Versatility On Display

INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Jones and DeCori Birmingham will wear different color T-shirts that identify them as quarterback and running back, respectively, at this week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

It's a simple way to help NFL representatives and combine organizers keep track of the 300-plus pro football hopefuls who began flooding the Indiana Convention Center on Wednesday. But the former Arkansas players might be better suited wearing multi-colored shirts during this enormous event that runs through March 1.

That's because Jones and Birmingham are hoping to showcase their versatility and athleticism at a variety of positions, like quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, punt returner and kicker returner in the next few days.

"You don't want to be a one-dimensional player in the NFL," Birmingham said Monday. "Versatility is important. Guys like me and Matt, we're proving that we will go out there, when a coach tells us to play a position, and make something happen."

Jones and Birmingham, who combined for 12,060 yards and 90 touchdowns in their collegiate careers, are hoping to make an all-around impression in the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, agility drills and position specific drills that'll take place at the combine. They'll also be interviewed by teams, measured, examined by doctors and asked to take the Wonderlic Test, which gauges personality and character traits, during this intense week that has an enormous barring on the draft.

Birmingham arrived here Wednesday and began his our-day combine experience.

Jones, Arkansas' most intriguing 2005 NFL Draft prospect, reports today.

"(Jones is) geared up," said his agent, Dave Butz II. "It's the last major dress rehearsal here before the draft and we expect him to continue his climb."

Jones already earned versatility points after setting aside quarterback aspirations to spend a week at receiver during the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. In his first attempt at a new position, Jones earned the praise of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, made big plays in practice and caught a touchdown pass in the all-star game.

Now, Butz said his client expects to work out at quarterback and receiver in front of the multitude of NFL owners, general managers, coaches and scouts this week.

"I've spoken to people at the combine about (Jones) running routes with the receivers and doing those things," Butz said. "They said it's something that is handled once you get there in the pre-meetings with the (general managers).

"But considering the GMs and the teams are the ones that want to see him do both, we're going to make sure that that happens."

The 6-foot-6, 237-pound Jones has work to accomplish here if he's hoping to be selected on the draft's first day (rounds 1 through 3).

He'll have to display enough accuracy and arm strength to play quarterback, technical skill and speed to play receiver and size and power to play tight end or H-back in the NFL. Jones' throwing shoulder, which bothered him early in his career, will be closely examined by team doctors. His personality also will be picked apart.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said several NFL representatives have called seeking information about Jones the past few weeks. Nutt said Jones has been described as a unique prospect that can't be compared to anybody else in the draft.

But Nutt believes Jones will really grab the NFL's attention if he runs a fast 40-yard dash time at the combine.

"I think (the tests and drills are) all important or they wouldn't do it from the interviews on," Nutt said. "But I think it's very, very important that he runs fast.

"He has got to run fast."

Butz, who said Jones was unavailable for comment, doesn't believe it's a problem.

"I don't know why people can't figure it out when he smokes (cornerbacks)," Butz said. "Actually, I do know why. When you look at him, he's so big. When he takes long strides his legs might not look like they're moving as fast.

"But he's plenty fast and I expect him to prove that."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Birmingham also has been working on his speed at a training facility in Miami since making a solid impression at the Las Vegas Bowl.

Birmingham's goals at the combine are to run a quick time in the 40-yard dash (a drill that top running backs regularly pass up at the combine) and perform well on the bench press. He is comfortable with the agility drills but needs to prove he has the speed and the strength needed to succeed in an NFL backfield.

It won't be easy for Birmingham, who is hoping to find a niche in a deep group of running backs that includes mouth-watering prospects like Texas' Cedric Benson and Auburn's Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams.

But he believes his all-purpose career at Arkansas -- running back, receiver, kick returner and punt returner -- will be an advantage this week.

"My versatility is one of the things that I have on my side that will be able to help me," Birmingham said. "There's not many guys in the draft right now that can return both kickoffs and punts, run the ball and be split out wide on plays.

"(The combine will be) a good chance to separate yourself from other guys at your position. I want to go out there and show more teams what I'm capable of doing."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories