Indianapolis - People call him the ‘Big Cat’. And for good reason, as many feel that USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams is the best prospect in this 2015 draft class. It’s a nickname he has grown to love.
”I guess it’s the hair,” Williams said. “It’s like a lion and stuff like that. My name is Leo like Leo the lion. I am not exactly sure where it came from. It may have been the [USC] announcers. It’s pretty cool. I like it so far.”
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Football almost didn’t come to fruition for this California native. Born out west, Williams actually grew up in Florida, specifically Daytona Beach. There, he was always too big to play football and actually got his start in another spot.
”I was too big for Pop Warner,” Williams said. There was a weight limit and I was over it. As a young boy it made me sad. Playing football was all boys dream. It was hard.
”My weight was 180 and I was big kid that was already 210-pounds. I couldn’t cut 30 pounds to play football. So I played rugby for state team. I loved it. It taught me the physical stuff before football so I know it helped a lot.”
It certainly did for Williams. He starred on the Space Coast of Florida, where he became one of the most sought after defensive linemen in high school once he could actually play the game. Then, Southern Cal won a big recruiting battle over Florida, Auburn and others.
Now he’s Scout’s top rated prospect in this draft and his sights are set on being the top pick.
“There is a competition with the quarterbacks. It’s a different position,” Williams said. “Sometimes teams are taking a chance with a QB because you never know what you get. With me I bring disruption, a physicality and get after the quarterback.
”It [being top pick] would mean a lot for me. I expect to be as high as possible. I have high expectations of myself. The same with my coaches and my family. I want to go as high as possible. I would love to go No. 1.”
Williams will hear his name called very early on April 30th. He still can’t believe he will be knocking heads with the guys he grew up watching. For Williams, it’s all surreal.
“It really hasn’t sunk in,” Williams said. “I just try and soak it in. There is so much going on that I can’t think about the past or the future. I just want to live in the moment. At the same time I know I will be playing against guys doing this for a living. I am 20-years old and about to join a league where they are doing it as a profession. It’s going to be a tough competition.”
Winston wants to earn NFL trust
FSU quarterback Jameis Winston will be the most scrutinized prospect in this draft. He has had numerous off the field issues while playing college football in Tallahassee. Still, the media here in Indianapolis grilled him earlier today regarding his past and how he was going to prove his worthiness to the NFL. For Winston, he just wants a fresh start and clean state.
”My actions. I have to do everything by my actions,” Winston said. “It’s not time to explain what I am going to do when I get to a city and a team. I plan on getting involved in the community, creating a positive image and put everything else behind me.”
His two playing seasons in Tallahassee were great ones on the field. He led Florida State to a national title in 2013 and a playoff berth this past season. He won the Heisman Trophy as red-shirt freshman and lost only one game, his last, as the Seminole starting quarterback.
Still, Winston knows his image is tarnished because of his off the field issues. Whether he’s starting to grow up or this was all just part of his maturation process, Winston realizes now he has hurt many people along the way, particularly young people that look up to him. On the podium facing the NFL media Winston showed remorse and commented about what he wants to become away from the game.
”One thing that’s helped me realize my mistakes is to get around kids,” Winston said. “I recently read at an elementary school in Tallahassee. When I see kids look at me I feel bad at myself. It’s hard thing to be real about yourself. It’s hard to let someone down. I am a family person. When I look in their eyes and say ‘dang that little kid saw something on TV he can say whatever about me’.
”I have a 7-year old brother at home that’s looking up to me every single day. I can’t disappoint that little man. That’s my little brother. I am his inspiration. In a way he’s living through me. When I went home he was looking at my high school video and he said ‘Jaybo that’s me’. It was me on the film. I have so many people to inspire and kids are looking up at me, not only as a quarterback but as a person. I want to be that role model.”
Winston made a strong point that he wants to be the face of a franchise. He said it numerous times during his 12 minutes on the podium. He also realizes that with this distinction comes a real responsibility.
”What I tell them [NFL coaches] is that I have to earn their trust,” Winston said. “I can’t talk about the situations in the past. I can prove to you and watch me grow and be the face of your franchise.”
Young guy with an old soul
Getting to the NFL means a little bit more to Malcom Brown than most. This defensive tackle standout from the University of Texas made his decision because he’s now a father and husband. Brown has been married now for nine months and has two daughter four-year step daughter and a six month old.
“It gives me more motivation,” Brown said. “I am not playing for myself anymore. I am supporting my family. I can’t think about just myself when making decisions. I have to think about my daughters and my wife. “
Brown’s grounded and comes across more mature than your average NFL draft prospect. He says that comes from his upbringing and the people he was around.
”I grew up around older folks and older people,” Brown said. “People say I am a young guy with an old soul but that’s just how I grew up. I know when to play and be serious. I also know responsibility.
The ultimate team player
The big question for Cameron Erving regarding the NFL is he a tackle or center. The big question from the media today at the NFL Combine was the same.
“I am always the type of player that does what the teams needs,” Erving said. “I do whatever what my team needs. In the meeting I have had with the NFL teams they have me questions about both positions and my take on defenses. I don’t know what certain teams have in store for me but regardless of where I go I will do whatever the team needs.”
A the end of the day football people know that Erving can play both positions at a high level. In fact, he was an All-ACC player playing each. That versatility should only bolster his draft stock.
”It’s definitely a good thing,” Erving said. “It’s a good positive. I take pride in what I do whether it’s playing center or tackle. I never played offensive guard at all honestly. But I know I can step in and play offensive guard. It’s definitely a plus.”
Erving, 6-foot-5, 313-pounds, was recruited to FSU to play defense. He switched to offensive tackle. Then his good friend, center Bryan Stork [Patriots], went to the NFL. That’s when Jimbo Fisher asked him to make the move despite being one of the top returning tackles in college football.
”People more than anything made a big deal about it,” Erving said. “They asked about the NFL but that wasn;t on my mind. I always do what’s best for the team. I moved from defense because it was best for the team. Playing tackle or center doesn’t matter. I do what my team needs.”
The downhill dog
He may not be your ideal linebacker because of his size but Denzel Perryman sure exudes great confidence. This Miami Hurricane can’t fight against his 5-foot-11 frame. He doesn’t call it a limitation and is used to the criticism.
”I go downhill and I can take on blocks,” Perryman said. “I know I need to brush up on my man to man but I know there are some teams that say they are impressed with my pass coverage skills. I am smart and a downhill dog.“As far as my height I started hearing about it when I was being recruited in high school. I think my play makes up for my height. I don’t play like I am 5-11.”
You can’t deny Perryman’s production as he was a tackling machine in Coral Gables. He’s ready to take his game to the next level and he has one special little lady that provides him some extra motivation.
”I have a passion for the game,” Perryman said. “I have two older brothers that played. I also have a daughter that I wake up to every morning that fuels that passion.”
Goldman watches teammates
Eddie Goldman is yet another potential first round draft pick from Florida State. This defensive tackle had terrific 2014 season. It came with hard word and the help of some teammates.
”When I first came in I played under some seniors and juniors,” Goldman said. “And I had a bit to learn. My sophomore year I came in still learning but I did beat out two seniors and earned a spot alongside Timmy Jernigan. He taught me so much about playing nose tackle. That year I also played the three and five technique. I would just watch him in practice, during the games and see his intensity. I also learned a lot from Everett Dawkins, Jacobbi McDaniel, Demonte McCallister and all of those guys.”
Goldman came to the Seminoles as a highly sought after five-star prospect. While others may have shown him the way this defensive tackle has some serious talent.
”I am tough and hard-nosed,” Goldman said. “I have a little finesse. But overall I am an aggressive kind of guy. I think it’s accurate that I am more of a run stuffer. But I am a good pass rusher too. I can stuff the run and then when it’s third and long I can rush the passer.”
News and notes
USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams on potentially being drafted by the Oakland Raiders - Raiders fan – “I was born in California but grew up in Florida. Oakland was one of hometown favorite teams. I love their colors. I love their tradition. At the same time I want to go as high as possible. I am shooting for that No. 1 spot. If I drop to the Raiders I would love to play for them.”
Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown on being confused with Texas running back Malcolm Brown, both at the NFL Combine – “It happened twice today already. People need to look at the ‘Ls’. They [NFL] got us confused today on some medical stuff.”
Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman on Ray Lewis and wearing the same jersey number – “He came to speak to the team my freshman year. He pulled me aside and asked me what about what number I wore but I think he already knew. I told him No. 52 and he told me he would be watching me. I felt like eyes were always over me no matter what.”
FSU offensive tackle Cameron Erving on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston and his character - :Jameis is a really good guy who has great character. Anybody that is around him at any point time knows he loves to have fun and do what he does. People think he’s a bad guy with troubled character. That is not an issue. He’s a great guy. If you asked he would give the shirt off his back for you. “• 28 players at the NFL Combine will work out at multiple positions. Shaq Thompson (Washington), Nick Marshall (Auburn) and Blake Simms (Alabama) are three that will work out at multiple positions.
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