UCLA running back Maurice Drew is projected by many draft pundits to be a late second-round choice, which is astonishing considering he's one of the most productive and exciting all-purpose backs in this year's draft class.
He runs with speed that has surprised many pro scouts who simply overlooked him or discounted him because of his 5-foot-7 height. But it's hard to overlook his 5.2 yards-per-carry rushing average as he's capable of bullying his way through a crowd with his 205-pound muscular frame. He's a legitimate threat as a receiver, averaging 12.8 yards per catch during his career with the Bruins. He broke the NCAA record for punt returners with a single-season average that was set back in 1951 and ran four back for touchdowns. Oh, and he returns kickoffs as well, averaging 24.6 yards per attempts during his career at UCLA.
Some wonder if Drew can hold up against the pounding of NFL-caliber defenses and a longer season. But what they overlook when focusing on his height is his magnificent conditioning that allows him to take punishment that sends other backs to the bench. Need proof? Look no further than his injury history. Despite being used as a running back, kickoff and punt returns specialist, Drew only missed one full game due to an injury (ankle sprain) that also limited him to partial action in two others. Outside of that, he had a shoulder contusion in his final game with the Bruins in the Sun Bowl that limited him to returns work in the second half. Three years of action and he sat out only one full game.
Too small? Nonsense. Tell that to Warrick Dunn who is just 5-foot-9 and is 25 pounds lighter than Drew. Entering his tenth NFL season, Dunn has amassed over 8,300 yards rushing (4.2 yards/carry) and more than 3,600 receiving. And don't forget former Lions great Barry Sanders who was 5-foot-8 and 203 pounds. He fared pretty well en route to a Hall of Fame career.
Maurice Drew is a playmaker and a game-breaker. He's quite possibly the most underrated back in this year's class. Sixteen of his touchdowns came on plays that covered 40 yards or more. And he has two games to his credit in which he scored five -- yes, you read that right – five touchdowns in a single contest.
The Colts could use Drew immediately in their returns game with Dominic Rhodes' days as a kickoff returner are likely over since he's penciled in as the featured back in the Colts offense. And the Colts didn't re-sign unrestricted free agent Troy Walters who has handled punt returns the past four seasons. Walters will be joining Edgerrin James in Arizona after agreeing to a deal with the Cardinals today. And based on comments made yesterday by Colts president Bill Polian, Drew is certainly the kind of back who could fit into Indianapolis' plans for the 2006 season.
"I think we'll find a player at the running back position that will contribute and, along with Dominic (Rhodes) and James Mungro, give us the kind of running game we feel we need," he said.
Based on that statement, it appears the Colts are looking for a back with specific talents that can complement their current backs, not necessarily a feature back that can take the reigns all by himself during his rookie season.
"In our system, you have to have certain qualities, speed being one of them, to flourish," Polian explained.
Well if it's speed the Colts want, they need not look any further than Drew. He ran a 4.39 forty at the NFL Combine, the fastest out of all the backs who ran. That awakened interest from teams like the Steelers, Broncos, and Panthers. Based on one of our sources close to the situation, Pittsburgh is considering Drew with the 32nd pick overall after losing their returns specialist, Antwaan Randle-El,through free agency. Denver and Carolina are considering him with their second-round selections.
I caught up with Maurice Drew and found him to be an engaging, happy, and very likeable young man who has a real competitive nature. And he is relishing the opportunity to prove any remaining doubters wrong as he prepares to launch what he knows will be a highly successful NFL career.
Question: You're considered by many to be one of the most productive and exciting all-purpose backs in this year's draft class. That's a pretty big title to carry, are you comfortable with that?
Maurice Drew: Yeah, I'm comfortable with it, but it's not just about me. I couldn't have done it without the guys I played with at UCLA. When you play for UCLA you play with your heart and your love and your passion for the person next to you.
Q: You led the team in rushing during each of your three years on the squad. That's kind of unheard of to do that as a freshman at UCLA, isn't it?
MD: Yeah, but it was kind of a coincidence because I was the third running back my freshman year and was playing mostly special teams … A couple of guys got hurt and I got a chance to go in there and play, and then I did what I had to do to keep that starting spot.
Q: You're one of the most balanced backs in this draft when you look at running ability, your pass catching ability, your playmaking skills. What do you attribute that to? Were you always that kind of back or did you have to develop specific areas as you progressed as a player?
MD: Basically, along the way when you've got people telling you that you're too small for stuff, and that you can't do this and you can't do that, when you're hearing that all the time, you don't have any choice but to challenge yourself to be perfect in every way. So that's what I've tried to do with running, catching, and returns.
Q: You hold the school's all-purpose yardage career-record. Is that something that you would say you are most proud of from your career at UCLA?
MD: It's one of them, but I think going 10-2 this year was better because we brought our team back to the top where it needed to be.
Q: You scored five touchdowns in a game, and actually did it twice. How surreal was that for you to do it even one time, let alone two?
MD: The first time was kind of surreal because it seemed like every time I was touching the ball I scored. That was pretty crazy, at least the first two or three times. After that, I was breaking long gains. But when you've got lots of great guys around you, and the defense can't just key on you, it's easy to do. We had Mercedes Lewis, and Drew Olson drilling the ball to a great receiving corps, and our defense did a great job of getting the ball back for us. So we were able to go out there and put up the points.
Q: Your senior year you averaged 28.5 yards on your punts returns, including three touchdowns. That average broke an NCAA Division 1-A record that had stood since 1951. How hard did that hit you that you had broken a record that had stood for over 50 years, especially considering all the players who had the chance to take a crack at that record over that period of time?
MD: It was pretty cool. It hit me pretty hard, but more than anything it went to show you that special teams is an "x factor" in games. And at UCLA that's what we used to win. It was hard for us to beat some teams, so one way we got an edge on teams was instead of using guys who weren't on scholarships or guys who weren't starting, we put all of our starters out there and some other guys who really wanted to play. So our special teams went all out. We played freshmen, seniors, starters, whoever. And the rule was you go out there and fly around and make plays. That was the attitude we had at UCLA and that really help me break that record for the entire team and the school.
Q: I was really impressed by the fact that you had 4,688 all-purpose yards, a school all-time record, running, catching, doing returns. And yet, you had very few injury problems….
MD: The strength and conditioning program at UCLA really helped prepare me for the season. I had bumps and bruises, but I didn't have any major injuries. And I'm not a guy that shies away from contact either, so I do my best to prepare my body for what's up ahead. I wake up at 6 am and I train for four hours until 10 am. I come home and relax, watch T.V. or play video games. Then I might go back and lift, stretch, or get massaged, sit in the cold tub. Your body is your resume when you get to the NFL, and as a running back, some people don't get all that good physical grades, but that was something I really wanted to do.
Q: I can already tell in this interview that you're a very humble person – and that's a wonderful thing – very quick to share your success with those around you. Does that make these interviews hard when you're asked to talk yourself up like this?
MD: It's pretty hard. But my agent and others I talk to say that I need to just so people know that you're confident. And I'm real confident, there's no doubt about it. When I get on the field, I have a swagger about me that I take onto the field. But I'm reasonable. I know I can't do it by myself. I give guys credit when credit is due. We were like a family out there, and I would never take anything away from the guys I play with – ever.
Check back Friday evening for part two of our three-part exclusive interview with Maurice Drew. We'll get inside his head a bit, find out what he loved about Barry Sanders' style of play, and his interaction with the Colts leading up to this weekend's NFL Draft!
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