The state of Florida has always been known for producing elite NFL defensive backs from the in-state colleges. The University of Miami has sent Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle and the late Sean Taylor to the NFL. Florida has produced former Dolphin safety Louis Oliver and current Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Not to be outdone, FSU can boast of Deion Sanders and LeRoy Butler. Andy Kent takes a look at UM’s Brandon Harris and UF’s Ahmad Black who stepped to the podium on Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS – All eyes were on the field Sunday as far as the scouts and coaches inside Lucas Oil Stadium and on the television sets inside the media center. That’s because the quarterbacks and wide receivers were showing their stuff.
So as the defensive backs made their way to the podiums and interview tables they were competing for attention with live shots of quarterbacks Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker along with speedy wide receivers Julio Jones, A.J. Green and others. Jones impressed with a 4.39 in his 40-yard dash and Newton recorded a broad jump of 10’6”, almost a foot longer than what Tim Tebow did last year (9’7”). But that paled in comparison to Jones’ leap of 11’3”.
During a lull in the press conferences an example of the pitfalls that await some of these athletes came to light, and the unfortunate victim was Auburn wide receiver Darvin Adams. He pulled a hamstring as he chased down a deep pass during passing drills.
Back at the media center, University of Miami cornerback Brandon Harris stood out as the most engaging interview of the morning and one of the most engaging of the week. He deftly handled questions about his size (5-10, 191) by pointing to his shutdown corner abilities and his versatility in the secondary.
“I’m able to do a lot of things on the football field,” said Harris, who tries to model his game after Packers veteran cornerback Charles Woodson. “At Miami they played me in the slot and they also played me on the outside at corner, so I was able tomove around and make a lot of plays. Being able to blitz from the outside and also cover guys man-to-man in the slot and I was able to do a lot of thingsthat they wanted me to do.
“(Woodson’s) one of the corners that I watch and I do a lot of similar things that he does as far as playing the outside corner position and then in certain packages bouncing inside to the nickel and coming off the edge blitzing the quarterback and being able to stick your nose in there and make a tackle in the run game. I think as a DB that’s a quality that you have in the National Football League. You have to be able to tackle just as well as you can cover.”
Woodson is slightly taller than Harris at 6-2 and weighs 202 pounds and has been named to seven Pro Bowls, four straight from 1998-2001 and then each of the last three years. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998, so his career path is a good one for Harris to emulate.
Harris’ eyes really lit up when he was asked to describe the feeling of jumping a route and making an interception that can be run back for a touchdown. His competitive fire came out after that when he explained why concerns over his size don’t bother him because he has held his own against bigger receivers in the past.
Florida safety Ahmad Black is also small in stature (5-10, 184) and he followed Harris at the podium. It seems that he embraces having a chip on his shoulder and told the story of how former Gators head coach Urban Meyer told him as a freshman he would never play at Florida. Now they have a close relationship and is Meyer is a big supporter of his, and he also keeps in touch with some of the recent standout Florida defensive backs to reach the NFL, specifically Major Wright and Joe Haden.
“I talk to Major probably every other day and they definitely have helped me along the way prepare for this process,” Black said. “And going against great competition in college definitely prepared me for this next level. I know it’s a better, faster and quicker step I’m about to take but I’ve played in one of the best conferences in college football.”
His teammate, Will Hill, spoke at the same time as Harris and identified Haden as the ex-Gator he has stayed in touch with the most, describing him as “like a brother to me back at Florida.” Haden was a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns last year and intercepted six passes as a rookie in seven starts. Wright was a third-round pick of the Chicago Bears.
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