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Sunday Combine notebook

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By PFW staff

Following is a recap of some of the news that came out of the NFL Scouting Combine on Sunday.

Peterson gives all the right answers at the Combine

There are plenty of reasons why LSU Patrick Peterson figures to be a top-five pick in the upcoming draft:

  • Playing in the rugged SEC, a conference with first-round-caliber receivers such as Julio Jones of Alabama and A.J. Green of Georgia, he surrendered only one touchdown this past season (to Jones).
  • Just last week, he said he ran a 4.29 40-time in advance of his Combine workouts this coming Tuesday.
  • Claiming to have been working out at his father's training facility in Boca Raton, Fla., since "coming out the womb," he is a lean, mean CB machine with just seven percent body fat.

Did we mention his blue-chip bloodlines (Steelers CB Bryant McFadden is a cousin on his mother's side)? Or that he showed last season that he is a top-flight punt returner, leading the nation in that category?

"I'm an all-around cornerback," said Peterson, who indicated that his ball skills, toughness and run support set him apart from the CB pack.

He also is a diplomat, as evidenced by his response to a question about who was tougher to defend between Jones and Green.

"That's a tough question," he said. "I really don't want a tick either of them off."

But as impressive as anything about Peterson - who first realized he had No. 1 pick potential midway through his junior season after friends kept asking him if he was going to come out early - is the player he picked to be his pro football role model.

"Charles Woodson," he said. "He can play every position. Safety, dime, corner. ... He'd play defensive tackle if they asked him.

"I would love to play on a team with a veteran like him who is so great as far as teaching the ropes, doing things like studying film."

The diplomat came out again in Peterson when a Cleveland-based scribe asked him if he'd like to play with rising young CB Joe Haden.

"I would love to play with anyone," he said.

And there's no doubt there are plenty of teams who would love him to play for them.

 

Oregon State DT Paea sets Combine record in bench press

Oregon State DT Stephen Paea gave all of the teams that were interested in him, and likely the ones that weren't, something to think about on Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine when he cranked out 49 repetitions of 225 pounds.

That broke the previous record of 45, that was held by three players, including Giants OG Mitch Petrus.

Paea, who was projected to be a late first-round pick by PFW draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki before injuring his knee at the Senior Bowl in late January, is not performing any on-field drills in Indianapolis because of the knee that underwent arthroscopic surgery a month ago. However, he certainly managed to make a strong impression.

A strong run stuffer who was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, the 6-1, 295-pound Paea is expected to be recovered in time for the start of the 2011 season.

 

Gators safeties each face questions

University of Florida safeties Ahmad Black and Will Hill went through a lot together during their three years together in Gainesville. In 2008, the Gators had a 13-1 record and won the national championship. The next year, the team was unbeaten and an SEC championship game win away from running the table and having a chance to defend their title before losing to Alabama and settling for a Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati. Then, last season, Florida disappointed without QB Tim Tebow and stumbled to an 8-5 record. In between, head coach Urban Meyer retired, came back and retired again, and each player faced off-field scrutiny.

As both now prepare for the NFL draft, Black and Hill each said on Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine that their collegiate careers will have a great impact on their professional futures. Both players have heard the knocks on their games, but neither lacked confidence that they could overcome them.

For Black, the setback is his body. Despite a senior season where he recorded five interceptions and forced three fumbles, NFL teams are worried that the 5-9, 184-pound free safety isn't big enough to handle the rigors of the league. Even though he is considered one of the top safeties in the class, Black said he's still hearing that his size - or lack thereof - is a problem.

"It's frustrating, but people are always talking about size and speed. The thing is, at the end of the day, it's about making plays," Black said. "I just go out there and try to be the best I can be."

Hill left school after his junior season for a couple of reasons: With a wife and three kids, he has a family to support. Also, the coach he loved playing for, Meyer, is no longer at Florida. Unlike Black, Hill does look the part of a professional safety, weighing in at 6-1, 202 pounds. His problem is a lack of production at the college level and questions about his maturity, thanks to some posts on his Twitter account and photos last year that showcased some questionable off-field activities. The safety said that that's all behind him now.

"It got blown out of proportion; Will did this, Will did that," Hill said. "People don't know I've been married for a year now. All that Twitter stuff was seven, eight months before my marriage. Everybody is going off previous things not knowing the real Will Hill."

As for having only four career interceptions despite being one of the nation's top high school recruits three years ago, Hill said, "I think I could have did better actually, coming in my freshman year and dealing with coaches. I feel like I could have had a better career. I think it was decent. I still think I made the right decision to come out."

Hill can improve his maturity; Black really can't do anything about his height. To both, however, they want to make their mark on the field.

"They know guys make mistakes. You have to live and learn," Hill said about the questions teams are asking him. "I'm learning from this experience just being here, and guys tell me what to do next time."

Black asked himself, "Can he make plays or can he not? That's how I live. Teams may pass on me because of my size, but the team that picks me up will definitely have something good."

 

Herzlich back to full strength, ready to prove it at Combine

It was in 2008 that Mark Herzlich realized he could have a future in the NFL.

After all, the Boston College linebacker had just finished a season in which he racked up 110 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six interceptions. For that he was named a first-team All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Although he might have been a first-round pick in the '09 draft, he decided to come back to BC for his senior season Then, his world was turned upside down.

In May of that year, Herzlich announced that he had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Instead of preparing for his final year of college football, he now was in a fight to survive.

But Herzlich came through the disease with flying colors and did what few thought possible: returned to the field in 2010. Amazingly, he was able to play at nearly the same level he did prior to his debilitating illness.

"I don't think I lost a lot," Herzlich said Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I think I gained every week. I don't know if you guys know (BC head coach Frank) Spaziani, but he's not very big on giving out compliments. It's a lot of tough love. But at the end of the season during bowl game time, he said, 'You know, you're looking kind of fast there, Mark.' "

The intense Herzlich started all 13 games in '10, piling up 65 tackles and four interceptions. And while his demeanor off the field might have been different after beating cancer, his attitude between the lines did not change a bit.

"My mentality didn't really change at all," he said. "Off the field I changed a little bit. I'm a different person. You don't change your core values or anything, but you become a little more patient. Sitting in a hospital for six hours a day, you gotta become patient."

While Herzlich is PFW's 11th-ranked outside linebacker, he's prepared to play wherever teams would like him to in the pros. The 6-4, 244-pounder actually switched positions during his time with the Eagles and has been told by NFL teams that he could work at a number of spots at the next level.

As for his health, he's doing as well as ever.

"I'm back to 100 percent," he said. "My times running are just like they were. My reps lifting are just where they were. So I don't expect to have any problems in the next couple days."

Herzlich might not be a first-round prospect like he was a couple years ago, but the fact that he will hear his name called at all on draft weekend should be an inspiration for everyone.

 

UCLA's Moore willing to play all over the field

Prior to his sophomore season, Rahim Moore was shown a magazine assessing the Pac-10 for the upcoming 2009 season. Moore was listed as a fourth-team selection. Embarrassed, Moore set out to prove his doubters wrong, studying more film than ever before.

It paid off for Moore, as two years later he finds himself as one of the top safeties in this year's NFL draft, and a candidate to be selected in the first round.

Moore posted career bests as a sophomore, intercepting 10 passes, and making 79 tackles.

"I told myself if I want to be remembered at UCLA and be mentioned as one of the best safeties in college football, I have to have a good season, and I did," Moore said.

However, his junior season has worried many draft analysts, as he intercepted only one pass and saw his tackle total cut in half in '10. Moore attributes this to the increased respect teams had for him.

"A lot of times teams wouldn't throw at me," Moore said. "So I had to switch my game up, play more of a strong safety type, and in our system a free safety has to be a strong safety and strong has to be a free. I mixed it up more and showed teams I can be physical down in the box and that I can be an overall football player."

Still, his low tackle count would seem to indicate that he fits better playing a center field position at the next level. Moore, for one, wouldn't mind a return to the open spaces of free safety.

"I like being in deep coverage," Moore said. "Being able to keep everything in front of me, and be able to recognize routes, read the quarterback and break on balls."

Some have even suggested that Moore's lean frame, at 6-1 and 195 pounds, makes him better suited to play cornerback at the next level. Moore said that some teams have talked to him about doing just that, and he isn't against that switch.

"My background is as a corner," Moore said. "In high school my senior year, I played corner because I guess safety was getting a little too boring. I have been blessed to have some corner skills. I believe when you play secondary and you love football, you should be able to play all three positions (strong safety, free safety and cornerback)."

While his position might be uncertain, Moore believes his talent is undeniable, and is confident that he will land in the first round come April 28, which wouldn't be bad for a supposed fourth-team Pac-10 player.

"I believe I have first-round talent. I believe that I'm special. I believe that my hard work and my film and my accolades have spoken a lot," Moore said. "But you know what, I can't be the judge, it's all about that one team that will fall in love, Hopefully on Draft Day I'm in the first round and my dream can come true."

 

Fairley shakes up a slow Sunday at Combine

It was fairly slow going at the NFL Scouting Combine Sunday until Nick Fairley showed up.

The beefy defensive tackle from Auburn triggered a mash dash toward Podium A in the Lucas Oil Stadium interview area, offering mostly short answers to a barrage of questions.

There are some draft prognosticators who believe Fairley has a decent shot to be selected first in the draft, and probably the best question - or at least the most clever - was when he was asked whom the Panthers should tab with the No. 1 pick if they just happened to be torn between him or teammate Cam Newton.

"Is that a trick question?" Fairley responded amid a barrage of laughter.

There are a lot of observers who are not laughing about the concerns that have cropped up regarding Fairley's style of play and work ethic, among other things.

Fairley disagreed with those who have referred to him as a "one-play wonder."

"I don't think I take plays off," he said.

He also countered the perception that he plays dirty on occasion.

"There are a lot of people who like the way I play," he said.

Fairley also attempted to ease concerns about a shoulder injury (to his AC joint) suffered against Georgia that will keep him from performing the bench press at the Combine. "I still continued playing every game, and the shoulder is getting better," he said.

In response to the obligatory question as to what sets him apart, Fairley said he was both a great pass rusher and run stopper. "I've got a great team of people working with me for the draft, Combine and pro day (March 8), and I can't wait to show the world what I can do."

Fairley admitted that he didn't show much in his sophomore year (2009) at Auburn - another red flag in the eyes of some observers.

"I was just coming out of junior college, and I really didn't know how tough the SEC was," he said. "I was not prepared for the bigger, stronger guys in that conference."

As far as the player Fairley looks up to the most, he mentioned Hall of Famer Reggie White. "He played the game the way it's supposed to be played," Fairley said.

Fairley also mentioned the strong influence of his parents, who he admitted were behind his decision to shake the hands of all the ESPN staffers on the field after Auburn's victory in the BCS championship game.

"They stay on me," Fairley said of his dad, a retiree who worked in a chemical plant, and his mom, who works for the Mobile, Ala., public school system. "I just try to be a down-to-earth, respectful kid, who shakes hands and says, 'Yes sir, no sir."

The odds are strong there will be a number of NFL teams will show him plenty of respect on Draft Day, his supposed issues notwithstanding.

 

Ole Miss NT Powe relishes dirty jobs

After football is over, Jerrell Powe is interested in getting involved in construction, something for which he has a passion. While he might not be the first player chosen in this year's NFL draft, he certainly would be a top pick at the construction site, given his massive size at 6-2 and 335 pounds. For the time being though, Powe hopes he'll be pushing offensive linemen around, rather than iron beams.

Powe declared Sunday that he is the best nose tackle in the draft, a position that is often less than glorious. Nose tackles are often tasked with taking on multiple blockers, in an effort to free up the other defenders to make plays. Even in passing situations, they are usually confined to simply constricting the pocket. However, Powe said he has no problem with these assignments.

"I think I push the pocket well, take on double-teams well," Powe said. "(I'm) a guy who is dependable and willing to lower his shoulder for the team."

With more NFL teams switching to the 3-4 scheme, space eaters like Powe are in high demand. But Powe doesn't want to cast himself as a one-trick pony.

"I can play the three-technique, so I don't think I'm just a 3-4 guy," Powe said. "I mean, that is one of my strengths, my biggest strength as far as playing the nose guard, but I think I can most definitely play in the 3-4 or 4-3 as well. "

Powe mentioned Vince Wilfork of the Patriots and Pat Williams of the Vikings as players that he tries to pattern his game after.

"I think they do a great job of pushing the pocket, doing the things that a nose guard is asked to, taking on double-teams so that the linebackers behind can run around and make plays," he explained.

Powe had a disappointing senior season in 2010, registering just 8½ tackles for loss on a Rebels team that struggled through a 4-8 season. This coming off of a junior campaign where notched 12 tackles for loss, as well as three sacks.

One reason for the decrease in production was attributed to Powe's increased playing time at nose guard as a senior, as opposed to his previous seasons, when he had more opportunities as a three-technique.

Powe said that he already has met with the Chiefs, Broncos and Ravens, and has meetings are on the books with the Raiders and the Dolphins, an interesting mix of 4-3 and 3-4 teams.

Just like every other prospect in Indianapolis this weekend, Powe said he is ready to display his talents for the scouts.

"(I'm) ready to showcase the (bench press), the speed I have as a big man, I think I'm pretty solid," Powe said. "I think I measure up well against the other guys in the draft."

 

Michigan State's Jones comes to Combine with a lot to prove

In 2009, Michigan State OLB Greg Jones single-handedly wrecked havoc on opposing offenses. In 13 games in his junior season, Jones registered 154 tackles and nine sacks, taking home Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors for his work on a 6-7 Spartans squad.

It seemed the time was right to make the jump to the NFL. But Jones didn't see it that way. He decided to stay in school for his senior year.

Jones' production dropped in '10 as his team improved. Opponents ran away from the star 'backer and double-teamed him often, but the other Michigan State defenders stepped up, helping the team post an 11-2 record and win a share of the Big Ten title. Jones still did his part - he finished with 106 tackles and one sack, which was still good enough for first-team All-Big Ten honors - but his draft stock likely dropped a bit. Meeting with the media on Sunday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jones said his senior season was worth it, even if others might not see it that way.

"I don't regret anything; not anything at all," Jones said. "I was able to win a Big Ten championship and not too many people in the world can say that. I'm very happy and proud to be a part of that. I'm more mature then I was then, in '09 as a junior. I feel very strong about my decision."

At 6-0, 242 pounds, Jones is a bit undersized to play outside linebacker in the NFL, so it's projected that he'll move inside. With strong instincts and an ability to make plays in the open field, the switch should fit the former Spartan just fine.

"It's more of a mental adjustment," Jones said of changing positions. "The physical I can do. The mental, just shifting your mind to different responsibilities. When you play middle or when you play outside, you have different responsibilities, so it's just a lot more mental."

In his training since his college career ended on New Year's Day, Jones said he has prepared to make the switch inside. Working out in Orlando, his days have been filled with exercises that improve his ability to cover the field sideline-to-sideline and back into the secondary, two requirements for a "Mike" linebacker in a 4-3 defense.

"I've been working on my speed, on my stride length, relaxing when I run. I've been in the sand, dropping back, getting used to that," Jones said. "Right now, I'm a lot more comfortable against the run. But what I want to work on is dropping back and covering the pass."

In the end, however, Jones knows where he is drafted will have as much to do with his ability to change positions as it is to prove he still has the ability to produce at the level he did two seasons ago.

"I'm just reassuring (the teams) that my athletic ability they see on film is the same thing in these drills right now," Jones said. "I realize some teams, based upon my 2009 stats and what not, that I dropped my athletic ability and speed. But I don't think I have at all."

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