|02.22.14 at 11:57 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — Five things we learned at the combine Saturday:
1. It was a tough day for the tight ends
The tight ends were among the first groups to workout, taking the field on Saturday, and the high-profile guys had a bit of a rough session. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron appeared to have some sort of hamstring issue when he ran the second of his two 40s, while Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro had some problems working as a pass catcher with a couple of drops. Meanwhile, it was revealed Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins was suffering from some sort of foot ailment, and wasn’t going to be able to work out. (One guy who did have a good day was Georgia’s Arthur Lynch, a Bay State native who appeared to do a nice job in the pass catching drills.) An underwhelming session for a group that many expected to be one of the standout positional groupings of the combine.
2. This is a terrific draft if you need a tackle
It’s still relatively early in the pre-draft process, but Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson has done nothing to dissuade people from believing that he’ll be able to crash the Top 5, once thought be the exclusive domain of quarterbacks and Jadeveon Clowney. (For what it’s worth, we still believe he’d make an excellent No. 2 overall pick for the Rams.) Robinson ran a 4.92 40 in the morning Saturday, with a 10-yard split of 1.68 seconds, and also lifted 225 pounds 32 times on the bench press. His was one of several impressive performances from tackles on Saturday, a group that included Michigan Taylor Lewan (who’s 4.87 was the fastest 40 time for all offensive linemen) and UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo, a disciple of Logan Mankins who also managed a sub five-second 40.
3. Jadeveon Clowney likes his chances
After a delay getting to Indy that sounded straight out of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” the 6-foot-5, 266-pound South Carolina defensive lineman met the media, and was up front in his goals once he reaches the NFL. “I just want to be one of the best,” he said. “I want to be one of the greatest of all-time, and the NFL is just the next level, stepping stone in my way.” He said Saturday he plans on running a 4.4 or a low 4.5 on Monday when the defensive linemen go through on-field drills, and added that when to comes to convincing the Texans they should take him instead of a quarterback first overall, he’ll point to the Super Bowl. “Of course you see the Super Bowl championship game,” Clowney said. “Defense won that game, shut them down, shut them out. It takes defense to win a championship. Hands down. Seattle proved that. Even though you had a great quarterback — Peyton Manning, hats off him also — but defense won the Super Bowl, wins games.” The thought of Clowney and J.J. Watt on the field at the same time might be enough to melt the brain of opposing offensive coordinators.
4. There are some really versatile defensive linemen in this year’s draft
Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan and Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald all stood out as having excellent versatility, so much so that they could project at multiple spots along the defensive line when they arrive at the next level. Hageman — who we profiled here — said he has played everywhere from a zero-technique to a nine-technique, while Donald also discussed his versatility, saying he played three different positions while at Pitt. (For what it’s worth, both of them apparently have informal meetings scheduled with the Patriots while here in Indy.) Jernigan played in a 3-4 defense at FSU, saying he can fit any sort of scheme. For a team like New England that craves versatility and is in the market for a defensive lineman, this is good news.
5. Michael Sam can handle the spotlight
Like Clowney, the defensive end out of Mizzou was poised and confident in the spotlight, going through a 12-minute session with a sizable media throng and not missing a beat. He talked about the reception he’s gotten in the wake of his coming out, the support he’s received (both from his alma mater and elsewhere), what it might be like hearing homophobic slurs in the locker room, and how the pre-draft process had gone to this point. He also talked extensively about himself as a prospect. Many other high-profile prospects stumbled when faced with their first presser at the combine (including Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett and linebacker Manti Te’o), but Sam appeared relaxed, cracking jokes and deftly handling the media. It remains to be seen how he’ll do the rest of the way, but he certainly impressed on Saturday.
|02.22.14 at 5:16 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — Missouri defensive end Michael Sam had a 12-minute press conference at the combine Saturday afternoon, where he was poised, confident and very impressive in the face of a media throng.
Sam, who is attempting to become the first openly gay player in the NFL, introduced himself with a smile, saying, “Good afternoon. My name is Michael Sam. I play football for the University of Missouri.” He then talked about the reception he’s gotten in the wake of his announcement, the support he’s received, what it might be like hearing homophobic slurs in the locker room, and how the pre-draft process had gone to this point.
On the Dolphins’ bullying scandal: If the Miami Dolphins drafted me I would be excited to be a part of that organization. But I’m not afraid of going into that environment. I know how to handle myself. I know how to communicate with my teammates. I know how to communicate with the coaches and other staff I need to communicate with.
On wearing a “Stand With Sam” pride button: Stand With Sam? I hope all you guys Stand With Sam, by the way. Please do (laughs). I went to the basketball game against Tennessee. A very kind lady gave it to me and I gave her a hug and I got a lot of support out there.
On the “Stand With Sam” student support and ovation at that game: It’s a great — I love my fans, I love Mizzou. One of the best schools in the nation and after what they did this past weekend it was just amazing. I wanted to cry … but I’m a man. So I just want to thank everyone who supported me, especially Mizzou. The students, my coaches, the whole organization and every Missouri fan. M-I-Z-Z-O-U: I’m a Tiger forever.
On homophobic slurs in football locker rooms: I’ve been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said and I don’t think anyone means it. I think a little naive and uneducated but as time goes on everyone will adapt.
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|02.22.14 at 3:15 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The Patriots were a team that was racked by injury along the defensive interior over the course of the 2013 season. That, combined with the advancing age of defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, should spark some conversation about finding the next great big body in this year’s NFL draft.
Enter Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman. The defensive lineman was first-team All-Big Ten, and finished the 2013 season with 34 tackles, including 11 for loss, as well as one interception and eight pass deflections.
Hageman is a longer, leaner presence in the middle — at 6-foot-6 and 318 pounds, he’s built more like Richard Seymour and Kelly than Vince Wilfork. But his positional versatility can’t be overlooked: The Minnesota product was mentioned by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock as someone who could be a fit with the Patriots at No. 29, and Hageman said Saturday afternoon that he believes he has a meeting set up with New England later at the combine.
“I think Hageman from Minnesota is kind of the big question mark there,” Mayock said earlier this month when asked about New England. “If he’s still on the board — because he’s an explosive kid – he could play a couple different spots, and coach Belichick likes those versatile guys.
“He’s had some off-the-field questions attached to him, but he’s got a ton of ability and talent. So if Hageman was sitting there, I think he’d be really interesting.”
On Saturday, Hageman confessed he didn’t know much about the Patriots defensively.
“It’s 32 teams — it’s a lot to take in,” he said when asked specifically about New England against the rest of the league. “I’m pretty sure they run either a 3-4 or a 4-3. I’m capable of playing both positions. Just the fact if I had the chance to play for New England, I’d be ready.”
Hageman said Friday he tries to emulate Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh and Houston’s JJ Watt, saying he tries to be ‘strong and disruptive’ like Suh, but also attempts to bring the speed and technique of Watt to the field.
But the versatility is what really stands out about Hageman: He’s played multiple spots on the defensive line, including lining up on the nose, as well as wide against a tackle and tight end.
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|02.22.14 at 11:43 am ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The Piscataway-to-Foxboro connection has produced several key players for the Patriots the last few seasons, and the latest could be wide receiver Brandon Coleman.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound receiver finished his collegiate career at Rutgers with 20 touchdowns, tied for first in school history. In 39 career games (27 starts) at wide receiver, he had 94 receptions for 1,808 yards, and averaged 19.2 yards per reception in his career. As a result, he was the lone member of the Scarlet Knights to snag an invite to the NFL combine.
Coleman said he’s already had a chance to connect with several of his former Rutgers teammates — including defensive backs Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon, both of whom are now in New England — about what to expect at the combine, as well as the rest of the pre-draft process.
“They just told me to keep a smile on my face. They just said go out there and be yourself, and just let everything flow naturally,” said Coleman while meeting the media at the combine. “Just be myself. They’re going to love you for who you are — just sell yourself and you’re going to be fine.”
“They just told me that it can get crazy at times, and don’t let it get to my head. I haven’t quite been in a situation like this before, but I’ve been prepared. Rutgers has kind of guided me through this process before. I just have to go out there and be myself, and everything will take care of itself.”
While it’s debatable as to whether or not the Patriots would target another young receiver in the draft the year after they relied heavily on youngsters Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins, Coleman has a couple of things working in his favor when it comes to a possible connection with the Patriots: one, his Rutgers connection is an almost sure bet to at least land him on the Patriots radar. And two, his body type makes him an attractive candidate for a team that could be in the market for a bigger pass catcher.
For what it’s worth, he certainly sounds like someone who was tested as a collegian, both during games as well as during the week in practice.
“My difficult matchups were probably in practice with Logan Ryan and Marcus Cooper [now in Kansas City],” Coleman said. “Those were the best corners in our conference the last couple years, even though they weren’t there last year. But my best competition was in practice, which helped me be better [by] going against them, day-in and day-out.”
Currently projected to be a mid-round pick in a draft full of intriguing wide receiver prospects, Coleman has decided to leave Rutgers after three seasons because he “gave Rutgers all I had,” but was quick to add he’s on track to graduate next spring. Slowed by offseason knee surgery, he says now that’s all behind him, and he’s ready to make his mark at the NFL level.
“It’s feeling a lot better than it was this season,” Coleman said. “It wasn’t terrible, but at the same time, I wasn’t 100 percent. I feel fine, because I’m confident in myself that I’ve been training hard and rehabbing hard just to get back to where I was.”
|02.22.14 at 9:24 am ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The Patriots aren’t likely to be in the market for a running back this year, and if they are, it’s unlikely they’d go after someone in the first two days of the draft.
With a stable of backs like Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden — and that doesn’t begin to take into account whether or not free agent LeGarrette Blount would return — the one offensive skill position area you’d think New England would feel pretty good about in 2014.
But that doesn’t necessarily stop Boston College running back Andre Williams from speculating about what it might be like to stay in the New England area. Williams, who led the nation in rushing with 2,177 yards and was a Heisman finalist, sounds like he’d welcome a chance to stick around the area for as long as he could.
If Blount walks in free agency — and Williams drops in the draft — chances are he might get his wish.
“It would be a blessing to end up on the Patriots squad,” said the 5-foot-11, 230-pounder Friday at the combine. “They’re a winning franchise. They have a great coach. He seems like a really levelheaded cool guy to deal with. It would be great to go back to the Northeast. That’s where my family is situated right now. It would be a great fit.”
Williams, who is current projected as a second-day pick who could end up dropping to the third day of the draft depending on how things shake out, made his bones in a run-first offense at Boston College, one that was tailored to fit his strengths. Even though he was one of the best backs in college football last season, when he reaches the NFL, he knows that he’ll have to tweak his game.
“I think my game is going to have to evolve,” he acknowledged. “I think I’m going to be called upon to catch the ball more, pass protect more, know what’s going on, on defense more. Make reads on fronts and coverages faster than before. That’s part of becoming a professional from the amateur level. Upping your level of preparation.
“I think my pass protection is solid. This year there was a lot of play-action built in to our game plan. But we did have some drop-back pass. And in past years, the offense was different. I was relied more on pass protection. I think it’s pretty solid.”
Williams, who has meetings scheduled with the Bills, Ravens, Jaguars and Bengals, went through some coaching upheaval while at BC, as the Eagles went from Frank Spaziani to Steve Addazio. While the changes led to some struggles, he said it also helped draw the guys on the roster closer.
“I would say my time at BC was…a journey,” said Williams. “There was a lot going on from year to year, different coaching changes and what not. But I think there was a real stability in the team itself. I really enjoyed being around my teammates. I really enjoyed Chestnut HIll and the Boston area. There’s a lot of great people a lot of great influences around me at BC. I really enjoyed my time there.”
|02.22.14 at 8:00 am ET|
Here’s what’s on tap for Saturday at the combine:
— Defensive linemen and linebackers are scheduled to speak with the media, which should make for an interesting time, both from a national and local perspective. South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, expected by some to be the top pick this May, will have his session with reporters, as well as Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end and SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year who made news recently because he announced he was gay. As far as Patriots fans are concerned, it will be the first time for potential draft picks like Minnesota Ra’Shede Hageman to connect with New England reporters. It should be an eventful day.
— The following coaches and GMs are also scheduled to speak.
— Tight ends, offensive linemen, special teams are slated to go through workouts. Patriots fans will likely want to spend some extra time watching Jace Amaro of Texas Tech, Eric Ebron of North Carolina and C.J. Fiedorowicz, three tight ends who have already been connected to New England in the early stages of the pre-draft process.
|02.21.14 at 3:24 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The Patriots will meet with cornerback Aqib Talib in Indianapolis regarding a new deal, according to a report from the Boston Herald.
Talib, who is scheduled to become a free agent next month, signed a one-year, $5 million deal last offseason to remain with the Patriots.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
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