HOOD HOT AT COMBINE: It's a certainty that top-rated defensive tackle B.J. Raji will be gone when the Colts choose at No. 27. Peria Jerry is intriguing, but he could be gone as well by that point. But one defensive tackle that might have vaulted himself into the first round this weekend is Missouri's Evander Hood.
"Ziggy" had one of the top workouts for defensive tackles, putting up the 225-pound bench press 34 times and showing a 33 3/4-inch vertical leap. But he saved his best for the 40-yard dash, where the 300-pounder ran a 4.89, which tied him for the best time with Iowa's Mitch King among DTs.
Ziggy was a standup defensive end in high school, but said he adapted well inside at Missouri. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman for the Tigers.
AP Photo/Jerry Larson
"I learned the different moves, different steps once I came to Missouri," he said. "I never had to put my hand on the ground until I came to Missouri."
He attributes his success to his high motor and work ethic.
"I always try to give my best, 110 percent, or more, 111," he said. "There's are always times you can make great plays but when you hustle you make better plays."
"I just thought that up," he said, and laughed. "I just try to go and never stop. That's something my father told me; keep going, never stop, never slow down, always work hard for what you want."
He knows he's got some ground to make up on Jerry and Raji.
"They do a good job," he said of the other top DTs in the draft. "There are some things they do better than me and some things I hope I can accomplish. I'm just trying to do my best for myself."
"As long as you get the victory it doesn't matter," he said about doing the dirty work at defensive tackle. "Someone else can get the tackles but as long as you when everybody gets the W. I'm not selfish; if somebody [else] gets 20 tackles and gets all the love I know we'll get the win because he's done his job, and I'm going to do my job as well."
Hood said he played most of his college career at the three-technique (which translates to the "under tackle" position in the Colts' defense), although he did slide inside over the center for a few plays a game and thought his quickness would allow him to play at a five-technique, as well. With his combination of size and speed, the Colts could use him at under tackle or as a nose tackle.
Since I knew the Colts were interested in Ziggy from the Senior Bowl, I grabbed him for a couple of one-on-one questions about Indianapolis. He mentioned that he had a meeting with them while he was in town for the Combine, and that he thought he could help the team.
"It would be a great opportunity to play [right away]," he said. "I think I could bring something new to their line with power and speed at the same time."
AYERS HAS A MENTOR IN MANNING: Tennessee's Robert Ayers is the fifth-ranked defensive end in the draft, and at 6-feet-3 and 272 pounds, he's a little bigger than the players the Colts usually look for at the position. Dwight Freeney is 6-feet-1, 268 pounds (but a truly exceptional athlete; see below), and Robert Mathis is 6-feet-2, 245 pounds.
But good players come in all sizes, and he told me he'd be willing to play inside if need be.
"In college I played anywhere across the line, but I started the games at right defensive end; of course I feel more comfortable on the right side but I can do either," he said. "I've been exposed to playing anywhere from a one-technique to a standup nine. So any position across the front I feel comfortable."
Tennessee's Robert Ayers
"I had a good coach at Tennessee and he helped me along the way. I wasn't the most polished player at it but I felt like I did a pretty good job. I studied myself on film and got good grades back from my coach. So, I felt like I did a pretty good job there, there's a lot I can improve on but it was fun to do it. I'm willing to do anything to help the team pretty much."
A late bloomer who only started one season in college (although he led the Vols in sacks from the bench as a junior) he's been rising on draft boards since the Senior Bowl, and some are projecting him as a first-round pick.
"I try not to worry about what the mock drafts say," he said. "I just try to do my job and work hard. If things pay off and I end up in the first round, that's good; if I go free agency, that's good too. I'm just happy to be in this position."
He said that Alabama's Andre Smith, who made his own headlines during Combine weekend, was the best blocker he faced in college, and that Joey Porter was his favorite NFL player. He also mentioned he'd met with Houston. Gary Kubiak mentioned during his press conference that the Texans are looking for another DE to complement Mario Williams.
Ayres said hadn't met with the Colts when I talked to him, but he did tell me he's had some good experiences with fellow Volunteer Peyton Manning in Knoxville, playing seven-on-seven with the Colts' QB. He also mentioned that he's sought Manning out for one-on-one advice in the past.
Ayres ran a respectable 4.8 40-yard dash at the Combine, but had a lackluster showing in the bench press, only putting the bar up 17 times. He'll get another chance to impress scouts at Tennessee's Pro Day on March 11.
FREENEY THE FREAK: In thinking about defensive ends, it's worth reflecting on Dwight Freeney's numbers, since the 2002 Combine is probably when Bill Polian realized he had struck gold with the undersized end from Syracuse.
After weighing in at 266 pounds, Freeney ran a 4.48 40-yard dash, showed a 37-inch vertical leap and put the 225-pound bench press bar up 28 times.
For perspective, that 40 time would have been the fastest among defensive ends at this year's Combine by .16 seconds, and would have been the fourth-best time among running backs. No defensive end jumped 37 inches at this year's Combine, although four players — Hawaii's David Veikune (35), Texas' Brian Orakpo (31), Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson (28) and San Jose State's Jarron Gilbert (28) — equaled or bettered him in the bench press.
The fact remains, though: you just don't see a player with Freeney's mix of speed and strength come along very often, and savvy picks like that are the reason the Colts have stayed on top for so long. Can they find another rare talent in 2009?
If so, chances are they spotted him this weekend.