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Former firefighter Danny Watkins an old man among boys

02.24.11 at 5:44 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — If Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins has his way, he will convince teams here at Lucas Oil Stadium that he’s just capable of preventing sacks as he is of preventing fires.

Now 26 years old, Watkins’ football career was never supposed to happen. A former high school hockey player-turned-fire-fighter in British Columbia, Watkins went to Butte College (the JUCO at which Aaron Rodgers played) to pursue a fire sciences degree. It was there that coaches suggested he give football a shot, and having always been involved in sports, Watkins was willing.

Two years of playing tackle at Butte led to calls from D-1 schools. He chose Baylor and played two more seasons, and now, at 26 years of age, here he is. The Kelowna, British Columbia is considered a second-round pick who could potentially go even higher.

“It’s just kind of taken off,” Watkins said, later adding that when it came to learning a new sport, he “picked it up pretty quick.”

Watkins’ is one of the drafts more interesting stories, as he said hockey and rugby were “the sports to play.”

“I never personally cared to watch football,” he said. “I grew up watching the Canucks, and that was it.”

A reporter asked Watkins whether he watched the CFL as a child. Watkins said he did, but his clarification further drove home that he was able about hockey.

“I mean, the CFL highlights were usually right around after the Canucks’ games. I’d always stay tuned and see who won.”

Watkins is a far superior prospect than Nick Kaczur, another Canadian prospect and one who was 25 when he was drafted. Furthermore, the Baylor product doesn’t seem overly concerned with his lack of experience or his older age. Neither, he said, are the teams he’s spoken to.

“All positive,” he said. “I haven’t heard one negative about being 26.”

Watkins still keeps in very close contact with his friends from his fire-fighting days, saying he had heard from one of them earlier today.

“I miss the guys, but I get that same satisfaction from working with those guys that I do with football,” Watkins said. “It’s a give and take. You’re with the same guys day in and day out, through good and bad.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Danny Watkins,

Andrew Jackson: ‘We model ourselves after Logan Mankins’

02.24.11 at 4:56 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a big guard prospect in this draft out of Fresno State. A “mauler” if you will. Sound familiar? It should, because Andrew Jackson (we’ll get to the nicknames in a bit) and Logan Mankins are cut from the same cloth.

“Fresno State. Pat Hill. It’s all about toughness,” said Jackson Thursday (without sounding like an advertisement).

Jackson is a right guard prospect, and when it comes to the Patriots, he might be a great fit. The Hill connection is there, and that’s been enough for the Pats to bring in guys like Mankins and Ryan Wendell for the O-line.

“I know Ryan Wendell really well,” the 6-foot-5 Jackson said of his college teammate. “I took classes with him regularly. We have a good relationship, we played together.”

Jackson has never actually met Mankins, but he’s a big fan. That’s not a personal thing, as all of those learning under Hill try to be just like the Pats’ guard.

“We model ourselves after Logan Mankins,” Jackson said in his deep bass voice. “When we’re getting pumped up for something, we throw his college film on. The motto is ‘be like that or beat that.’ We try to follow the model of what he did: his toughness, his tenacity, his aggression.”

As for why the tags of “mauler” and “punishing” come up with so many of Hill’s players, Jackson spoke slowly as he explained.

“Coach Hill is a very convincing man,” Jackson said. “He tells you how it is. He’s always up front and honest. You know what to expect out of him, whether it’s him ripping you or congratulating you, but you know what to expect, and you know what’s expected.”

NOW FOR THE NICKNAMES

How does one deal with having the same name as a former president? Jackson, or “Old Hickory” as he was called in high school, seems to be doing fine with it.

“It comes up a lot, but I enjoy it,” Jackson said with a smile. “It’s a good conversation-starter. Sometimes I get some mixed reviews on it. Some people love Andrew Jackson the president, and some people hated him. I kind of take both.

“I definitely did my research as a young kid, learning that we had the same name. I think everybody screws up what president he was — he was the seventh — and what he did. I don’t really know if we want to talk about that because people are so mixed with their opinions.”

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Jackson blocked three kicks in his time at Fresno St. He credited special teams coach John Baxter with his success.

“He’s a very detailed man. He put us in a great position to block kicks,” Jackson said. “We’ve studied the game, we’ve studied kicking mechanics, and really it’s about putting guys in the right spots to block kicks.”

A reporter promptly called Jackson on being a bit too modest, asking if others had such numbers if it were all about the system. Turns out he was just telling it like it is.

“No no, we’ve all got numbers. One guy that played next to me on field goal block, he’s got six. I know another has two. Everybody’s getting in there.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Andrew Jackson, Logan Mankins,

Rex Ryan guarantees Super Bowl victory, but says Jets are still behind Patriots

02.24.11 at 4:08 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — If you bet that Rex Ryan wasn’t going to spend the first five minutes of his presser at the NFL Scouting Combine talking about CSI and guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory, perhaps betting isn’t for you.

Ryan did just that, telling stories about the cameo he and Mike Tannenbaum made on the show, and saying that he has no reason not to believe that the Jets will win it all next year.

Ryan’s Jets knocked off the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs this past season after the Pats finished the regular season with a league-best 14-2 record. Despite the Jets going to the AFC Championship in consecutive seasons, Ryan said they have not surpassed the Patriots as the team to beat in the AFC East.

“I would say without question that we’re behind them still,” Ryan said.

The coach added that he isn’t going to get too concerned with the CBA situation, saying that “whatever’s dealt to us, we’re going to handle” and that “we have a plan for every scenario.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Rex Ryan,

Gabe Carimi is very confident, and very willing to play right tackle

02.24.11 at 2:41 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — The man that we currently project to the Patriots at No. 33 must strongly disagree with our mock drafts.

Simply put, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi is a volcano of confidence that erupted for a media session here at Lucas Oil Stadium — not that he doesn’t have good reason.

Outland Trophy winners generally go on to have great success in the NFL, and he figures to follow Joe Thomas as the next stud offensive lineman to come out of Wisconsin.

Still, when somebody declares themselves the best tackle in the draft, it gets your attention, and that’s what he did Thursday.

“I have a better resume of going against better talent than anyone else, so that makes me more ready,” Carimi said. “I’m physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there. That’s why I’m the No. 1 tackle out there.”

Carimi is in the discussion as one of this draft’s best tackles, but entering workouts it seems BC’s Anthony Castonzo may have the edge. That’s why they come here to work out.

Some notes from Carimi:

– Carimi said that despite having the left tackle positon “locked down,” he is more than willing to move to right tackle at the next level and would take no issue with it.

“Absolutely not,” he said when asked whether he’d have a problem with having to move. “I played right tackle all through high school. … Obviously, I think I can play left tackle. It’s up to the organization what their needs and wants are.”

– A very religious person, Carimi said he will play on Jewish holidays in the NFL. He played on Yom Kippur last season by going on Isreali time. He still fasted, and ended up having “three hours to IV up and eat” before the game.

– He said that felt he plays his best when playing against teams like Ohio State and Iowa.

“Those were my best games,” he said. “When coaches ask me what my best games are, I give them all the first-round past picks and All-Americans. … I do perform better against good talent.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Gabe Carimi,

Move over Sebastian Vollmer, there’s another interesting Houston O-Lineman

02.24.11 at 2:11 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — What is it with Houston offensive linemen?

Turns out Sebastian Vollmer wasn’t the last intriguing yet inexperienced offensive lineman to come from the school. The Patriots grabbed Vollmer, in the second round back in 2009 despite him not even being invited to the scouting combine. Two years later, his former teammate is trying to prove he can make it as an offensive lineman, something at which Isaiah Thompson isn’t very experienced.

Thompson played on the defensive line throughout his first three years at Houston, practicing against Vollmer while the latter was there. Now Thompson is a guard, and one who has the benefit of being able to pick a successful lineman’s brain.

“We’re good friends,” Thompson said of Vollmer. “I see him and talk to him whenever he comes back to the school. Every now and then he’ll come back and get a workout in and hang around out there. I always see him and talk to him when he comes back around.”

Should the Patriots take a flier on Thompson, he would be teammates with Vollmer once again, but co-linemen for the first time.

“It wouldn’t be much different. We’d still be teammates just like we were. We’d still have the same relationship,” he said. “This time we’d probably be helping each other out at practice instead of going up against each other in 1-on-1’s.”

As for Vollmer, who grew up in Germany, didn’t play football until he was 14 and dealt with injuries in college, Thompson said he ultimately wasn’t surprised that the future Patriot was not invited to the combine.

“I understood that Sebastian didn’t really have that much game film. That was probably the only reason that he didn’t get invited to the NFL Combine,” Thompson said. “He’s a physical specimen, a solid guy, he could run. It had nothing to do with his abilities as a football player.”

Vollmer got his chance with the Patriots and has impressed since. To Thompson, he is not only a friend, but a reminder that he can overcome a lack of experience.

“He put in the hard work in order to be able to make it to the next level,” Thompson said of Vollmer. “And that’s the same that I’m doing right now.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Isaiah Thompson, Sebastian Vollmer,

Anthony Castonzo’s feet’s too big

02.24.11 at 1:45 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo has a very good shot of being the first player at his position taken in the coming draft. The energetic Illinois native is hoping to prove his athleticism to scouts, but not before we bugged him with a question about his crazy feet.

“My left foot is a good inch and a half bigger than my right foot,” Castonzo said, explaining an odd side effect of his growth spurt. “In high school I started buying two different sized shoes. Now I just wear 18’s [on both], so it works for me.”

“The right shoe is about an inch and a half [too] big,” he added, also noting that he does not stuff the shoe.

“It’s not too bad.”

Also worth noting on Castonzo: He received a whopping total of zero scholarship offers coming out of high school, which is why he spent a semester at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. After gaining 25 pounds in a semester and going on to have a successful career at BC, he’s now a top prospect in the NFL draft.

We’ll have more on Castonzo later.

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Anthony Castonzo,

Why James Carpenter might be a name to remember

02.24.11 at 12:46 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — If you’re looking for guys who both fit a need for the Patriots and played for a coach connected to Bill Belichick, one just finished up speaking in Alabama offensive lineman James Carpenter.

Carpenter, who is not a man of many words, was a transfer from junior college who went to play for Nick Saban because he “wanted to win.” He played tackle in college, but has been projected to the NFL as a guard. He said he would be comfortable at either position, and when asked which position he would rather play, he said he would prefer guard. Why?

“Because there’s less space and you can just use your power more,” he said.

Alright.

Carpenter played the position in the Senior Bowl, and he impressed over the week. Coming off a season in which he dealt with an ankle sprain, that provided a boost to his draft stock.

“I think the Senior Bowl helped me out a lot and showed that I can move the way I did,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter came in at 6-foot-4 4/8 and 321 pounds. He declined to reveal which teams he has spoken to.

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, James Carpenter,
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