Sunday's Combine notebook

Posted Feb. 26, 2012 @ 7:42 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff

Here's a recap of Sunday's happenings from the NFL Scouting Combine:

Jenkins working hard to conquer demons

INDIANAPOLIS — North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins is widely considered a blue-chip talent with a well-documented chip on his shoulder and more than a few red flags.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Jenkins, who is tabbed to be selected as the last player in the first round in the Pro Football Weekly 2012 Draft Guide, was bombarded by questions about his checkered past in his Sunday interview with the national media.

Intent on making as good an impression as humanly possible, the big-time, small-school talent spoke about his failed drug test at Florida (which led to his transfer to North Alabama) and his three arrests — two for possession of marijuana and one resulting from a bar fight.

Just what exactly is he doing to overcome the demons that have dominated a good part of his young life up to now?

"Eliminating myself from some of those guys I used to hang with," he said. "I think about my mom all the time and my (four) kids. In order for me to be successful and then to have a great life or a nice life I've got to put it behind me. In order for my kids to get what they want,

"I (need to) be a father to my kids and just be there with my mom.

As sticky a cover corner as there is in this year's draft crop, Jenkins was asked if he believes he's sending a positive message to the teams that have interviewed him.

"Some teams, I feel like they like it," he replied. "I'm going to continue to open up and just be honest. I admitted to everything, I take full responsibility, and I learned from it.

"It has made me a stronger person, taught me how to fight through reality. That I've got to separate myself from certain guys,certain people. To be successful at the next level I can't do the things I used to do."

Especially smoking marijuana.

"I'm done with it forever, man," Jenkins said. "I can't do it. It's something I can't let myself do again."

Jenkins' four kids, he says, are the biggest reason why he feels he has to stay on the straight and narrow at all costs.

"I have three boys and one girl (between the ages of three months and three years)," he said. "Whenever I go home, they call me. I'm there. Got to be there.

"For what I've been through, four years of my career, ups and downs, saying they're going to be there with me through thick and thin. I'm very grateful for a second chance."

Jenkins' raw talent — he is widely considered capable of starting at the pro level both inside and outside — is primarily responsible for giving him that second chance.

"They see the talent," he said. "They just want to know what kind of kid I am. I came in here to show 'em I'm not a bad kid. I made a few mistakes and I learned from 'em. Everything I did, I did. I'm admitting it. I did it. I'm looking to put that in my past and moving forward."

Jenkins said that Bengals 2011 first-rounder A.J. Green, who went to Georgia, was the toughest receiver that Jenkins ever faced.

"Six-(foot)-6, 205 (pounds), fast, great hands, great route-running," Jenkins said of Green, who made quite a splash as a rookie. "He liked to compete."

Receivers such as Green and 2011 Falcons first-rounder Julio Jones have given Jenkins confidence that he can make it at the next level.

"It gives me confidence, but I can't look past nobody in the league," he said. "Everybody in the league, they're there for a reason.

"They love to compete, they're great players."

— Dan Arkush

 

North Carolina DE Coples looks to shed slacker label

So why didn't Quinton Coples have a better senior season at North Carolina?

Scouts are in agreement that he has all the tools to be a dominant player. He's an elite talent and it's likely that he will be the first defensive end drafted this year, despite questions about his competitiveness and makeup. When he faced the media at the Scouting Combine on Saturday, Coples spent much of his time trying to explain why there is a perception that he too rarely gives maximum effort and is an underachiever that may never fully realize his potential.

It was obvious that he was prepared for the onslaught.

"I criticize myself harder than other people can, so I'm definitely prepared for whatever comments or whatever needs to be said about me," Coples said.

He offered some reasons — excuses, really — when asked how he responds to criticism that he loafed as a Tar Heel, and suggested that the coaching change at North Carolina before his senior season didn't help his development.

"I just keep it honest," he said. "It was a situation that my coach asked me to make a change. I made that change and I think I think I ran into some things a little more than I should have instead of just playing the game that I love.

"It kind of affected my game. But overall, I went to the Senior Bowl, I did some things and I showed them that I can compete at the highest level."

Coples followed up a 10-sack junior season with a 7½-sack performance as a senior, but his stock remains high. An impressive showing at the Combine only will strengthen his case to be among the top 10 players off the board in April, and he doesn't agree with those suggesting he doesn't go all-out on every play.

"I can see where it can look like that on film, but overall I definitely felt like I did a good job and did the right thing and just did the little sacrifices for my team, to help my team out," Coples said. "And that's what was important to me at the time."

He sounded like a player that wouldn't allow personal ambition get in the way of team goals, even if it didn't necessarily help him make more splash plays that jump out on tape, and we checked with North Carolina CB Charles Brown, who is also in Indianapolis for the Combine, on Sunday to get a better sense of what kind of teammate Coples is.

"He was a good teammate," said Brown. "He worked hard. He did his thing. He showed up, had some sacks, put pressure on the quarterback. He made my job easier."

Brown had no complaints.

Back at the podium on Saturday, reporters kept on giving Coples opportunities to respond to critiques. He was asked why would it look like he's not working hard.

"Well, you know, I'm a big guy," he said. "I'm long-strider, things of that nature, so where it may come fast to me in a game, on film it's slowing down a little bit. You know, people have their own opinions. Some people don't even think it was a problem."

Yet, when he was asked for the parts of his game that he can improve, Coples only mentioned issues related to concentration and effort.

"Just more get-off on the ball," he said. "(Being) more focused and more practice like a professional. I think I did things right and made plays, and that's all well. To be a professional and to be great you have to work hard all the time and do those small things that I did, but didn't master like I think I should have."

Coples' rare combination of size, athleticism, power and speed already has made him one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft, but there is a buyer-beware label that he didn't shed this weekend at the Combine. The interview process with teams in Indianapolis will be an opportunity he has to take advantage of. There will be skeptics, though, until he gets back on the field and plays with more consistent effort on Sundays than he appeared to on Saturdays.

His production has yet to match his talent level.

"A lot of people have a lot of high expectations for me, and I appreciate that," Coples said. "But when you're playing the game of football, you have ups and downs. You have things that happen that don't go as planned.

"I think it was a situation that happened that I had to learn from from, I matured from, and I think I'll reap the benefits at the next level."

— Dan Parr

Follow Dan Parr on Twitter

 

CB Norman prideful of small-school experience

Few players seemed to enjoy the podium as much as Coastal Carolina CB Josh Norman.

Yet another small-school corner in Indy for the NFL Scouting Combine, Norman is PFW's fifth-ranked man-coverage corner and is projected as a second- to third-round pick. He seemed to answer almost every question with a smile while discussing his experience playing at a small school.

"I say we get looked over a bit, just because we are a small school," Norman said. "(Division) I-A guys, they always get the first nod in everything. They're on TVs and shows and radio stations."

Norman was then asked if he had more to prove at the Combine than the big-school players.

"I would say you have a little bit more of a chip on your shoulder, more than anything else," he responded. "Everything you do on that level is harder than (at the big-school) level, you have to have a perfect game almost every week."

Norman put up big numbers in his career with 13 interceptions and 35 pass breakups. He also had four forced fumbles. He admitted that he amped up his game when Coastal Carolina played BCS teams such as Penn State and Clemson.

"Oh yeah, I had to (dial it up). That's when all the people are out. I love the fans, it gets something going about you — going out there and playing in front of (fans) yelling and screaming," Norman said.

Measuring it at over 6-feet, Norman knows his size is important to ciover the big receivers in the NFL.

"(Size) is a big factor. The 6-(foot)-5s like the (Calvin Johnsons) are going over people, making it look easy," he said.

He might have the size, but that didn't stop Division-I teams from passing over Norman in the recruitment process.

"If you look into my background, I kind of slipped between the rocks and crevices. There's a lot of guys out there like that. When they get their chance, (they have to) make the best of the opportunity they have," he said.

Georgia was Norman's closest chance to play big-time college football. "That was dependent on my SAT score, but they took the second guy — even though I got a 1010, I'll say that much," he joked. "No hard feelings; they had to do what they had to do."

In January, Norman had the unique experience of playing in two all-star games — the East-West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl. He was a late addition to the Senior Bowl but was still able to get plenty of time with NFL coaches and in front of scouts.

"It was really fun. I learned a lot. (What) I took most out of that was the technique. I had never looked at a quarterback and got a three-step read off of him before and played it nine yards. It was new to me. It was fun," he said.

Coastal Carolina may be a small school, but Norman is far from the first to go to the NFL from that school. He mentioned Jerome Simpson, Mike Tolbert and Tyler Thigpen, all Coastal Carolina alums and players he keeps in touch with. His allegiance to his school didn't end there, as Norman said the best wide receiver he faced in college was his teammate, Matt Hazel.

In terms of his strengths, Norman said his technique, fluidness, "steps and pedals," are things that set him out from the other cornerbacks. He also showed off quite the memory when asked if he had given up any touchdowns last season.

"It was the last game of the season. It was a sluggo (slant-and-go), inside route and he hitched it and went up the field," he said.

It didn't seem like Norman had much of a regret about not playing at a big school, showing a pride for his small-school roots.

"The reason why I wanted to go to Coastal was that stigma of the small schools comapred to the big schools. Things are pretty much handed to you (at big schools)," he said. "You never have to work as hard as you do on that level to get where you have to go. I think I take that more so with me than anything else, the hard work that you have to put into it and not being spoiled."

— Kevin Fishbain

 

Toon navigates through injuries, Madison and big footsteps

WR Nick Toon has never had a 1,000-yard season. No Wisconsin wideout has. Not in the past six seasons anyway. That's simply the way the Badgers play, and Toon said he is fine with that.

"I knew that going into it," Toon said. "One of the reasons that I went to Wisconsin is that they do a good job of developing complete players and that's one of the things that I think I do well, one of the things I pride myself on, as far as my game is concerned. I feel that I'm a complete receiver, a complete player. I can play and do well in all aspects of the game."

Madison, Wis.,  would hardly seem to be the ultimate destination for wideouts with lofty dreams. The Badgers haven't had a receiver eclipse the millennium mark since TE Travis Beckum pulled off the feat in 2005. That's the way it generally works at Wisconsin. Tight ends lead the way, and wide receivers fade into the background. That's the type of power football that has prevailed at the school for what seems like an eternity. And that's what makes Toon's numbers so impressive.

He totaled 805 receiving yards on 54 receptions in his sophomore year, before a right turf toe injury kept him out for a good portion of his junior season.

"I've struggled with injuries a little bit over my last two seasons but it's part of the game," Toon said. "You've got to take it for what it's worth. Learn from it, get healthy, move forward. It's just an obstacle. There will always be obstacles in this game."

Toon was able to move forward in a big way during the 2011 season, starting 13 games and grabbing a career-high 926 receiving yards with 10 touchdown receptions — he had a total of eight TD catches the previous three seasons.

After earning second-team All-Big Ten honors, Toon was fairly simplistic in his analysis of his final campaign for the Badgers.

"It was a better season than I had last year and that's all you can ask for," Toon said. "Either you're getting better or you're getting worse."

Toon came up clutch when his team needed him the most, notching a career-high nine receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. But Toon said that the sky is the limit, even after his best season.

"My potential is still definitely not reached," said Toon, who measures 6-1½, 213 pounds. "I still have a long way to go, and by no means have I reached my full potential."

He certainly has big footsteps to follow in. His father, Al Toon, was also a wideout at Wisconsin, and although Nick passed his father in collegiate receiving yards last season, he's got a much steeper climb awaiting him when it comes to passing his father as an NFL receiver.

Al Toon hit it big with the New York Jets in the late 1980s, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl. A couple inches taller than his son, Al had 900-plus receiving yards in four of his eight NFL seasons. But Nick would be hard-pressed to remember any of that. He was only 4 years old when his father decided to call it quits. Al's final game remains one of Nick's few lasting memories of his father's NFL days.

"I actually distinctly remember, and this is one of the only memories I have with him, after his last game, I went down on the field and kind of walked around with him and he carried me around the field," Toon said. "I remember hanging out at the facilities, playing around on the practice field and the locker room and stuff but that's about it."

With so few memories from his dad's career, Toon is looking forward to creating his own memories on the fields of the NFL, and while he would play just about anywhere, he hinted at an early preference for Lambeau Field.

"That'd be awesome," Toon said. "I obviously watch the Packers, was a fan of the Packers growing up and I think the Wisconsin fans would love it as well."

— Jonah Rosenblum