While Ben Nowland, Travaris Robinson, Lorenzo Diamond, Robert Johnson, Mark Brown, Roderick Hood and Damon Duval have become household names to Auburn fans because of their outstanding play the last few seasons on the Plains, the NFL is a different world as many found out this summer in workouts at the Combine in Indianapolis and on Auburn's Pro Day just last month.
Looking for just the right fit on their respective teams, coaches and scouts from just about every NFL team have made visits to Auburn and all over the south trying to find that diamond in the rough that will help their team win a Super Bowl title. One player who could be the find of the year for a team is Nowland. A dependable and rugged starter for the Tigers in his career with 34 career starts, he made a favorable impression on scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile and now he's waiting to see where his future lies.
"It's more of a guessing game than I thought it would be," Nowland tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "You really don't hear that much from teams. My agent handles all of that and keeps me up to date when he talks to a team. I myself, I haven't had a lot of contact with teams except for at the Senior Bowl and at Pro Day when the scouts were actually out there. The Texans (Houston Texans) called my house for my draft day info, but other than that there is a lot less contact than what I thought. Right now it's just a big waiting game."
Ben Nowland snaps to another player hoping to hear his name called, quarterback Daniel Cobb.
The waiting game actually began last fall when Nowland first started thinking about playing professional football. Wanting to make sure he did everything by the book, he sought out advice within the Auburn Athletic Department before going the professional route.
"The first thing I did was get with Stacy Danley in compliance and set it up with him to make sure I didn't get into any trouble," Nowland notes. "I just started screening agents before the season was actually over so when my eligibility was up I could make a pretty informed decision on who I would go with," he says. "I felt, and I've kind of been told, that it was important to have an agent going into the Senior Bowl. It was two and a half weeks after the season ended. With my mom's help and my brother Terry's help I made the choice. That was really beneficial because when I was down there in the hallway talking to scouts in between practices he was out meeting other scouts and general managers and offensive line coaches.
"From there I went straight back to Atlanta to prepare for our (Auburn) pro day," Nowland adds. "You do a bunch of strength and conditioning kind of drills just to get you in shape. It's real specific just for the combine and pro day type drills. I didn't go to the combine so I can't really comment on that, but the time frame for our pro day was pretty similar to that of the combine. Extensive training on the drills that you do on pro day is basically what we did in Atlanta."
Working with Chip Smith at CES, where Brian Urlacher trained before becoming a number one selection by the Chicago Bears, Nowland says he didn't follow the plan most stay on when training away from home for the NFL Draft. Instead of remaining on campus and training until the draft, he went back to Atlanta to ensure that he was in the best shape possible to head into mini-camp this summer.
"I chose to go back to Atlanta and train," Nowland said. "Jon Stinchcomb and I are actually the only guys that actually went back up there after our pro day. I've been up there for three and a half months. After the pro day we started position training and getting ready to play football. We started more football conditioning and things like that.
"We lift and run four days a week and that takes three or three and a half hours. We probably run for an hour and a half and then get a good two hour lift in. On Wednesdays we get a good pool workout, which lasts about an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes. That's good to help you get your body back. It's not terribly straining, but it gets the blood flowing."
Nowland will join with a large group of family and friends in his hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to watch the draft when the final piece of the puzzle will be put into place. Like Nowland, many of his former teammates will be doing much the same thing. Some may be drafted while others could go the free agent route and try to make the team of their choosing. Either way, the pro road is just beginning for a group of hard working players who earned their place in Auburn lore following a memorable 2002 season.
Robert Johnson runs after the catch last season.
Auburn's leading receiver last season, Robert Johnson decided to give up his senior year in pursuit of his dream of playing professional football. Measuring 6-6, 278 for professional scouts, he is expected to be a mid-round selection, but could work his way into the first day of the draft because of his talent and athleticism for a man of his size. For his career he caught 59 passes for 758 yards and 10 touchdowns.
His running mate at tight end, Lorenzo Diamond, may have had the most impressive workout for any of the departing Tigers at pro day. Running better than expected times and in the best shape of his life, Diamond may have earned himself a late round selection in one day of work. In his career Diamond caught 46 passes for 532 yards and four touchdowns. His best season came as a sophomore when he had 16 receptions for 172 yards. Diamond measured at 6-3, 258 for professional scouts.
Kicker/punter Damon Duval had his share of ups and downs in his career at Auburn, but there was never a doubt about his ability to kick the ball. Finishing his career as Auburn's all-time leading scorer with 266 points, Duval tied the career field goals made record with 45 and never missed an extra point. He also finished with the second-best punting average in school history behind Terry Daniel. His ability to do everything in the kicking game may make him a valuable late round selection.
Roderick Hood breaks loose for a long return in 2002.
Cornerback Roderick Hood wowed professional scouts at Auburn last month by running two times of better than 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and showing the strength to make him a valuable asset on defense as well as special teams. While there are still questions about his hip turn and flexibility in the coverage game, there is no doubt about his ability to run and desire on the football field. Those two things alone will make Hood a possibility for a team looking for help in the secondary as well as in the return game. For his career Hood had 102 tackles and five interceptions. He added 571 yards on 51 punt returns and 874 yards on 44 kickoffs. Hood measured out at 5-9, 193 in his workout.
Linebacker Mark Brown fought through adversity and injuries to lead the Tigers in tackles as a senior with 95 and finished his career with 186 stops, two and a half sacks and eight and a half tackles for losses. A relentless worker who dedicated himself like no other Tiger player heading into his senior season, the 6-0, 238-pound Brown has the size to play in the NFL, but a lack of speed may keep him from getting his name called next weekend. He will likely be forced to earn his way via free agency, but Brown's tenacity may warrant a late round selection from a team looking for a player who will be in the right spot and play with fire.
A player that moved around his entire career before settling in at free safety his senior season, 5-10, 193 Travaris Robinson proved that he could play and lead a defense as a senior, something the pro scouts take into account. That may not be enough though as his size will likely force him to move outside to cornerback where his lack of pure speed will be a detriment. Finishing his career with 161 tackles and five interceptions, Robinson is a playmaker and some team will be wise to give Robinson a shot next weekend.
Linebacker Mark Brown was the physical leader of the 2002 defense.
The surprise of the draft among the Tigers may be defensive lineman Dante Booker. A non-factor for much of his two seasons on the Plains, the 6-3, 284 Booker exploded onto the scene on Pro Day by running sub 4.7s back-to-back for a horde of scouts watching his every move. Combine that with a show on the bench press and you have the makings of a late round reach pick. Don't be surprised if Booker's name is called sometime on Sunday to force fans all over the country to scramble to find out something on their newest player.
Other players hoping to hear their name called next weekend are quarterback Daniel Cobb, running back Michael Owens, offensive lineman Ryan Hockett, wide receiver Marcel Willis, deep snapper Michael Lindsey and defensive backs Rashaud Walker and Horace Willis. Willis is a player that many teams liked in workouts, but his lack of experience could force him out of the draft.
The NFL Draft can be seen live on ESPN beginning Saturday April 26 with the first two rounds shown that day. Sunday the draft will be seen on both ESPN and ESPN2 throughout the day.