It’s day three of the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine here at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it’s going to be another busy one.
Defensive linemen and linebackers are scheduled to step to the podiums today, including a number of players that “experts” predict could head to the Broncos in this April’s draft.
I’m going to try to soak in some of the sights and sounds of the combine outside of this media room today, so at times you’ll be hearing plenty from Stuart Zaas.
As usual, leave us any questions you might have in the comments section.
10:04 a.m. EST: At the very end of the day yesterday, Oregon running back LaMichael James (pictured above) was the final player to take the podium. As we wait for the first players to arrive this morning, here’s the audio from James’ press conference if you’d like to take a listen.
10:48 a.m. EST: Baylor running back Terrance Ganaway was the first player to speak today. He saw his draft stock rise considerably with his 200-yard, five-touchdown performance in Baylor’s 67-56 win over Washington in this year’s Alamo Bowl. Ganaway ran away with the offensive MVP honors in a game that shattered the previous record for points in regulation.
The running back was asked about Baylor’s football resurgence that has resulted in recent high draft picks Danny Watkins (Philadelphia, 1st round, 2011) and Denver’s J.D. Walton (3rd round, 2010). This year Baylor has three more prospects at the Combine that could hear their names called during the 2012 NFL Draft in Ganaway, wide receiver Kendall Wright and Heisman Trophy award winner, quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“I think the talent has been there,” Ganaway said when asked about the Bears’ recent success. “It’s a confidence thing. It’s a mindset, a mentality. If you think you’re going to go in there and beat Oklahoma, you’re going to beat Oklahoma. If you go in there and think that you’re going to play a few series with Oklahoma, they’re going to beat you.”
He said the prospect of being part turning around a program and starting a new winning tradition at Baylor is what drew him to the Bears as a high school recruit.
“(You can) come in and change the program,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. High school players, especially in Texas, they love to go somewhere and change something around. (Recruits that go to the bigger schools) get caught up on being part of something. No, let’s change something, and that’s what we did at Baylor.”
Ganway participated in the Senior Bowl, where he was coached by the Washington Redskins staff, lead by Head Coach Mike Shanahan. He enjoyed practicing under Shanahan after growing up watching the Shanahan-led Denver Broncos.
“I always admired Coach Shanahan when he was with the Broncos with Terrell Davis, (Shannon) Sharpe and John Elway,” Ganaway said. “I’ve always admired his staff and the way they approached the game.”
11:25 a.m. EST: West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin is at the podium now. It’s a position that he never envisioned himself reaching when he’d dropped out of high school as an 11th grader. You can listen to his full press conference here.
“I never thought I’d be in the situation that I’m in,” he said with a big smile. “It sunk in a little bit, it actually started to sink in on my way to the airport. I was kind of getting teared up in the car. I come from a rough situation, so just being able to be here and just being able to almost be in the NFL is just a blessing.”
His story has been well documented, but he went back to his past again for the press in attendance at the Combine this morning.
“I have a different story than a lot of these guys,” he said. “I grew up in a rough neighborhood, dropped out of high school in 11th grade, kind of got in some trouble going with the bad crowd. I finally saw the light, got my GED, took my test and passed all five parts the first time. That January I went to school and I never looked back.”
He spent some time in jail, which led to the realization that he needed to turn his life around. Thanks to a mentor, Irvin was able to do just that. It was that mentor that started his path with an education that eventually led him to West Virginia, and now to the NFL Combine.
“My mentor, it was a guy who saved my life. Chad Allen,” Irvin said. “I was homeless, pretty much, and he took me under his wing and let me live with him and started training me. He sent me to junior college and paid my tuition. It took off from there.”
He expected NFL scouts to question him on his past, and each team he’s spoken to thus far has.
“They’ve heard the stories, they’ve read the articles,” he said. They’re questioning me, which I don’t blame them. I guess they want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, the whole situation and how it happened.”
With the NFL on the horizon, Irvin looks forward to continuing his personal resurgence. He knows there will be those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about his past dragging him down.
“My past four or five years, I have a lot of people that can vouch for me that’ll say that I’m not that person (now) that I was (back then).”
12:35 p.m. EST: South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram just finished up at the podium. He said he’s hopes to emulate Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller, and looks up to the Denver linebacker. The pair have been training together this offseason in California.
“I pray to God I (have the same impact as Miller as a rookie), because he had a tremendous impact,” Ingram said.
The former Gamecock is hailed as one of the top defensive linemen in the class, and he said he’d feel comfortable converting to linebacker in the NFL as well — which is why he has been working with Miller, to get a feel for what that position entails.
The 6’1 7/8″, 276-pound prospect said he played quarterback, running back and wide receiver in high school in addition to defense. He even played point guard on the basketball team — “I was a scorer,” he smiled.
He said he has talked with virtually every team, but doesn’t have a feel for where he’ll end up just yet.
“I’m not sure right now — I want everybody to be interested in me,” he laughed.
1:21 p.m. EST: Mississippi State lineman Fletcher Cox talked about his versatility, and said that he feels like he can fit any style of NFL defense.
He sees himself as either a defensive tackle or a defensive end, depending on the defensive scheme that he ends up in.
“I can play defensive tackle in a three-technique and a defensive end in a five-technique,” he said.
Cox’s relentless energy is another strength that he says comes from his love for the game.
“That’s one thing we always stress at Mississippi State,” he said. “Always go as hard as you can, don’t stop until the whistle blows. It’s just there. Just love playing the game. Getting to do what you love to do every day, going out to practice and just having fun.”
He hopes to show scouts that he’s improved since the end of the season and noted that his pass-rushing technique is something he’s keyed on this offseason.
“I think I can be a whole lot better at pass rushing and better with my hands off the edge,” he said.
1:38 p.m. EST: A couple more highly-rated defensive line prospects just came through the room — UConn’s Kendall Reyes (pictured above) and Memphis’ Dontari Poe (below). We’ve posted audio of both players’ full press conferences. Listen to Reyes here and Poe here. It’s starting to get a lot busier, so we’ll have more and more updates shortly.
1:52 p.m. EST: Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin came to Indianapolis hoping to set a new record for bench press reps at the Combine.
While stopping short of predicting a specific number, Martin, who said his personal best is 42 reps, did issue one guarantee.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I haven’t done it fresh. It’s always been after a workout and I’ve gotten in the 40s. We’ll see what happens. (Michigan teammate David Molk) got 41, so I’m beating that definitely. You can put that on the record, I’m not letting him beat me.”
Martin credits his background as a state champion wrestler as helping his development as a defensive lineman. He won the Michigan Division I State Championship as a junior in high school in his first year competing in the sport.
“It helped me a lot,” he said of his wrestling background. “I’m still working on it. I like to roll around the mat a little bit. It’s a little bit of unorthodox training for me. It helps me and it’s something I try not to lose.”
Martin began his career under Rich Rodriguez at Michigan and worked extensively with strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis. When Rodriguez was let go at Michigan, Barwis opened his own athlete training business. Since the end of the 2011-12 college football season, Martin and Molk have been training together under Barwis’ watchful eye.
“It’s going well. Barwis Methods, they’ve been getting us right,” Martin said. “Dave threw up 41. I wish he could run because you’d see how well he’s moving. We’re all moving well and the explosiveness is all where we need to be.”
Martin took the press through what his average day of training at Barwis Methods entails.
“A normal day is from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m,” he said. “We eat all of our meals there. It’s a full body workout. We hit all the body parts and every day we work on moving our bodies in space and knowing how to control our body and be explosive with that. He always talks about how anybody can be functionally strong on the bench or squat, but if you can’t deliver that strength with explosiveness with strength or velocity, it doesn’t matter. That’s what we work on.”
You can hear more audio from Martin here.
2:16 p.m. EST: Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus just talked to the press – you can listen to what he had to say here.
2:47 p.m. EST: Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham talked about current NFL players that he looks up to.
“Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis, most definitely,” he said. “I love watching those two guys. They’re great players. Ray Lewis is a future Hall of Famer and I’m pretty sure Patrick Willis will be too. I try to model my game after them a little bit.”
“Physicality,” Bradham said with a laugh. “I definitely see that as a strength, sideline-to-sideline speed and their ability in coverage.”
3:43 p.m. EST: Nebraska defensive lineman Jared Crick injured his pectoral muscle during the 2011-12 college season. He’s here at the Combine to show NFL scouts the progress that he’s made since then, and says that while not fully recovered, he is on his way.
“I think that I need to prove that I’m 100 percent healthy again,” he said. “Through the medical evaluations, I think I’ve proved that I’ve come a long way from where I was during the surgery. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there. I’m almost there and I just have to keep showing them that I’m improving and getting better.”
4:23 p.m. EST: Nevada linebacker James-Michael Johnson received a text message from one of his good friends and former teammates Virgil Green prior to leaving for Indianapolis this week.
Green warned Johnson that he was going to be tired after going through all of the tests and drills at the Combine.
Just before meeting the press, Johnson texted Green back.
“I texted him today,” Johnson said. “‘Man, I’m tired, you were telling the truth.’”
Johnson credits Green, who he calls ‘his man’ with developing him into an NFL prospect in practice at Nevada.
“I practiced against him every day for three years,” Johnson said of their time together as teammates. “It helped a lot. He’s a freak. Playing against him and having to shed blocks and do stuff like that against him every day makes me a lot better.”
5:13 p.m. EST: Another player here that worked against a current Broncos player in practice while in college is Boise State defensive lineman Billy Winn.
Winn only got to spent one year with Clady at Boise State, but said working against the future All-Pro tackle helped his confidence early in his career.
“That really set my foundation for what to expect as the years went on throughout my year, playing against guys like that had NFL-caliber potential,” Winn said. “It was awesome. Watching Clady do his thing on the field, I felt accomplished and good as a player because I got to go against that guy. I got to win a few reps against him and it let me know that I do have a chance because he’s a Pro Bowl player.”
5:43 p.m. EST: North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples addressed questions about his effort on Saturday.
“I can see where it can look like (not giving full effort) on film, but overall I definitely feel like I did the right job and the right thing. I just did some sacrificing for my team and helped them out and that was the right thing for me at the time.”
He’s talked about that perception in meetings with teams this week, but doesn’t think those concerns make him less appealing to NFL clubs.
“Teams know that I can compete and that I’m going to compete,” he said.
Coples went on to offer an explanation for why that perception could exist among draft pundits.
“I’m a big guy. I have long strides and things of that nature. It may come fast to me in the game, but film will slow it down a bit. People will have their own opinions – some people don’t even think it was a problem. There are different opinions and it is what it is.”
Click here to listen to the rest of what Coples had to say on Saturday.
5:58 p.m. EST: University of Southern California defensive end Nick Perry estimated that he’s added 15 pounds of muscle since the end of the season.
“I feel good. I wouldn’t have it on if I couldn’t handle it,” he laughed when asked how it felt to carry that extra bulk.
Perry added that muscle to help take his game to the next level. Adding size has been his main focus as he prepared for the NFL evaluation process.
“I’ve increased my strength and I can take on blockers very well,” he said. “That takes practice and that’s what I’ve been doing in the offseason and just getting strong. I think that’s key.”
Perry said that he’s open to playing in any type of defense, but that he’d prefer to remain a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
“I can handle both,” Perry said. “I prefer 4-3. I’d like to keep my hand in the dirt, but as long as I am rushing and getting to the quarterback, I’m fine with whatever it is.”
After three seasons (plus one redshirt year) at USC, and coming off a 2011 season that saw him lead the Pacific-12 Conference with 9.5 sacks, Perry elected to forgo his senior year and declare for the NFL Draft.
“I think I’ve had a good four years at SC and I’m ready to take it to the next level and compete at the next level,” he said about his decision to leave school early. “I’ve been prepared for that, I’ve been trained for that and I’m looking forward to that.”
6:11 p.m. EST: Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw is one of nine players from Alabama here at the Combine this year, including six from the defensive side of the ball.
Sharing the process with his teammates and and other friends he’s met while training for the Combine has helped make the process more enjoyable for Upshaw.
“I’ve got a couple of teammates here and we get along real good,” he said. “And other players I train with here, API Arizona, and other players I met at the Senior Bowl or knew about, it’s been fun to talk to other players and meet with teams. It’s been fun”
Having all that talent on the same defense not only resulted in a BCS National Championship for the Crimson Tide, but it also helped the players grow their individual abilities.
“We always competed with each other,” Upshaw said. “But it was fun to compete and it made us better in the long run. We all made plays and just wanted to win the game at the end of the day. It made it more fun to compete against each other.”
The defensive players even had a point system that rewarded defensive production, adding a scoring system to their competition.
“We’ve got this board where the production we have in the game, our position coaches add up points,” Upshaw explained. “They give you point for getting a sack, tackle for loss, strip fumble, stuff like that; it adds up at the end of the year. [Hightower] topped the chart, Mark Barron was second, I was third. Those games where you really don’t have as much production as the next player, you’re like, ‘Oh, man, my coach is cheating me’ or something. But he won it fair and square and I’m proud to say I was in the top three with those two guys. It was a fun competition.”
The highly touted linebacker has been talked about as a potential outside linebacker or defensive end, depending on the scheme of the team that selects him in April.
He said that playing for Nick Saban at Alabama helped prepare him for a pro-style defense, and he gained more experience with pro terminology and expectations while playing for the Redskins coaching staff at the Senior Bowl.
“I’m very comfortable (playing defensive end),” he said. “We had a nickel package where I played a 4-3 as the end, away from the tight end, in a five-technique, hand-on-the-ground, dropping out of a three-point stance in coverage if the D-end had to. So I’m real comfortable with doing that. I did a little of that at the Senior Bowl with the Redskins so I’m real comfortable. We played an odd front where I was also an end but three down linemen so I’m real comfortable playing with my hand in the dirt.”
Click here to hear the rest of what Upshaw had to say.
6:18 p.m. EST: Devon Still, who some see the Broncos taking at No. 25, had a rough start to his Penn State career.
“It was very frustrating,” Still said. “Nine months of rehab from an ACL (tear as a freshman) just to break my fibula the next season was hard on me. I just kept my faith and kept pushing forward and it paid off for me.”
Still, who said he “was able to grow mentally” during those two seasons, finished off his Penn State career as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. On Saturday he declared himself “hands down … the best defensive tackle in this draft.”
The defensive tackle first thought he could make it in the NFL after Penn State’s bowl game against Florida when he was a junior. He felt he was able to handle future Pittsburgh Steeler Maurkice Pouncey, and it inspired him.
“So I put in a lot of overtime during the offseason just to prepare myself to be one of the best in the country for my senior year and make my mark at Penn State,” he said.
“Now I want to make my mark in the NFL just as I did at Penn State and become one of the best.”
6:22 p.m. EST: In early October, Alabama defensive tackle Josh Chapman was injured against Florida.
It wasn’t until a few days later he found out how significant the injury was — a torn ACL.
“I just had to keep rolling,” he said. “It was difficult at the time. I found out my ACL was torn during Florida, I kind of had my head down. But at the same time there was a little stability there, so I could fix it or just keep on going. If I kept going it was limited reps, tape the knee and brace it up to the tee. But if I can keep going, I’m going to keep going.”
So Chapman decided to play the remainder of the year on a torn ACL — a season that ended with the Crimson Tide as the BCS National Champions.
Chapman underwent surgery on his ACL shortly after the game, and Saturday he said his knee feels “pretty good” and he recently got off crutches.
“I’m kind of ahead of schedule,” Chapman said when asked if he would be ready to suit up for a team during training camp. “The way everything is going, I feel I probably will be able to.”
6:25 p.m. EST: At 6-foot-5, 322 pounds, LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers is an imposing presence.
But it wasn’t always that way.
“When I transferred from end in college to tackle, I was getting bounced around in there,” Brockers said. “Especially on power plays, stuff like that, I was getting knocked over. I was on the ground a lot. I had it on my mind: they aren’t going to move me anymore. So I put on weight. I had an eating binge. I put on weight so they couldn’t move me any more.”
He said from the end of the season he has gained five “good, solid pounds. The good pounds, not the bad pounds.”
“I feel like at 322, I can move a lot better than some other guys can move,” Brockers said. “So I feel like that’s my biggest strength — how big I am and how quick I am.”
Now as Brockers prepares to move on to the pros, he said he will look to pattern his game after Jevon Kearse and Julius Peppers.
And for those that call him a one-year wonder?
“I can only get better from now on — that’s really my mindset,” he said. “I can only get better.”
6:28 p.m. EST: For a lot of linebackers entering the NFL, the biggest transition will be learning to cover professional pass-catchers.
North Carolina’s Zach Brown doesn’t think it will be a problem.
“I covered a lot at Carolina,” Brown said. “I think I had seven total career picks.”
So how will that skill help whichever team drafts him?
“It helps a lot, because then I can cover tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley — all of them. It just makes a defense so much better. OK, we’ve got a guy for their guy. I can get out on slot receivers, too, so they can keep their Mikes and everybody in the box.”
Brown stood by the statement, saying he’d need “some time,” but he’ll be able to cover top-notch tight ends at the next level.
But the first-team All-ACC linebacker’s game doesn’t begin and end with his speed and coverage ability.
“I can use my speed for a lot of things, but I can also overpower certain people,” he said. “Offensive linemen, I’m not as weak as they think I am. I can bull rush an offensive lineman if I need to.”
6:30 p.m. EST: Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler is unique in that he measures in at nearly 6-feet-7-inches.
“I don’t feel like there’s ever been a quarterback who is 6-7, 240 pounds and had the athleticism that I do and can make every throw on the football field,” Osweiler said.
With those measurements, it seems like the quarterback would be fit to play basketball. In fact, he almost did instead.
“I was committed to Gonzaga for almost three full years,” Osweiler explained. “I loved everything about the school and the basketball program. Really when it came down to it, I was getting toward the end of my junior year, getting closer to signing day, and I just felt that I loved the game of football too much to give it up. The game of football is a very special game, it takes a special person to play it, and it just wasn’t something that I was willing to give up at that point in my life.”
6:36 p.m. EST: Alabama’s defense was widely regarded as the best in the nation last season, and arguably the best player on that unit linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
The Crimson Tide coaches have a points-based system to determine the best defender of each season, which Hightower explained.
“Tackles are one point, sacks are two, interceptions and big hits are all positives,” he said. “Then there’s the negatives — mental errors, missed tackles, missed opportunities for turnovers, stripped balls. It goes all the way down the defensive stats based off points.”
Hightower took home the title during the Tide’s championship season, besting his co-defensive captain, safety Mark Barron.
“I won — don’t let Mark Barron tell you different,” Hightower laughed. “He won last year, but last year doesn’t count — it’s this year.”
6:41 p.m. EST: That will do it from the media room at Lucas Oil Stadium today. Tomorrow, defensive backs in addition to any other players who haven’t met the media will step up to the podiums, and we’ll be right back here to continue our coverage.
You can also check out all the audio of interviews we’ve compiled from the combine.
As always, thanks for sticking with us and see you back here tomorrow morning.
-Gray Caldwell and Stuart Zaas
Tags: NFL Scouting Combine