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5 things we learned at combine Sunday

02.23.14 at 11:22 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS –€“ Five things we learned at the combine Sunday:

1. Quarterback Bake Bortles can take advantage of an opportunity

Johnny Manziel didn’€™t throw (but did look really fast in the 40, as well as the 3-cone), and Teddy Bridgewater didn’€™t throw or run, and so Bortles was in the spotlight during the throwing drills and he looked impressive, making a variety of impressive connections to a variety of targets on several different routes throughout the session. We still believe that Jadeveon Clowney is the consensus top pick (even though there were some eyebrows raised after he only hit 21 reps in the bench press, a number that was topped by several smaller skill position players), but Bortles certainly made his case to be the first quarterback selected.

2. BC’€™s Andre Williams helped himself

With a relatively nondescript group of running backs this year, the former Eagle had a chance to make a name for himself when it came to the on-field drills, and the power back (5-foot-11, 230 pounds) had a good outing. He ran a 4.54 and 4.56 in 40 (good times for a bigger back), and had a 38.0 on the vertical jump (fourth in his position group), and went 10-foot-9 on the broad jump (third in his position group). Last year was the first time in 50 years a running back was not selected in the first round, and while the same fate likely awaits Williams and the rest of the backs this year, the BC product is certainly doing his part — he may have gone from a third-day pick to a second-day selection with his work on Sunday. (The best performance for a relatively unknown back went to Kent State’s Dri Archer, who had the best time of the day in the 40 with a 4.26. That just barely missed the 4.24 record set by running back Chris Johnson in 2008, the mark the NFL says is the best 40 by anyone, ever.)

3. The Patriots may not be in the market for an elite-level receiver, but there were several prospects who showed something in the 3-cone drill

New England craves pass catchers who can put up great 3-cone times — the drills showcases footwork, agility and the ability to quickly change direction as opposed to simple straight-line speed. In the past, several of the guys they’€™ve gone after have popped as collegians in the 3-cone in their Pro Day or at the combine, a group that includes Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Chad Jackson and Josh Boyce all excelled in the drill as collegians. This year, 19 different receivers cracked the 7-second barrier, traditionally considered the barometer for a great time in the drill. (In the previously mentioned group, only Welker topped seven seconds.) On Sunday, Top 10 3-cone times for receivers were Louisville‘€™s Damian Copeland (6.53), Baylor’€™s Tevin Reese (6.63), Saginaw Valley State’€™s Jeff Janis (6.64), Tulane’€™s Ryan Grant (6.68), Alabama’€™s Kevin Norwood (6.68), LSU’s Odell Beckham (6.69), South Carolina’€™s Bruce Ellington (6.69), Murray State’€™s Walt Powell (6.7), Fresno State’€™s Isaiah Burse (6.74) and Oregon State’€™s Brandin Cooks (6.76). History tells us that one of these guys has a good chance of landing in Foxboro, either as a draft pick or undrafted free agent.

4. Louis Nix III, Dee Ford and Adam Muema made things interesting in the media workroom

Nix, a defensive lineman out of Notre Dame, had been billed as a terrific quote, and he didn’t disappoint in his session with reporters. Asked about his recent weight loss, he said, “My thighs got a little smaller. I just feel sexier, man.”€ Asked about his occasionally troublesome knee, he smiled and replied, “œIt’€™s fantastic. How’€™s your knee?”€ And he admitted to being star-struck when he met Seattle coach Pete Carroll. Meanwhile, Muema, a running back from San Diego State, left the combine without taking part in any drills, saying God told him to. (And apparently, if Muema followed God’€™s wishes, he’€™d be taken by the Seahawks. “€œ[God] told me to sit down, be quiet, and enjoy the peace,”€ he said.) And Ford, a defensive lineman out of Auburn, took a shot at Clowney, saying the South Carolina lineman “plays like a blind dog in a meat market.”

5. Cooks, Beckham and Sammy Watkins are REALLY fast

In addition to his 3-cone time, the 5-10, 189-pound Cooks was the fastest receiver tested with a blazing 4.33 in the 40, while the 6-foot, 194-pound Beckham was close behind him with a 4.46. (For what it’€™s worth, Beckham showed a nice dependability in the receiving drills, and is a guy who will get a bit of a post-combine bump because of his work on Sunday.) The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Watkins had an amazing burst, and finished with a 4.43 40 that should also give him a bit of a post-combine bump.

Read More: 2014 combine, Adam Muema, Andre Williams, Blake Bortles

Brock Vereen leaning on big brother Shane during pre-draft process

02.23.14 at 1:57 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — The last few years, the Patriots have had the Gronkowski brothers (Dan and Rob) and the McDonald brothers (Chris and Nick).

How about the Vereens? Older brother Shane was taken out of Cal in the second round of the 2011 draft by New England, and has become one of the better third-down backs in the league. And now, younger brother Brock is poised to enter the NFL — the strong safety out of Minnesota just finished a senior season where he posted 56 tackles, one interception, six passes broken up, one forced fumble and 2.5 tackles for loss. As a result, he was named a first team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches, and was an honorable mention pick by the media.

However, the 6-foot, 199-pound Brock (who was a teammate of his brother for a year in high school) isn’t so sure about the idea of being on the same team with his big brother. When asked if there was a part of him who wanted to be taken higher than Shane, he quickly replied.

“I think the biggest part of me wants to hit him,” Brock said with a smile. “I just can’t wait until we meet on the field.

“Both of us want to play against each other so much, that we really haven’t talked about being on the same team,” he added. “But if that were the case, it’€™d be a blessing.”

Having a brother around who has been through the pre-draft process — as well as a few seasons in the league — can be a real benefit.

“I’€™ve been very fortunate as to always to have an older brother at the level I was trying to get to,”€ he said. “€œWhen I was in high school, he was already in college, and now, the situation here. Just to have that insight, and to understand the ins and outs of certain things that some people might not find out until they’€™re actually in the NFL, it’€™s definitely a blessing.

“I think the biggest thing is that nothing’€™s personal. That you [have to] understand you’€™re not here to go to school. This is a business, and there’€™s a change of mindset that comes with that.”

Brock, who said he’€™s heard everything from third-round pick to free agent when it comes to his draft status, did acknowledge that he met with the Patriots on Saturday. But it’€™s all been part of a whirlwind schedule as he gets acclimated to the pre-draft process.

“€œIt’€™s been chaos, but it’€™s been such a blessing to even be here in the first place,”€ he said. “Just trying to make the most of it. Obviously, the goal is to impress a couple of people and turn some heads, but at the same time, you have to have fun with it.

“€œI was told how chaotic and fast-paced it would be, but I never expected this. Drug tests at three in the morning, breakfast and I haven’€™t slept since. But like I said, it’€™s fun. I wouldn’€™t trade it for anything.”

Read More: 2014 combine, Brock Vereen, Chris McDonald, Dan Gronkowski

South Dakota linebacker Tyler Starr could be under-the-radar prospect for Patriots

02.23.14 at 12:33 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — For any small-town prospect, the chance to make a little noise and prove themselves at the combine is all that they’€™re asking for.

This year, one of those guys is South Dakota linebacker Tyler Starr. From Little Rock, Iowa — home to 400-something people, he recounted Sunday — the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder carved out an impressive career at South Dakota. He had a breakout year in 2011 with 14 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. And this past season, he led the Missouri Valley Football Conference in sacks (9), tackles for loss (15) and forced fumbles (4), and was the defensive player of the year in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

However, what might set him apart from the field is the fact that he has publicly stated that he wants to set the combine record for 3-cone time, and has already finished the drill in 6.29 during a recent training session. (By way of comparison, the fastest time in Indy last year was 6.52 by Utah cornerback Will Davis from Utah, while Oregon wide receiver Jeff Maehl clocked a 6.42 in 2011. The fastest time by a linebacker last year was 6.71 by Zavier Gooden of Missouri.)

“Hopefully, if all goes well, I could make that happen,” said Starr, who will get his chance Monday when linebackers hit the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for workouts. “Obviously, conditions are what they are. But I have recorded times … I’€™ve been at 6.29, 6.31. If it happens, obviously, I’€™ll be grateful and happy. I’€™m just out there trying to perform. Not think about that.”

Making your bones in the 3-cone drill as a linebacker is an interesting decision, but the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Starr said he’€™s always seen it as a vital part of being a complete defender at his position.

“You’€™re getting off the ball and getting to five yards and trying to turn the corner on a pass runs. You’€™re getting up the field and recognizing it’€™s a pass and opening up,”€ said Starr, who is current considered a third-day selection who might end up being an undrafted free agent. “Getting back and dropping and being able to change direction and make things happen laterally along the line of scrimmage is something I think is key for a linebacker.”

While he was more of a pass rusher as a collegian, he’€™d probably have to switch gears at the NFL level and become more of a coverage linebacker and special teams contributor. From a Patriots perspective, there’€™s certainly a lot that could link Starr to New England: The Patriots are always on the lookout for someone with a good 3-cone time, particularly a linebacker who could bring some defensive depth as well as special teams value. His pedigree suggests he’€™s the sort over overachiever who could appear to Bill Belichick. And his background and skill set compare favorably to many special teams linebackers the Patriots have gone after in the past, including Matt Chatham, another South Dakota product.

As a result, it’€™s probably no surprise that he’€™s already had what could best be termed an ‘€œinformal’€ meeting with the Patriots here in Indy.

“€œI haven’€™t communicated with him, but I’€™m familiar with him,”€ Starr said of Chatham. “€œMy coaches have some stories on him. He was a freak himself. He has his jersey hanging up in the locker room.

“€œThey would just tell us what his attitude was like on the field. A nice guy, but when he got on the field, they said you didn’€™t want to be in his way.”

Ultimately, the small-town prospect is looking to make a name for himself by any means necessary this week in Indy. If that means lighting up the 3-cone drill to do it, well, that’€™s OK by him.

“€œI’€™ve always been the underdog in my life,”€œ€ he said. “€œ€œI’€™m kind of used to it — used to getting pushed aside or sat on the back burner. But I just use that to my advantage. Guys aren’€™t expecting me to make plays — guys aren’€™t expecting me to perform well. I just kind of accept that and worry about what I have to do. Hopefully, I can go out there and make some noise.”€œ

Read More: 2014 combine, Bill Belichick, Tyler Starr,

NFL considering penalizing players for inappropriate or hateful language

02.23.14 at 9:48 am ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL is considering penalizing players for inappropriate and/or hateful language, specifically, the use of the n-word. A 15-yard penalty would likely be the punishment for a first offense and an ejection for someone who does it twice in a game.

“We did talk about it — I’m sure that you saw near the end of the year that Fritz Pollard [Alliance] came out very strong with the message that the league needs to do something about the language on the field,” said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who is on the league’s competition committee. “So we did discuss over the last three days. I don’t want to get in from of what the competition committee talked about, but we did talk about race and gender.”

The competition committee is set to meet next week and discuss possible rule change proposals to be presented to the owners next month in Orlando, Fla. For a rule to pass, it requires 24 of the 32 owners to vote in favor.

The proposal comes at a time when the NFL is dealing with a bullying scandal in Miami, as well as the fact that Missouri’s Michael Sam could become the league’s first openly gay player. The rule could be expanded to deal with homophobic language.

“With any rule that we put into play, we have to look at it from A to Z and find out what are the unintended consequences as well as the consequences,” Newsome said. “As it was stated in our meeting, there are mics everywhere. If something is being said, it’s probably going to be captured somewhere. It would be an opportunity to get it verified if we have to.”

Read More: 2014 combine, Michael Sam, Ozzie Newsome,

Sunday’s NFL combine schedule

02.23.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Here’€™€™s what’€™€™s on tap for Sunday at the combine:

— Defensive backs are scheduled to meet with reporters on the final day of media access.

— No coaches and GMs are scheduled to speak.

— Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are slated to go through workouts. From a Patriots perspective, one drill to keep an eye on is the 3-cone, specifically as it relates to the wide receivers. It doesn’t appear that the Patriots would be interested in necessarily utilizing a high pick on a receiver, but in the past, they’ve shown an affinity for defensive backs and wide receivers who excel in the 3-cone. (Three of the top 10 finishers in last year’s 3-cone drill at the combine were either drafted or signed by the Patriots.)

— Now, a little music to put you in the mood …

Read More: 2014 combine,

5 things we learned at combine Saturday

02.22.14 at 11:57 pm ET
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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. “€œI 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.

Read More: 2014 combine, Aaron Donald, Arthur Lynch, Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Michael Sam impressive in 12-minute session with media at combine

02.22.14 at 5:16 pm ET
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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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