John Crist: Talk to me about your experience at the Senior Bowl this past month in Mobile. Ultimately, do you think you helped or hurt yourself for the upcoming NFL Draft?
Zebrie Sanders: It was a really good experience just playing against the best talent in the country. It seemed like every rep I was going against NFL talent, from Quinton Coples to Melvin Ingram to Courtney Upshaw. They're really good. I think it actually helped me in the long run of what to expect from great players like that. I got a good experience out of it. I wouldn't want to do it again, but we had a good time, a fun time.
JC: You're leading me right to my next question. What was it like having to spend much of your time trying to block Coples? He looks like a top-10 pick when April gets here, and he was probably the best prospect on the field at the event. Are there going to be guys like that each and every Sunday at the next level?
ZS: It opened my eyes. Last year, including the Notre Dame game, I knew it was going to be good talent week in and week out. Just learning from that, I know that I need to get a lot better on my technique. I'm working on making sure I'm right on with my hand placement, my foot quickness and everything. I'm just going out there on Wednesday at the combine, so I'm actually just proving I can do it.
JC: The Senior Bowl is an actual football game with actual football practices leading up to it. The Scouting Combine, on the other hand, has draft prospects like yourself simply getting tested on everything imaginable -- like lab rats. Do you feel one event or another presents you with a better opportunity to impress talent evaluators?
ZS: I think I can excel in both aspects. I feel like I was good enough at the Senior Bowl, and at the same time I'm good enough to have a good showing at the combine. They're just two different aspects [of the draft process]. I want to be good at both. But I think that, yeah, my quick feet and my athleticism will help me out later this week when I fly to Indianapolis.
JC: It tends to be considered bad form for sports writers to criticize college players, as in the end they're just kids and the majority of the praise and blame falls on the coaches, who are getting paid. But in the NFL, you're going to hear it from everybody if you don't play well. Do you have to prepare yourself for that aspect of the professional game?
ZS: I think that's something that [Florida State offensive line] coach [Rick] Trickett did a great job preparing me and [Andrew] Datko for it, just always grinding us. It didn't matter if we were playing Clemson or even Louisiana-Lafayette, you know what I'm saying? He came at us hard. We had to make sure we practiced hard. He let us know we could get beat if we don't play 100 percent at this level. And so for us, it's just going to carry over to the NFL. What I learned in college is going to help me excel in the league, and I'm sure I'm going to learn anything I can from all the people I know. ... I'm just trying to pick up little pointers from everybody to help me out.
JC: Most every potential draft pick says it's an honor just to be selected and they don't care where they go. But there's something about being a first-round choice: more money, more prestige, more expectations. You've been rumored as a possible first rounder. Is that in any way important to you?
ZS: I know that it was a personal goal, but at the end of the day my only dream was to just get drafted. It wasn't to be a first-round pick. It was just be drafted. That's hard in itself. And now that I'm getting a little bit of publicity now from scouts and GMs and people saying that I could potentially have enough talent to be a first-round pick, it is a good experience. But I'm also humble enough to know that it really doesn't mean anything. Does being in a mock [draft] really matter in April when you hear a team call your name? And now I'm just working on being better, working on foot stuff, being stronger, quicker. It's time to show up and have a really good combine from Wednesday to Saturday of this week, and I'll just see where I go from there.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
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