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February 23, 2008

Saturday NFL Combine Notebook

It might have been cold outside, but inside the RCA Dome, things were heating up today as the NFL Combine continued to showcase the top NFL hopefuls. A strong showing will translate into a higher position in the draft. Here's a sneak peak at day three of the combine from downtown Indianapolis.

Zuttah's stock keeps rising

Reports from Indianapolis indicate that Jeremy Zuttah's stock is continuing to rise. Zuttah's 35 reps in the bench press finished second only to Michigan Wolverine Jake Long, who finished with 37. Zuttah followed up that performance with two outstanding forty times of 4.99 and 5.02. Nevertheless, it is a very deep class at the tackle position. Zuttah is now projecting anywhere from the fourth to the fifth round. There is still a lot of guesswork involved, although it looks as though he will be the first Rutgers lineman drafted this year.

See Ray run

On Sunday, the running backs will get an opportunity to test their skills in the various combine events. Ray Rice will showcase his speed in the forty, which he hopes to be somewhere in the 4.4's. Whispers from Indianapolis suggest that a good showing will lock up a spot somewhere in the second round.

No laws against height

Notre Dame defensive tackle Trevor Laws is one of the smaller defensive linemen in this year's draft yet he is still projected to be a second round pick. He talked about the "small" moniker he sometimes hears.

"I really don't think it hurts me at all. It definitely helps with leverage. I feel like nobody can ever get under my pads. I'm always under their's. And being a former wrestler helps immensely with hands, balance and hips. I think wrestling helps immensely in football, especially in the interior line."

Degree before the NFL

Miami defensive end Calais Campbell entered the draft after his junior season, but because of a red shirt freshman year, he could have been eligible to enter the draft a season earlier. However, according to Campbell, that is something he wouldn't have considered.

"Last year, I wouldn't have done that at all because I didn't have my degree yet. I made sure I got my degree. I have a degree in sociology with a minor in advertising. I got that in December."

Like father like son

Virginia defensive end Chris Long is slated to be this year's number one overall pick in the draft. Long is the son of ex-NFL great Howie Long. Despite his success, and all of the attention that comes with it, Howie has managed to let Chris have his moment in the sun

"It's a testament to the fact that he's such a great guy and such a humble guy," said Chris Long. "It's not his style to want to steal the spotlight from his sons. I have two little brothers and he does the same with them. He takes the back seat. Everybody has a time and this is our time. I've said, 'Dad, you're an old man now. It's not your time anymore.' He has done a great job with that and I am grateful. I've matured to the point that now I am comfortable sharing that spotlight."

Not losing a step

Number one linebacking prospect Dan Connor of Penn State is pretty confident head coach Joe Paterno isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Connor talked a little about the legendary Nittany Lion coach.

"He taught me a lot and not just about football. He's not going to retire. He's been the same since the first day I was on campus. He jokes around, he teases people. When we had full practices, he always yell so you'd hear him. He hasn't lost a step."

Scheming on the linebackers

So much of where a linebacker gets drafted depends on the needs of the team and the kind of defense it runs. Schemes and sets are a major factor in determining who goes where in the draft.

"It all depends on what team you talk to and what scheme they're in," said Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson. "Whether it's a 3-4 scheme or a 4-3 scheme, people look at me in different ways. It's kind of hard to tell right now. Once I run the forty and show them what I'm capable of speed wise, they'll have a better idea of where they expect me to play."

Real setbacks

Auburn defensive tackle Pat Sims won't be participating in the bench press at the NFL Combine because of two broken bones that are still healing in his left hand. Disappointing for sure, but nothing compared to the heartbreak suffered earlier in his college career. Sims left the team for a bit in 2005 when his 32 year-old sister passed away from a heart attack.

"I wasn't mentally into it then," said Sims, who is slotted to be a late first/early second round pick. "There was some complications after a surgery she had. I took some time away from football to really think about my life. It gave me a lot of time to evaluate myself and see where I was going."

Attention Tigers

LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith enjoyed a lot of attention even before coming to the NFL Combine. Being part of the national championship team has brought Highsmith plenty of notoriety.

"As far as fan base, I get a lot more attention," said Highsmith. "Since winning the championship, it's autographs everywhere and congratulations here and there. But competition in the SEC is there every day. You have to come to play every day. There's no fall-offs. When you go into the NFL with that type of mindset, it helps."


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