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NFL Scouting Combine 2011: Wrapping Up Day Four

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Wide receiver A.J. Green of Georgia runs through a drill during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Wide receiver A.J. Green of Georgia runs through a drill during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Since our mid-day update, we've encountered a flurry of safeties...and that's pretty much it.  It looks like Stampede Blue's run at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, courtesy SB Nation and Brad Wells, who pushed strongly for our presence here at Lucas Oil Stadium, will end not with a bang but a whimper.  No confetti.  No chorus line.  Just how these things go.  The national writers are all hammering out their final stories of their stay and preparing to fly back, the stream of prospects is slowing greatly and soon, the only folks left at the Luke will be players, scouts, general managers and NFL Network analysts attempting to break a six-second 40-yard dash.

We left off talking about Rahim Moore, so let's talk about about some other defensive back prospects.  Shortly after the mid-day update, safety Quinton Carter (Oklahoma) took the podium.  My immediate impression was that he was much more stout and compact than Moore, definitely a strong safety build.  Carter, measuring 6-0, 208 lbs, said he was comfortable playing in the box or in coverage.  The Sooners, he said, transitioned from predominately zone to man coverage this year to support a wider variety of blitz packages, so he said he felt comfortable with either man or zone.  Like most safeties, he compared himself to Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, even throwing in a sprinkle of Brian Dawkins.  Those comparisons became a running theme today.

The next safety to take a podium was Deunta Williams (N. Carolina), one of several Tar Heel defensive prospects here today.  Most of these UNC prospects fielded questions about how good their team could have been had players like Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and Greg Little not been suspended, and really, it's scary to think about how dominant that defense could have been.  UNC might have had the top defensive end, defensive tackle and safety in the draft, as well as one of the better cornerbacks, in college football.  Think they might have made a title run?

More on Williams himself and other prospects after the jump.

Williams described himself as a "headhunter for the ball" off the bat, which certainly caught the media's attention.  I'm not sure that calling yourself a "headhunter" in today's NFL culture is the wisest move, but Williams gave a smart interview.  He explained that he simply meant that he doesn't and can't play hesitant, that he just goes 100 percent every play.  Williams described himself as comfortable in a variety of schemes, from Cover 2 to Cover 3, and claimed that playing at UNC made him a pro-ready prospect.  "Iron sharpens iron," he explained, describing assignments drawn against former Tar Heels Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster.  When asked how he was selling himself to teams, Williams described himself as a cerebral safety, telling us that "if something goes wrong, I know why it went wrong" and insisted that he possessed a great knowledge not only of the safety position but of all other defensive positions and assignments as well.

I also had the chance to listen in on Robert Sands (W. Virginia), a mountain of a safety as you can see in the picture I snapped.  Sands is 6-4, 217 lbs and Pat McAfee described him to me as "a freak."  I didn't see much Mountaineer football last year, but Sands' size was enough to earn him a blurb here.  Of course, Sands compared his game to Reed and Polamula -- running theme, remember -- but also threw in an old school nod to Steve Atwater, which made the mixture a bit awkward but original nonetheless.  He described himself as a "downhill guy" and a ballhawk, and when questions were posed regarding the difficulty of a 6-4 player making tackles on smaller runningbacks, Sands said it's all the same when a safety drops his hips and runs through the tackle.  So, overall, an awkward build for a safety prospect, but worth mentioning.

Obviously, we caught Tyler Sash's (Iowa) press conference.  Sash measured in at 6-0, 211 lbs and looks like your prototypical strong safety.  I asked Sash why he felt his program was able to churn out so many professional prospects and essentially designate Indianapolis as Iowa East, and Sash attributed that to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa coaching staff.  Sash made a good point: many of Iowa's recruits don't come in as five-star players, coaches have to develop them into these legitimate pro prospects and do so at an alarmingly-efficient rate.  Sash was asked a lot of questions about the Colts -- you think there's a chance he's on the draft board? -- and said that "it would be tough to follow in Bob Sanders' footsteps" but he would welcome the challenge and would love to play in Indy.  If Sash is wearing the horseshoe next year, it would reunite him with his college roommate of two years, Pat Angerer, who has given Sash advice as Sash prepares to begin his NFL career.  Finally, Sash described himself as a prospect who anticipates well and is able to contribute on special teams as well.

A few non-safety prospects I'd like to talk about are cornerbacks Curtis Brown (Texas) and Justin Rogers (Richmond) as well as defensive tackle Stephen Paea (Oregon St.)  Brown, who measured in at 5-11 1/2", 185 lbs, models his game after hometown native Nathan Vasher and feels most comfortable in man coverage.  I'm not sure what to make of man vs. zone designations anymore now that the Colts are mixing the two, so I'm always looking out for guys who can at least play a little man coverage.  One of Brown's biggest selling points was that he's played on special teams since he arrived at Texas and even played on coverage teams last year despite being one of the team's top corners.  He identified Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State as the most difficult receiver he has ever had to cover and took pride in holding him to two receptions in their meeting.

 Rogers was an extremely soft-spoken small school guy, heralding from the Richmond Spiders.  He measured in at 5-10, 180 lbs and looks like a prototypical Colts corner.  We sought out Rogers because he intrigued some scouts at the East-West Shrine Game and, on top of having defensive back skills, is a special teams ace as well: he can cover and return both kicks and punts.  Rogers identified his toughest matchup as Wyoming's Marc Mariani (now a Tennessee Titan) in the 2008 Division I Football Championship.

Finally, Paea.  The ridiculously-strong defensive tackle from Oregon State may have been the story of the day.  Paea broke the Combine record by throwing up 49 reps in the bench press, besting the previous record of 45.  This kid is strong, to say the least.  Paea measured in at 6-1, 304 lbs and identifies as "mostly a three-technique."  That means the Colts will be watching closely.  He's an interesting story because he didn't move to the United States until he was "16 going on 17" and didn't play football until his senior year of high school.  Before that, he was primarily a rugby player and claims much of his toughness originated from those roots.  It quickly became apparent, though, that he had a future in football, so the former Tongan rugby player chose Oregon State and excelled there.  We didn't get to see Paea in the Senior Bowl, unfortunately, because he tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee.  He did have the knee repaired by the (in)famous Dr. James Andrews and is slotted to return to 100 percent health in a month.

We finished by sitting in on Mike Mayock, who answered so many questions it probably deserves its own post.  Of particular interest to us, Mayock said that defensive line was by far the deepest position in this draft and maybe the deepest it has ever been.  Conversely, safety and tight end, he said, were the weakest.  He was also asked specifically about the Colts and who they might target at 22, specifically in terms of Polian's penchant for drafting first-round skill players over linemen.  Mayock said that Polian is one of the best drafters in the league and has been for quite some time and that he's tried to get by for years with average talent on the offensive line because Peyton Manning's release is so unbelievably quick.  He said this year, though, if there is a natural tackle sitting at 22 -- and he fully expects there will be -- he expects the Colts to go tackle.  Of natural tackles, he mentioned Castonzo as a top 15 pick, Derek Sherrod as a natural left tackle and Gabe Carimi as a natural right tackle.  He also labeled Nate Solder a project but so athletically-intriguing that he won't make it out the first round, and said the Colts only take a tackle if he's a natural tackle that can be plugged in and start from his first day.  That means, to me, Sherrod is a very likely candidate for that 22nd pick, and if the Colts decide to bounce Ryan Diem in the offseason, Carimi could be a candidate for that right tackle position.

I'll summarize some of my grander Combine impressions in the coming days, but as a quick wrap, these workouts and interviews didn't do much to change my opinions heading into these four days.  My favorite prospect at cornerback is still Burney, my favorite prospect at defensive tackle is still Jarvis Jenkins, my favorite prospect at safety is still Sash, my favorite offensive tackle prospect is still Anthony Castonzo and my feelings about the wide receiver class -- specifically, where the Colts should target a wide receiver -- remain mixed.  Still, it was a great experience and I hope we represented SB Nation and Stampede Blue well for not just the folks who sent us, but for the readers as well.  Matt and I tried to tweet, write and recap everything we felt was worth mentioning (maybe even more things than worth mentioning in the case of my cluttered Twitter account) and hope to look back on this event with fond memories of interviewing an Indy draft pick.  Of course, Bill Polian constantly works counter to expectation, so most of my chickenscratch-flooded notebook probably goes for naught in that regard, but if we represented well and kept our readers informed and entertained, we did our jobs.

That should about do it from Lucas Oil from us, folks.  We will still have some Combine updates over the coming days as linebackers, defensive linemen and defensive backs are subjected to the multitude of field-level drills, but this is the last day media is allowed in the facility.  It has been a tremendous experience and hopefully serves as proof that a new media outlet can cover an event on several fronts, engage readers and fans and generate interest in not only our site, but in the larger NFL product.