Grateful Cowboy

DALLAS - Mike Hamlin has two ways to look at his fifth-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2009 NFL Draft.

On one hand, the former Clemson star thought that after piling up 326 tackles and 14 interceptions as a four-year starter in college, he should have been chosen higher than in the fifth round.

"I went lower than I thought I would," said Hamlin, adding that Dallas, Atlanta and New England showed the most pre-draft interest in him. "My agent said third (round), so I was thinking third, but the Cowboys were one team that I thought I could come to. When I came here, I had a great visit — I got along with the coaches well, and got a good feel for the coaches and what they want to do, and got a lot of interest, so this is one team I thought I'd get a phone call from."

On the other hand, slipping in the draft allowed Hamlin to end up with the team he cheered for growing up in South Carolina.

"In South Carolina, we've got no NFL team," he said. "The majority of people in South Carolina are not Carolina (Panthers) fans. The majority of them are either Cowboy or Redskins fans. A lot of people are (fans of) Cowboys and Clemson, or Redskins and (University of) South Carolina, so either you like Dallas or you hate Dallas. My parents were Cowboys fans, I liked watching them, with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin and all those guys."

So now Hamlin is one day into his professional career, and said that the most daunting challenge involves the new language he has to learn with his new team.

"I'm looking at (the playbook), trying to learn the terminology and the definition for each word, which is very hard … but I'll get it," he said. "It's pretty much a different language, but the concepts are basically the same — it's just learning the terminology."

He said that while his new job brings with it considerable challenges, it's not really an accurate parallel to compare being an NFL rookie with being a college freshman. "At first, it wasn't that hard, because we're doing regular back-pedaling drills and footwork drills — it wasn't that bad," he said after his first practice at Valley Ranch. "But when we got to man-to-man drills, it's just kind of a different feel. Everybody pretty much knows what they're doing. You don't have a freshman-type guy out there, just lost — you've got everybody pretty much on top of their game, so the main thing is just trying to get adjusted and continue to work hard."

Hamlin said the Cowboys' coaches haven't designated him yet as a future strong safety or free safety, adding that they want him to be prepared to take on either role.v "They said free or strong," he said. "They said there's a chance I could play both, so right now I'm just trying to learn. It doesn't really matter to me, because in college, they were interchangeable, so some games, I'd be down (strong safety), some games I'd be high (free safety)."

His ability to play either spot stems in part from his admiration for two of the best safeties in the NFL — Baltimore's Ed Reed and Pittsburgh's Troy Palomalu — players after whom he said he tries to pattern his game.

"Ed Reed is a ballhawk — if the ball is in the air, he'll be there, and Troy is the same way, sort of," Hamlin said. "Ed is more of a free (safety) guy — he likes to roam around, back deep — and Troy is more of an in-the-box guy. I like to think I can do some of both."

Hamlin said he'd like to buy himself a car when he starts pulling a paycheck, but only after he treats his parents to something nice, first. In the meantime, he might have a chip on his shoulder about his spot in the draft, but when discussing the fact that he is now an NFL player — and playing for his favorite childhood team, no less — Hamlin couldn't wipe the smile off his face while standing in front of his new locker.

"It made up for everything," he said. "There's no better place to be than here."

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