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BC’s Mark Herzlich wows combine with his inspirational story

02.27.11 at 11:04 am ET
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INDIANAPOLIS ‘€” Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich might not be selected by the Patriots in the 2011 draft, but he already has a burgeoning relationship with New England great Tedy Bruschi.

Herzlich, a cancer survivor, said Sunday morning at the NFL scouting combine that Bruschi, who returned to the game in 2005 after suffering a stroke, reached out to him nearly two years ago after the Boston College linebacker received a clean bill of health.

‘€œTedy reached out to me first. I remember the date ‘€“ September 29, 2009 ‘€“ because that was also the date I was told I no longer had cancer,’€ Herzlich said. ‘€œOne thing he told me that night, he said, ‘€˜Mark, you’€™re a survivor now. Be proud of being a survivor.’€™

‘€œThose are words that have stayed with me throughout the whole process. To me, that meant, ‘€˜Get your story out there. Raise as much money as you can. Be helpful to other people.’€™ He was that way to me. He does his charity work still. I played in his golf tournament last summer ‘€¦ so, I still stay in touch with him all the time. I help coach at his camp. He’€™s a great guy. He’€™s definitely an inspiration and a motivator.’€

Herzlich wowed the national media with his Sunday morning press conference, and has clearly become one of the combine favorites because of his comeback story. For his Boston College teammates, it’€™s nothing they haven’€™t seen before.

‘€œVery inspiring,’€ said Boston College teammate Rich Lapham. ‘€œIt’s really, really unbelievable what he’€™s been able to accomplish in the past couple of years, and we’ve been lucky to be a part of it and be on the journey with him with him coming back. I wish the best for him. I think the skies the limit for him.’€

‘€œHis story is incredibly inspirational,’€ said BC teammate Anthony Castonzo. ‘€œHe came back from cancer and rather than saying ‘Oh, I’m back. That was an incredible feat.’ He said ‘I’m still going to pursue my dreams.’ He didn’t say ‘I beat cancer and I’m done.’ He’s continued to pursue his dreams and wants to be the best at his position. I admire him for that.’€

While Herzlich is undeniably an inspirational story, there’€™s also the practical question about his health that must be addressed. For his part, the 6-foot-4, 244-pounder ‘€” projected by many as someone who could be a mid- to late-round pick ‘€” said Sunday physically he’€™s back to where he was before he underwent cancer treatment.

This past season with Boston College, he started all 13 games, and was third on the team with 65 tackles and 50 solo stops. The former Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year projects to be an inside or outside linebacker at the next level, and said Sunday he’€™s talked to teams about his positional versatility.

‘€œ[Teams will] ask me where I feel comfortable and I’€™ll tell them and they tell me, ‘€˜Well, this is where we want you.’€™ A lot of teams look at me as a ‘€˜sam’€™ in the 3-4 or the 4-3. Some other teams have told me I could play inside in the 3-4. I had versatility at Boston College and can do a lot of things. I think it’€™s helped me.’€

Read More: Anthony Castonzo, Mark Herzlich, Rich Lapham, Tedy Bruschi

Easy like Sunday morning at the NFL scouting combine

02.27.11 at 10:13 am ET
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INDIANAPOLIS ‘€” We are back for a final day of media availability here at the NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. While the skill position guys ‘€” quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs ‘€” work out on the field, the focus today for the media will be defensive backs, and we will do our level best to chase down as many DBs as possible, including Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, Miami’s Brandon Harris and Texas’ Aaron Williams. We will also have the details of the Sunday morning press conference of Boston College’s Mark Herzlich, who talked to the media earlier this morning.

Read More: Aaron Williams, Brandon Harris, Jimmy Smith, Mark Herzlich

Robert Quinn trying to keep his focus on what’s on the field

02.26.11 at 10:52 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn was asked 26 questions in his press conference at the NFL scouting combine Saturday. Nine of them were about football.

Of course, when one’s off-the-field shorelines include a brain tumor and a season-long suspension for taking gifts from an agent, that can be expected. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder’s skills are undeniable, and they’re rarely a topic of conversation despite his status a potential top-10 (or higher) pick.

“People always tell me I’m ready to be the next Julius Peppers or DeMarcus Ware,” Quinn said Saturday. “I always tell them, ‘Why do I need to be the second of somebody else? Why can’t I be the first Robert Quinn?’ But I guess being compared to those two isn’t so bad.”

After his sophomore year at UNC, it seemed that was the case. An 11-sack campaign put him in a tie for second place in ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors (Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan, who would go on to be the 16th overall pick in the NFL draft, finished first). The comparisons to Peppers began flying, and not just because they went to the same school. It seemed another season’s worth of that type of production could make him just as coveted a prospect as Peppers, the second overall pick in 2002, once was.

That season would never come for Quinn, as he was caught in the UNC football improper benefits scandal that ended up costing defensive line coach John Blake his job. It’s been a popular topic with his UNC teammates Greg Little and Marvin Austin (both of whom also were banned for their actions) here in Indianapolis, but unlike those two, Quinn is expected to be one of the first names to come off the board this year.

“I definitely cared,” Quinn said when a reporter asked him if his top-prospect status made him indifferent to the punishment he received. “Watching the whole season, especially when UNC played LSU and I went down to support them, seeing our guys run on to the field, in the middle of the game I was about in tears in the stands.

“I made a selfish mistake and couldn’t be out there. That’s never my mindset [that I didn't care]. God gave me a talent, and second he can take it away from me.”

While the suspension was a difficult time for Quinn, it doesn’t compare to the major health scare he had as a senior in high school. Three blackout spells led to a trip to the hospital, which led to the diagnosis of a brain tumor.

“I won’t say it was scary, it was more heartbreaking when they told me I wouldn’t be able to play sports anymore,” he said. “At one point they told me I should have been brain dead.

“It was kind of that Boobie Miles moment when I looked at my mom when they told me I wouldn’t play sports again, and I became that big old baby and busted out in tears. It was just heartbreaking. But it didn’t slow me down. And three, four years later, I’m still going.”

The Ladson, S.C. native said Saturday that he hasn’t had a headache since having the tumor removed, and that he had an MRI done to show to teams at the combine. Through all he’s been through, he feels he’s learned plenty.

“The tumor really made me appreciate just the little things in life,” he said. “Don’t take anything for granted. Live life to the fullest. And the suspension really made me mature and watch the people who come around me. If they’re really in the best interest for me or what I can do for them or what they want from me. So really just watch my surroundings or people I bring around me.”

Quinn said he’s willing to make the move to 3-4 outside linebacker if asked to. He’ll work out on Monday, where, after a year off the field, he’ll give teams some new material to work with.

“I think I’ve got pretty decent football skills. I don’t think you can ever lose those unless you just sit down and do nothing,” Quinn, who finished the fall semester at UNC before training at Athletes Performance Institute in Florida and Don Beebe‘s House of Speed, said. “I’m going to perform and compete and let y’all judge me on if y’all think I lost a step.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, NFL scouting combine, Robert Quinn,

Ryan Mallett: I’m not going to talk about drugs with you

02.26.11 at 9:46 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS ‘€” As first impressions go, it was a memorable one.

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett took to the podium on Saturday afternoon at the scouting combine for his first turn in front of the NFL media, and spent much of the nearly 10-minute session fighting off questions about drug use that have dogged him throughout much of the pre-draft process.

‘€œFirst one, huh?’€ he asked with a rueful smile when the initial question dealt with the drug rumors. ‘€œNo, I’€™m not going to talk about that right now. I’€™ve got interviews with the teams. And what teams need to know, they need to know. I’€™m going to leave it at that.’€

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Mallett was hit time and again with similar queries, but he deflected in each occasion, choosing instead to say that he’€™ll address those questions with the teams instead of the media. He sounds like someone who believes he’€™s being sabotaged, questioning the timing of the information, saying, ‘€œObviously someone did that for a reason, right before the combine.’€

Mallett’€™s tone was a memorable one ‘€” for me, he sounded an awful lot like former Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss. Like Moss, Mallett clearly feels put-upon, that someone is out to hold him back. In addition, in his session with the media, there was a confidence that bordered on cockiness that you find in many elite athletes when you scratch the surface. (Again, more than a little like Moss.) Time and again, Mallett delivered a clear swagger wrapped around an easy Southern drawl.

‘€œI don’€™t know [if I have] a swagger,’€ he said. ‘€œI feel like I have confidence in myself and teams see that. Some people don’€™t like my confidence. But I can’€™t do nothing about it.’€

And like Moss, there was also a tacit dismissal of any critics, saying they should look at his numbers if they have any questions.

‘€œSeven thousand-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons,’€ he responded to one questioner who asked how he dealt with questions about his accuracy. ‘€œThat’€™s how I respond to that.

Despite the drumbeat of questions, Mallett remains an intriguing prospect. He’€™s an undeniable talent with the biggest arm of any quarterback at the combine. (He said Saturday he can throw a football 80 yards.) As he plainly stated, his college numbers are undeniable: as a senior, he threw for 3,869 passing yards and 32 touchdowns while leading the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl.

But the nagging character questions ‘€” and the occasionally troubling responses from Mallett ‘€” have unsettled many throughout the league. Mallett appears to have the greatest boom-bust potential of any quarterback in this year’€™s draft. If he gets into a great situation with a stable locker room, a solid mentor and quarterback-friendly coach, he could become an NFL star. But of he gets into a bad situation, too much is put on his plate too quickly and is under pressure to win immediately, it could be a recipe for disaster.

‘€œ[The rumors] can keep circulating or whatever. But I can’€™t control them. I don’€™t even want to talk about them because there’€™s nothing I can even talk about it,’€ Mallett said. ‘€œLike I said, I’€™m not going to talk about it right now. I talked about it with teams. We’€™ve discussed it and everything is good.’€

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, NFL scouting combine, Randy Moss, Ryan Mallett

Cam Newton clarifies ‘icon’ comments

02.26.11 at 4:39 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Perhaps the biggest name at the NFL scouting combine Saturday in Cam Newton.

The Heisman-winning Auburn product entered Indianapolis with the task of both impressing teams in workouts and setting the country straight on his ego and priorities after being quoted earlier in the week as saying, “I see myself not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon.”

Unlike any other prospect to speak thus far, Newton opened with a prepared statement:

“First and foremost, I understand that my obligation is to be the best possible football player that I can be. I know and believe that,” he said. “The recent comments were made during the announcement of my new endorsement partnership. I was making the point that I wanted to be the best possible ambassador for them, just like I want to be the best possible ambassador for whatever team I am lucky enough to play for. I’m excited to compete this week, and you will see me doing everything possible to become the best player that I can possibly be.

“First and foremost I’m blessed to be in this whole situation, and I couldn’t be in a better place right now than I am right now.”

Newton will fully participate in all workouts and drills, including passing, on Sunday. Assuming Newton, a very athletically gifted quarterback, wows the scouts, he figure to be a potential top-10 pick. With his talent not much of a question, the biggest thing many, and perhaps including teams looking at him, may wonder about is his midset.

“Football is my No. 1 priority. I want to make that perfectly clear,” he said. “But I’m just going to go into wherever organization that I’m picked up I’m going to be lucky, I’m going to be happy because this is a dream that I’ve always envisioned myself doing. And I will be lucky but at the same time this is something I am looking forward to.”

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Cam Newton, NFL scouting combine,

Linebacker Casey Matthews looking to maintain the family name

02.26.11 at 4:13 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS ‘€” Watching linebacker Clay Matthews the last couple of seasons, Patriots fans have played a tantalizing game of ‘€œWhat if?’€

In the 2009 draft, New England had a shot at the pass-rushing linebacker, but decided to deal the pick to the Packers. It was a trade that worked out very well for the Patriots ‘€” the deal would land them a combination of players that included Darius Butler, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. But that didn’€™t stop people from wondering if Matthews could provide the sort of consistent pass rush New England has been lacking since the 2008 season.

When it comes to this year’€™s draft, don’€™t expect the same level of hype around Matthews’€™ younger brother Casey, an Oregon product who is working out this week at the NFL scouting combine. An inside linebacker (his brother is an outside linebacker) and father (another linebacker who played 19 years in the league), Matthews does have many of the earmarks of his older brother, including the long hair.

‘€œI think it’€™s just one of our trademarks,’€ he said with a smile.

While Casey might not have the polished pedigree of his older brother, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound inside linebacker had an excellent senior season for Oregon, the national runner-up. He was a first-team all-conference pick and All-America mention, finishing his senior season as the Ducks’€™ leading tackler, posting 79 stops. In addition, Matthews ‘€” the co-recipient of Oregon’€™s Most Outstanding Player award ‘€” tied for third in the league in fumble recoveries (3), was third on the team with three interceptions and fourth in tackles for loss with 9.0.

Casey said it’€™s his football instincts that separate him from his brother.

‘€œClay is more of an explosive athlete,’€ he said. ‘€œWe’€™re obviously different positions, but I think my position requires a little bit more of an instinctual side ‘€” just getting to the ball quick. I feel that’€™s part of my game that Clay still doesn’€™t have.’€

Matthews waited a beat, before adding with a smile.

‘€œHe has a pretty good game, though.’€

Casey acknowledges the pressure that comes with the family name, but at the same time, he says it’€™s nothing compared to what he expects of himself.

‘€œI put a lot of pressure on myself, just seeing the success my Dad had, my brother is having. I put pressure on myself just to get to their level,’€ Matthews said. ‘€œBut it’€™s not about me living up to the name. Although it would be nice to play at their level.’€

And what about the idea that teams who missed on his older brother would try and redeem themselves by taking him?

‘€œIf they want me, I’€™ll go,’€ Casey said. ‘€œI’€™ve heard that. A lot of people have come up to me and said, ‘€˜We missed on your brother. We hope we get you.’€™ Whatever happens on draft day, I’€™ll be happy.’€

Read More: Brandon Tate, Casey Matthews, Clay matthews, Darius Butler

Still playing a new sport, could Greg Romeus play a new position?

02.26.11 at 3:01 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus hopes to be considered one of the better pass rushers in the NFL six years from now. Six years ago, he wasn’t even playing football.

“I was a basketball player, and a brand new school opened,” Romeus said of his high school days. “They needed guys to come out for the football team, so the football coach asked me if I would come out, and I came out and played.”

Romeus, who said “a few small schools” showed interest in him as a basketball player, ended up not playing the sport his senior year, his first year of football at Coral Glades High School.

“I wanted to play college basketball,” he said Saturday, “but that wasn’t the plan.”

Now, the question is whether Romeus, who came into Lucas Oil Stadium at 6-foot-4 7/8 and 264 pounds, could potentially make the switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. He said that he’d “like to play whatever position,” whether it’s defensive end or linebacker.

“If that’s what the coaches want me to play,” he said of standing up, “I could play it.

“We dropped into coverage a little bit at Pitt,” Romeus added. “It would be something I would work on, but I feel comfortable doing it. I feel like I’m agile enough to do that.”

Where Romeus finds himself at a disadvantage compared to other 4-3 ends potentially transitioning is the fact that he is nursing an injury in the time the others are working on positional drills. Romeus played in just two games of his senior season due to back and knee injuries. Coming off knee surgery, Romeus said he just recently started running and will only be able to lift at his March 10 Pro Day. He had seven and eight sacks as a sophomore and junior, respectively, and if injury/experience concerns make him fall considerably, the Patriots could take a flier on him.

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Greg Romeus, NFL scouting combine,
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