The annual sojourn to the city of Indianapolis has begun for the league’s 32 franchises who will be joined by 325 prospective future employees. For the next six days we will bring you complete coverage of what’s going on in and around the combine.
UPDATE 4:30 PM EST: More Cam Newton and some workouts
– TFY spoke with people from Cam Newton’s camp about the quarterback’s reluctance to speak to the media today at the combine. No convincing reason was given as we were told Newton’s heavy interview schedule with NFL teams and general managers is taking its toll.
– Starting with bench press results, Tyron Smith completed 29 repititions. Indiana’s James Brewer finished with 25.
– Specialists performed earlier today. Most of the place kickers did well. All of the top guys converted 12 of 15. Kai Forbath graded the highest hitting on all of his FG attempts from more than 50-yards. Most of them had the distance to convert from 60-plus yards.
4:00 PM EST
Time to update two previous DraftInsider stories…
– A month ago, TFY reported Stanford’s Owen Marecic had a disinterest in the entire draft process, because he has fantastic academic career he can alternatively choose. Today, he disputed those claims. “I’m 100 percent focused on football,” he claimed.
– Early in December, sources intimated Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers had already decided to enter the NFL draft as an underclassmen. Rodgers immediately refuted the report. When asked about it during his media session at the Combine, Rodgers stayed true to his original statement. At the time, he had not made up his mind. The decision came much later in the process.
– Cameron Jordan is one of the top rated defensive linemen in a loaded draft class. He is prepare to showcase his abilities during his stay in Indianapolis. The collegiate five technique is planning to participate in a full workout.
3:35 PM EST
As two highly recognizable running backs spoke with the media, surprising size numbers were discussed…
– A double-take was required to realize Wisconsin’s John Clay was at the podium. He has shed 30 pounds recently due to a better diet. He discussed that he did not eat well with a minimum of meals each day. Each of those meals were large and added pounds. The running back is now a svelte 231 pounds.
– Former Heisman trophy winner, Mark Ingram, is listed at 5-10 and 215 pounds. Well, he the 215 mark was absolutely correct. He was actually a full inch shorter at a self-described 5-9 according to his NFL measurements.
3:00 PM EST
– The ripple effects of USC’s suspension continue to be felt all the way to the midwest. After weighing in at 307 pounds, Tyron Smith stated he had gained 20 pounds since the end of last season. During the extra time the Trojans would usually be in post-season play and practice; Smith changed his diet. He cut junk food and began to eat a healthy and balanced diet. The tackle admitted his drastic change in body-type and what he tipped the scales even surprised him.. His low was 285 pounds last season.
2:45 PM EST
– The PSAC conference has two prospects here in Indianapolis. Brandon Fusco was already highlighted in an earlier interview this week on TFY. California of Pennsylvania quarterback Josh Portis has been one of the most impressive interviews to date. Portis was originally recruited to Florida. After being caught cheating on a pop quiz, he was suspended. He decided to leave and transfer to Maryland. A lack of playing time forced another tranfer into the Division II level. Portis has plenty of physical ability with a strong arm and fantastic athleticism. He expected to run in the 4.5 range during his 40-yard dash attempts. “I’m going to put on a show,” he continually smirked.
– Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder will participate in throwing drills.
2:00 PM EST
– Utah State cornerback Curtis Marsh, who sat and watched the Senior Bowl with an injured hamstring, is schedule to complete a full combine workout.
– Whereas, Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph plans the exact opposite. Rudolph described his ability to run with a previously torn hamstring is currently at 75-80 percent. He will not participate in any of the physical activities here in Indianapolis.
– Missouri quarterback and potentially the top signal caller chosen, Blaine Gabbert measured in at 6-4(3/8’s) and 238 pounds. He describes himself as a competitor and will partake in all of the drills.
1:00 PM EST
– A.J. Green, a potential top ten pick, stated “I want to be mentioned with the best.” Green measured in at 6-3.5 and 211 pounds earlier today.
– Nebraska guard Keith Williams talked about facing former teammate Ndamukong Suh every day in practice last year, “It was a bear fight.”
– Two questions follow Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson as he continues the draft process. Why was he benched and what do teams feel about his throwing mechanics? He answered both Friday. He stated injury and momentum were the reasons behind not starting the rest of the year. His response to mechanics proved interesting. Teams have not been overly concerned with his throwing motion. Instead they are more worried about his footwork, because Johnson has shown a tendency to throw everything from his shoulder. So how sound the joint is has been questioned. Johnson has countered by working with the same QB coach Tim Tebow employed last draft season, Zeke Bratkowski.
– Once Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin leaves Indianapolis he will return to training. He will be training with the likes of another Panthers’ alumni, Larry Fitzgerald as well as Roddy White and Greg Jennings.
11:35 AM EST
– Auburn’s Nick Fairley may be the number one overall selection in April’s NFL draft. The defensive tackle has been rebabbing a small shoulder seperation he suffered during the season. Although it is not considered serious, it has hampered his ability to participate in the bench press, an event he will not participate in at the combine. Otherwise, Fairley has looked good in his training regiment. He has weighed 298 pounds and has appeared very athletic.
11:30 AM EST
– The first suspended North Carolina TarHeel entered the media room. Greg Little was the first to face the fire. Although he didn’t address the allegations directly, he did mention he was “very remorseful” and was upset that he basically started the entire process. What was surprising is that the running back turned wide receiver weighed in at a svelte 231 pounds.
– Pitt offensive tackle Jason Pinkston discussed teammate Jonathan Baldwin claiming the wide receiver has a 42-inch vertical. As a sidenote, Pinkston had a large role in potentially recruiting Owen Marecic to the Panthers. Marecic eventually chose Stanford despite a large contigent of family in Pittsburgh.
11:00 AM EST
– Cameron Heyward was recently cleared to run and is close to receiving the okay to bench. The Ohio State product has already been re-examined by Dr. James Andrews since his surgery. The defensive end is expecting to do his pro-day workout for NFL teams March 30th. There is a chance he will participate in the benchpress on said date.
– LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis, who missed the Senior Bowl with plantar flaciatis, is ready to go and is planning to fully participate with a combine workout.
– Julio Jones is already considered one of the top wide receiver prospects in the draft. Unlike many top prospects in years past who are advised against running, the Alabama product is expected to run his 40-yard dash in Indianapolis.
Senior Bowl spring cleaning commences as head scout Brent Sobleski takes time to revisit his conversations with Slippery Rock’s center, Brandon Fusco, and the team’s head coach, George Mihalik, during their visit to Mobile.
Jahri Evans, Reggie Wells, John Kuhn, and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah all played their collegiate careers in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Slippery Rock’s Fusco is next in line as the National Football League beckons. Half of the league’s scouts already made multiple trips to the university nestled an hour north of Pittsburgh.
The achievement of a Division II athlete to make his way to Mobile is extraordinary. Northwestern Missouri State’s Seth Wand was the last to do so in 2003. Wand became a third round selection by the Houston Texans.
Fusco realized and relished the opportunity.
“It means a lot,” he exclaimed. “I’m the first player to be here in Mobile, Alabama. I come from a great program and tradition. It’s hardnosed football. I hope I’m making everyone proud back home. I get a ton of text messages and calls. Everyone says they’re proud and tell me good luck. I’m proud of myself and so is my family.
“My agent called me over the phone as I was sitting with my friends eating lunch. He said I was in the Senior Bowl. I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic. I had to call my family. I never really pictured myself being down here. I’m just taking it all in right now. I can’t believe I’m on the same field as all of these guys who were on tv all of the time. It’s a blessing and a honor.”
Mihalik reiterated his player’s response.
“Total excitement,” the veteran coach of 25 years stated. “We were ecstatic. The first guy in the history of our university to be invited to the Senior Bowl. All the scouts when they came through in the fall, they said he would be probably be invited to the other all-star games, and maybe the Senior Bowl. ‘But if he gets to the Senior Bowl, coach, that’s big time.’ When it came through, I realized some people see things in Brandon and feel he belongs here.”
The highly rated pivot discussed the process he endured throughout the week under the tight scrutiny of scouts and NFL evaluators while admitting to being apprehensive.
“I came in Sunday and met some of the scouts,” Fusco explained. “I started meeting a lot of the guys. It was a great experience meeting all of these guys. You start to form friendships and hope to communicate with them for the rest of my career. Monday was the first practice. I was a little nervous and anxious at the same time. Once I got that first hit out of the way, the butterflies were gone. I was then ready to go. I knew I belonged here. Days two and three were all about getting better and better.
“The butterflies were normal. I played at a smaller school. These guys are big, strong and fast. It will get you a little nervous, but I held my own. I feel I’m right there with all of them.
“The first day of practice was a little rough. It took me a couple plays to get used to it. Now, I think I fit right in with all of these guys. I’m more fluid in my punches and technique. I’ve gotten used to the speed of the game and the strength. I just wanted to get better and better every day.”
DraftInsider.net noted his improving performance throughout the week.
|Brandon Fusco||OL||Slippery Rock||6041||302||33 ¾||9 7/8|
|Monday Practice Notes: Fundamentally very sound yet really needs to improve his strength. Stays square and controls opponents but lacks the dominant base and at times was push back into the pocket.|
|Tuesday Practice Notes: A tough day was had by the small school prospect. Fusco was getting some stalemates against strong interior defenders, but he was not prepared for quicker opponents. He tried to overcompensate and was caught playing over his toes and reaching far too often.|
|Wednesday Practice Notes: Fusco has improved each day. While he was coached up about pad level once again, his timing off the snap was much better against higher rated defensive linemen. He was very strong in small areas and really bowed up against powerful interior defenders.|
|Analysis: Scouts were impressed with Fusco both on and off the field as they got a closer look at the Slippery Rock product. Coming from the Div.II level, the center admitted to being surprised by the quickness of his competition early in the week. He adjusted, continued to work very hard, and got better each practice. All good signs. His athleticism and ability to step off the snap also made him the best pure center prospect during the week (although the pivot class in Mobile was generally considered weak)|
“I think I’ve done a lot better,” he commented. “The techniques with my hand placement, punches, and knee bend are getting a lot better. I’m still getting used to the speed and the strength. I’m happy with the progression I’ve shown.
“It (Fusco’s knee bend) was questioned coming in. Coach (Cincinnati’s Paul Alexander) saw that right off the bat. It’s something I work on every day, and believe I’m getting a lot better. Bending and hand placement were important factors to work on for me.”
NFL personnel took notice of Fusco’s work ethic one night when he was quietly sitting with his former head coach breaking down film late in the evening.
Mihalik raves about the player his center is, but more importantly the person he is off the field. He made sure to endure the trip in support and experience everything.
“I’m on cloud nine,” the coach beamed. “Personally, I’ve seen a young guy who came into our program and grew up as a man first and foremost. Then, he grew up as a great football player. He’s worked hard for this opportunity. I really believe he is proving that he does belong.
“We’ve been here every minute we could at practice. It’s just a rewarding experience to watch that Slippery Rock helmet line up by the Wisconsin’s and against the Notre Dame’s. That is something you just don’t expect. I tried to talk to a lot of the scouts, many of whom I saw when they came through in the fall. They like what they see. They make comments about him. I’m just trying to be that fly on the wall in the shadows absorbing everything I can. More so, my chest is puffed out being so proud.”
In a draft class which lacks pure center prospects, Fusco finds himself atop the heap. The product from the Rock discussed his relative strengths and weaknesses.
“I think my speed and the fact I’m a little taller than most centers, that makes me a little unique,” he described. “I’m a little over 6-4, and you see centers in the league that are closer to 6-2 or 6-3. That’s an advantage to me. I’m a real aggressive player. I love getting after it on the field. I don’t think about anything else on the field. I focus purely on football. Anything outside, I just forget about until practice is over.
In fact NFL decision makers are moving towards larger centers to counteract the league’s massive nose tackles. Alex Mack, Eric Wood, and Maurkice Pouncey were first round selections during the last two drafts. Each is listed at 6-4. The position’s perceived body type is shifting.
As the two reflected on the entire week in Alabama, the draft is not too far off as the Combine quickly nears. Both are taking everything in stride and have come to the realization exactly what everything entails.
“It became more of a reality instead of just a dream,” Fusco mentioned. “Of course it’s been a dream to play in the NFL since I was a little kid. With all those scouts coming in every day and coach calling me to come down to the office, it was great and I made sure to enjoy it.
Mihalik built on Fusco’s interpretation.
“Your dreams can come true even in Division II football,” he expressed. “You dont’ have to be a DI player to get this opportunity. You do have to dominate at that level of program, which Brandon did.”
Each player from both squads are discussed as their performances were on display and draft stocks may or may not have been affected.
Tune in and listen to what really happened during college football’s most important all star week when the entirety of NFL front offices and coaching staffs are on hand to watch each prospect up close and personally.
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