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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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South Dakota's Tyler Starr is an under-the-radar possibility for the Patriots. (AP)

South Dakota’s Tyler Starr is an under-the-radar possibility for the Patriots. (AP)

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,
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