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January 16, 2008

TCU's Blake knows the questions are coming

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HOUSTON Privacy no longer is a luxury for TCU defensive end Tommy Blake.

Such is the unforgiving nature of the NFL and the draft.

No prospect at East-West Shrine Game practices is as mysterious as Blake, though that shroud is about to be lifted.

Blake's 2006 performance yielded preseason All-American honors this season, but he abruptly left Horned Frogs fall camp in August with an undisclosed ailment. Over the ensuing months, he was hospitalized, missed five games and was a shell of his former self by the time he returned for good in November.

One of the explanations for his sudden absence was that he started to feel the pressure and stress from agents, scouts and other hangers-on just months before his pro career began.

Now, to even have a pro career, Blake will have to answer for what happened. Blake was reticent with the media throughout his career at TCU and has been even more so since he returned to the team.

He has yet to disclose in full the nature of his ailment, but in order to play in the NFL, he will have to break his silence.

"(The questions) started, but it's nothing too difficult," Blake said. "You tell them the truth and let them know what's going on with you."

Blake's agent, Reggie Rouzan, said his client will have a policy of "full disclosure" with NFL teams. The public also will learn what troubled him so much: Rouzan said Blake will discuss his story on a "national scope" with ESPN sometime between now and the draft.

"I told Tommy we're going to have to be up front with teams and honest with everyone," Rouzan said. "It's about the here and now, and him moving forward with his life and career."

Blake was an all-state tailback at Aransas Pass (Texas) High but was moved to defensive end when he redshirted as a freshman in 2003, and there was little question about his future at this time last year. He had wrapped up an outstanding junior season for TCU -- seven sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, 54 total tackles -- and was projected as high as a top-15 pick in the draft.

Evidently, that's when pressure started to overwhelm him. He took two leaves of absence, missing the season-opening win over Baylor, before returning Sept. 8 against Texas. He also played in the next two games before missing four more. He then returned for the final five games, including the Texas Bowl victory over Houston, recording three sacks over that span.

The concerns about Blake are many. It now appears he won't be taken before the third round, if then, as teams wonder if he can return to the form of his junior season. Blake, who is 6 feet 3, weighed 250 pounds as a junior, but he had ballooned to 290 by the end of this season.

One scout raved about his abilities during his junior season, when he projected as a 3-4 linebacker. "Now, he's a big defensive end that doesn't make plays," said the scout, who wished to remain anonymous.

Fellow TCU defensive end Chase Ortiz believes Blake has the attributes to make it.

"Anytime you're away from the game, it takes a while for it to come back," Ortiz said. "He was a little rusty (when he returned), but he's definitely a great athlete. He's definitely very talented. I'm not a scout, but he definitely has the athleticism and the ability."

It will take more that teammates and agents vouching for him, though. Rouzan said Blake will go through every drill at the NFL Scouting Combine and meet with any team that wants to discuss his difficult senior season.

"Every team will have full disclosure and feel good about drafting Tommy Blake," Rouzan said. "It will be a good feeling for everyone in the process. I want everyone out there to know that the young man is fine. His mental health is fine. His physical health is fine."

Blake says the past is behind him and he's ready to look forward. He won't dwell on any stature he may have lost over the past year.

"It's me dealing with myself and personal business and getting back into shape," Blake said. "I'm not concerned where I get drafted as long as I get drafted."

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David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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