Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis isn't going to be pushed around by NFL wide receivers. At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Davis showcased his strength by benching 225 pounds 25 times. That feat was tops among the nation's best cornerbacks who hope to be drafted by an NFL team this April.
"I think it showed how physical I am and that I'll be able to compete at the line of scrimmage with much bigger receivers, and that's a real plus for a cornerback," Davis said during a phone interview this week. "I think it would help my game a lot to play in a more aggressive style of defense."
Entering the NFL Draft process this year as a junior, Davis also knew it was important for him to show NFL team officials his maturity level during more than 20 formal interviews with potential employers. And he believes he succeeded in conveying to them that he was NFL-ready both on and off the field.
Davis, who made 78 tackles and forced three fumbles last year, only intercepted two passes while breaking up eight others. While he snagged four interceptions in 2007, Davis wasn't getting as many opportunities to be a playmaker in 2008 as offenses had learned that it was dangerous to throw to his area of the field.
"I kind of respect the fact that they didn't throw as often to my side," Davis explained. "That also gave me the respect that I am one of the best corners in the country."
Wake Forest's Chip Vaughn has rare speed and quickness for a big, physical safety. The 6-foot-1, 221-pound defender has legitimate 4.4-second speed and was one of the top performers in the 40-yard dash and 20-yard shuttle at the Combine. Although NFL.com posted his best 40-time as 4.51 seconds, one prominent AFC assistant coach noted that he hand-timed Vaughn's best run at the Combine at just under 4.4 seconds and believes he'll be off the draft board much earlier than many people think.
Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn runs the 40 at the NFL Combine.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Despite logging 87 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, picking off a pair of passes and recovering two fumbles during his final season with the Deacons, Vaughn says he's had his share of doubters along the way who didn't think he'd realize his NFL dream. And he's actually grateful to them.
"As a result, I always go out there and play with a bit of a chip on my shoulder to show them that I can do it," he said. "So I want to thank everyone who ever talked bad about me, because it motivated me to work even harder."
After back-to-back strong showings in Mobile and Indianapolis that have helped improve his visibility and his draft stock, Vaughn is getting ready to play football again. He plans to let his Combine numbers stand and will participate in position drills at Wake Forest's Pro Day on March 23.
Although Tennessee RB Arian Foster couldn't work out at the Combine due to an injury, he believes he benefited from the experience. After pulling his hamstring during Senior Bowl week, Foster wasn't able to work out in Indianapolis, so he focused on taking full advantage of getting some face-to-face interaction with NFL talent evaluators.
"I think I showed the teams that interviewed me that I know football, that I speak well and that I can handle myself on and off the field," Foster said. "I believe I really showed them who I am."
As for the status of his injury, Foster claims that it's "90- to 95-percent" right now, and he's expecting to be 100-percent healthy by mid-March.
"I'm not sure if I'll be ready by my Pro Day on March 11," he said. "But in case I'm not ready by then, I'm working on setting one up at San Diego State on the 21st since you have to run it in your hometown.
That would be a lot better so I have a little more time to make sure it's healed and so I can go full speed."
Connor Barwin showed NFL scouts and coaches that he can walk the talk. After matter-of-factly telling the media that he believed he was one of the best athletes in this year's draft class, the University of Cincinnati defensive end finished first at his position in the vertical jump, three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle. He tied for first in the broad jump and finished second in the 40-yard dash. So out of six major events, Barwin nailed five of them.
Projected by some teams as a defensive end and by others as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, the 6-foot-4, 256-pound former tight end knew that it was especially important for him to show well in the three-cone drill and the shuttle.
"If you can run good times like that, you look like a good, athletic defensive lineman," he said. "I think for me it was really important to do well because if I also want to be projected as one of the top linebackers in this draft, I needed to show that I can move well standing up. So I was happy that I was able to do that."
University of Connecticut running back Donald Brown is a player—and a person— that you should hope gets selected by your favorite NFL team in April. Even though he was the nation's top rusher in 2008, Brown isn't getting the full measure of respect he deserves. But he'd be the last person to complain about it. To do so would be totally uncharacteristic for the humble and friendly running back who rolled over opposing defenses for more than 2,000 rushing yards while averaging 160 yards per game and scoring 18 touchdowns.
RB Donald Brown with the MVP trophy at the International Bowl.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young
During his senior year, Brown ran for 18 touchdowns. But ask him if he's proud of his collegiate accomplishments and he'll quickly share the glory while downplaying his own role in his success.
"The offensive line did a great job this year. You know, some of the holes they opened up, you could literally get a truck through them," he said. "It made my job a lot easier."
In fact, Brown is so nice and polite that he couldn't even compliment his own family's role in his development as a person without apologizing to the rest of the world for it.
"My family is the best family in the world—with all due respect to everyone else's families out there," he said. "I have the best parents who have supported me through the ups and downs. They've been there for me in every situation. They were always there when I needed a shoulder to lean on and when I needed someone to talk to. They've been so supportive throughout this whole thing and I wouldn't be where I am today without my parents."
Brown is truly one of the good guys in this year's draft that you'll want to see succeed no matter where he plays.
South Carolina's Jared Cook, one of the most athletic tight ends in this draft class, even surprised himself a bit with his outstanding results at the NFL Scouting Combine. During a recent phone interview, the 6-foot-5, 246-pound tight end stated that he knew his hard work and preparation would pay off in Indianapolis, but even he was a bit surprised that he was able to place first in three of the seven events at his position. Cook was clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, posted a 41-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-3-inch broad jump.
With those results, the former wide receiver, who converted to tight end in his sophomore year, knows how he'll approach his upcoming Pro Day.
"I think I'm satisfied with all of the numbers," Cook said. "Most of the teams have me at a 4.4 in the 40, and my broad and vertical were pretty decent. So I think I'm just going to do position drills on my Pro Day and let the numbers stand for themselves."
In 13 contests during the 2008 season, Cook caught 37 passes for 573 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensive tackle Ron Brace didn't think it was possible for him to be awed by anyone he met at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Boston College defensive tackle had mentally prepared himself for the fact that he was going to be sitting face-to-face with NFL head coaches. And he was ready to project his confidence and football knowledge to them as they showed him film and grilled him with questions.
But during his formal interview with the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of 14 clubs he sat down with in Indianapolis, Brace was introduced to one person who threw him off balance for a moment—Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle Joe Green.
" I think that's probably the first time in my life I've ever gotten star-struck," Brace said during a recent phone interview. " My voice kind of cracked a little bit when I said 'hi' to him. I was just in awe. I was like, ' this is Mean Joe Greene's hand I'm shaking'. If it hadn't been a formal interview, I would've been dying to ask him for a picture. But that's kind of unprofessional."
Brace, who finished sixth in the bench press with 32 reps, plans to run the 20-yard shuttle and the 40-yard dash in addition to participating in position drills at his Pro Day on March 12. As he reflected on his Combine performance, he was particularly pleased with his performance during position drills.
"The one thing that I wanted to go down there and show them was that I'm not just a big slug," the 6-foot-3, 330-pound lineman said. " I have good feet. I think they could see that in our position drills because I'm really light on my feet. I think it kind of surprised some people how athletic I am."
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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.