he think the pros see him?
“I’ve heard different things. Most of them have probably been center. I’ll play wherever.”
Where did he feel the most comfortable?
“I felt most comfortable where I played least. If you asked me last year I would have been most comfortable at left tackle. Right now, i’m definitely most comfortable at center. I really like center because I enjoy the mental part of it. It’s the most mentally challenging offensive line position. Just to be honest, I’m kind of a control freak. I like that aspect, to be in control. And kind of point out to other people their assignments.”
Is that why he got in the beef with QB A.J. McCarron?
“Push gate as they call it; the push heard ‘round the world. “I don’t know if that’s what shows it. I’m not saying I’m not a strong headed guy. But I think that really came down to two guys who were still competing at the end of the game, and had a very minor disagreement. It was not a big deal at all. Two seconds later we were hugging on the sideline. He got in my face a little bit, I had to remind him.”
Why some of the Alabama players are a little beat up, even now going into the Combine?
“People don’t realize it’s tougher for us to come here and compete in the combine. Because we play so late. We’re still not maybe as healthy as everybody else. When you play in the SEC, you get beat up, especially when you have a lot of bowl practices and you’re playing a game that’s not till Jan. 7. It’s tough to get back to full speed for this.”
What was it like playing on a line with two first-round players?
“You’re writing me off as a first-rounder? Thanks.” He said that laughing. “It was fun this year. Obviously, playing beside Chance (Warmack), that’s a huge advantage. He really made me look good A lot of my highlight film, a lot of it has to be on combo blocks with Chance. “That was fun playing with those guys. It’s fun to be part of an elite unit, which I thought we were. I played on a lot of good offensive lines, but not any of them even close to as good as this past year.”
What highlight or award meant the most?
“The thing I’m most proud of is being named team captain. No offense to you guys, the awards that come from your teammates, that means the most. That means they voted on it, you earned their respect. I’m not saying I’m not grateful for all the awards I received. I’m just saying it’s special to get awards from your teammates.”
– Unlike his teammates Warmack and Fluker, it seems likely Jones will be around on the second day, perhaps even into the third round. He’s not a particularly great athlete but he gets by on intelligence and toughness. Should the Rams lose Robert Turner to free agency, Jones could be an intriguing prospect in the third round or so.
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– Rated as one of the top tight ends in this year’s draft, Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert might be the most complete in a group that usually seems to specialize in either blocking or pass catching but not both. He’s by no means perfect in either category but he’s probably got the best combination of the two among the prospects this year.
– On Saturday morning, Eifert will work out with the rest of the tight ends with a chance to nudge ahead and establish himself as the top TE in this year’s class. Here’s what he had to say on a variety of topics on Friday.
How has your blocking improved?
That has been what everyone said I was lacking. So I’ve spent a lot of time working on my blocking with coaches, working on the technique things, the little things, the footwork, hand placement. Just the little things which makes a big difference.
How much improvement did you make?
I think I’m better, I’m still not where I want to be. There is still a lot of room to improve. I’ve made a conscious effort to improve and I think I have.
Where do you need to improve?
Inline blocking with my hand on the ground
My ability to catch the ball in traffic, make contested catches, get down the field and create mismatches, understand an offense, being able to be moved around in different positions.
What teams have you met with so far?
I’ve formally and informally pretty much all of them. Formal interviews have been with the Eagles, Bengals, the Texans and a couple other ones. Inaudible… I’m lucky to be coming in at a time where the type of tight end that I am is being used quite a bit. In the passing game but also a guy that can stay in the game on every down throughout the game and can also block.
Create mismatch problems in the passing game. Which “type” of tight end do you identify with?
I strive to be a complete tight end, I don’t think I’m there yet. But guys like Jimmy Graham, Gronkowski, Rudolph, those guys I like to watch and see myself being similar players to them.
Notre Dame’s tight end tradition, do you get something from that?
I communicate with Rudolph a lot. And then Carlson and Fasano, I’ve talked to all three of those guys before. They offer football advice, but also just about life in the NFL, what it’s like, how to adjust to it and things like that.
Just to enjoy it. It’s going to be long. It’s not only going to wear on your body, but your mind. Just enjoy it while you’re here. You’re never going to get this back.
What did they tell you about making the jump to the NFL?
Just the locker room is a little different. Locker room isn’t full of college kids. Some guys get done and they go home to kids and a wife. You might be going home to an apartment all alone. Just be ready for that, you’ll be all alone in the real world.
How did the coaching change from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly impact your career at Notre Dame?
Both coaches used the tight end quite a bit. I would have had a chance to be successful in the Weis system. With Kelly, he got the ball to the tight ends quite a bit and I benefited from that. As well as trusting me to move me around in the offense, not just tight end but lining up fullback and moving around and things like that.
How do you need to improve with your blocking?
The technique, understanding how to get the job done but you also have to be physically strong enough to do it. I’ve worked on my strength this past season a lot. Have the bench today, hopefully I’ll do well on that.
As NFL teams scout the TE, do you ever take the time to look at the NFL teams, is there a certain offense, certain quarterback that you particular would be a better fit for?
I never really look at it like that. Obviously you see the Patriots with the two tight ends and how they utilize that. An offense like that would be beneficial to me personally. But right now I’m just trying to do my best at the combine. Set a good impression on everyone. Let the pieces fall where they do.
Can it make a difference on a tight ends career? The team he goes to?
It definitely doesn’t hurt, it can help but at the end of the day, you can control how much work you put in and how you handle yourself on a day to day basis.
Best TE in this draft?
I strive to be the best, that’s my goal to be the best. Personally be the best that I can be. I’m a competitor.
– From a Rams perspective, tight end isn’t necessarily the biggest need in terms of position but play makers in the passing game certainly is. If Eifert can prove his ability to be an inline blocker, he would make an excellent complement to Lance Kendricks and could be in play for the Rams late in the first round or potentially if he were to slide to the second round for some reason.
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