7 Points: The NFL Combine

Scout.com's Ed Thompson is talking to the players who are showcasing their athleticism at the NFL Combine. Find out what USC LB Brian Cushing, Liberty RB Rashad Jennings, WR Percy Harvin, Penn State DE Aaron Maybin, Bengals DE Connor Barwin, Oklahoma safety Nic Harris and Hawaii CB Ryan Mouton had to say.

USC linebacker Brian Cushing is a Jersey guy with a throwback approach to his physical training for football. During an exclusive interview with Scout.com, Cushing revealed that he declined the opportunity to prepare for the Combine at a fancy, high-tech athletic facility. He wanted to go back to his parent's house in Bergen County, New Jersey and work with his high school trainer.

"We work out of a warehouse. It's nothing pretty, it's nothing special, but I've got a lot of trust in the guy," the talented linebacker said. "I've been working with him since my sophomore year, and the results that I've gotten, I can't complain about. So I just wanted to continue with him."

While you might think that Cushing would spend a good portion of his summers at the Jersey shore, he actually spent most of them at football camps, playing baseball, or at USC. But he loves spending time in the state where he was born and raised.

"I think it's a real state. People are honest about each other," he said. "They tell you the truth about how they feel and they don't hold anything back."

Penn State DE Aaron Maybin
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin learned valuable lessons from his head coach, Joe Paterno, that will serve him well as a professional player.

"Joe is a great man, a great head coach," Maybin said during his Saturday press conference in Indianapolis. "Having the pleasure to play under him has definitely been a huge learning experience for me. He's taught me a lot about what it really means to sacrifice, what it really means to pay attention to details, and what it really means to buy be able to buy into a system."

Maybin explained that Paterno's consistency and dedication to the team concept left a deep impression on him as a player and as a person.

"Penn State hasn't changed at all since Joe's got there. So it's simply not going to change just because a talented player comes into the organization," he said. "So whoever comes in is going to have to buy into the program and do what it is that the coach requires of them. And I think that's the biggest thing that I took from my Penn State experience."

Liberty running back Rashad Jennings has been so dedicated to performing well at the Combine and his Pro Day that he even spent Christmas Day in Florida so that he could continue his training without interruption.

"It didn't even feel like Christmas, it was hot," the Lynchburg, Virginia native told Scout.com during an exclusive interview. "But I didn't want to miss a day, you only get this opportunity once. So I don't even consider that to be a sacrifice."

While he displayed it well at the Senior Bowl, Jennings will have another opportunity to show NFL talent evaluators how quick, agile and nimble he is—even though he is 6-foot-2 and weighs-in at 235 pounds.

"It's an advantage to have size and quickness," Jennings said." I've always been a bigger guy, I've always been able to shock people, even on the basketball court while just playing around. When people would see my size, they would just assume that I wasn't going to be a speed guy, or a guy who could make people miss on the open field.

"That's a big part of my game, being explosive, being able to make the long runs in addition to the short, necessary ones. I pride myself in being a complete back who can stay on the field on third-down-and-long to pick up the blitzer or to catch a pass out of the backfield."

NFL coaches and general managers are going to enjoy Cincinnati defensive end Connor Barwin's candid and confident communications style during face-to-face interviews. When asked what he would say to an NFL coach who would try to knock him off balance by asking him why he was worthy of a high draft pick selection, Barwin replied with a smile, "That's a good question." 

And then he proceeded to state that he believes that he's one of the best athletes in this draft—in a manner that didn't project a hint of arrogance.

"I don't know too many guys who can compare their value to what I do," the versatile and aggressive player explained.

"I think that right away, no matter what situation I'm in, I'm going to contribute on special teams, which I hear from every single NFL team is a concern [for them].  I know a lot of guys who are here and who have been great in college didn't play special teams. But I've already played them throughout my whole career."

Barwin's athleticism is easily apparent, especially when you consider the fact that he played tight end and special teams until his senior year, and then proceeded to notch 16 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks and three blocked kicks in 2008.

Oklahoma safety Nic Harris tackles Florida WR Percy Harvin
AP Photo/J. Pat Carter

Oklahoma safety Nic Harris believes he's already shown NFL clubs some good things that he can bring to their organizations. And he's looking forward to building upon that at the NFL Combine when he begins the process with the other defensive backs on Sunday.

During Senior Bowl week, Harris was moved to the linebacker position during practices even though his experience at that position was light. Some NFL clubs wanted to see how he could handle the position as they consider him a candidate to play either safety or linebacker. While it took Harris out of his element, he saw it as a good opportunity to send a positive message to NFL teams.

"I think I left the impression that I can play anywhere on the field," he told Scout.com during an exclusive interview. "I believe that I showed them that I'm the kind of guy that, if thrown a curve ball, I'm willing to swing."

Harris has been working hard to improve his speed and his overall physical conditioning for the Combine.

"I want to make an even better impression at the Combine than I did during Senior Bowl week," he said. "I understand that I have to have fun with it as well—a lot of guys are getting stressed out and are coming out and performing tense--but I want to be as loose as I possibly can and allow my body to perform to its utmost."

While some observers may think that Hawaii cornerback Ryan Mouton will be challenged at the next level due to his 5-foot-9 height, his vertical leaping ability helps close the gap.

"I' m good in man-to-man coverage, and I think that will really help out in the NFL. I have a really good ability to jump that allows me to do well against the bigger receivers," Mouton told Scout.com during an exclusive interview.

The pesky cornerback has also developed a good reputation during his college career for his speed and field intelligence.

"I've been playing the game since I've been about six years old. So understanding what's going on in the game is one of my key attributes," he said. "I love the game of football. To me it's not about the money, I'd just like to get out there and have fun. Even in practice, I really have high spirits."

The East-West Shrine participant has also been successful as a blitzer out of the nickel position, another skill area that he believes will be an asset to him as he makes the leap to the pro ranks.

"It takes a lot of timing. You watch guys like Troy Polamalu, he times his blitzes really well," Mouton said. "You have to get in there and study their offense and the cadence of their quarterback. That helps you out a lot."

While some may have concerns over his durability, there's no denying that Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin is one of the most versatile athletes in this year's draft class. Harvin told the media that teams have been asking about his experience and skills as a punt returner, kick returner, and as a pure receiver who can also also run reverses and screens out of the slot. And when he was asked if there were some current players in the NFL that he felt he was similar to, a couple of highly talented players came to mind.

"Reggie Bush has popped up, but a lot of people compare me to Steve Smith. I'm a little bigger than him, but just as explosive in the open field and have a knack to make big plays," he said.

Additionally, Harvin has experience playing in the "Wildcat" offensive scheme that a few NFL teams have been trying out.

"I did it a lot in college and a lot in high school," he said. "A lot of those [plays], I've been familiar with most of my life. So if need be, if they want me to run it, I'd definitely have no problems."

As for any concern for his own body when it comes to playing the slot and working across the middle, Harvin definitely isn't concerned.

"I'm not scared of linebackers. I don't fear safeties," he said. "A lot of times, me throwing my body out there is where I got banged up a lot. 

"I have no problem going across the middle, and that's the advantage I have. I run between the tackles and I'm pretty much a fearless player."

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 follow him on Twitter for NFL updates and insights. And you can contact him by email through this link.

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