The NFL Combine is in full swing and future NFL players are coming through Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium all day to spend time with the media. In addition to their time in front of doctors and team officials, they must meet with reporters from around the country and share their thoughts on everything from their favorite color to the kind of player they think they'll become.
Indianapolis —Every player that attends the Combine has a certain degree of expectation placed on him, whether it's from his own personal goals or draft gurus' beliefs that he'll be a great NFL player.
Some players have additional pressure because they come from families that have already made the rounds through the league. Ohio State's Cameron Heyward and Oregon's linebacker Casey Matthews are two of those players and they appeared in front of the media on Saturday.
Heyward is the son of former NFL running back Craig "Iron Head" Heyward. The younger Heyward is a big body like his father, but he plays defensive end and specializes in stopping running backs and flattening quarterbacks. Heyward addressed playing in the shadow of his father and shared how he believes the pressure on him is unique, yet motivational. One of the things scouts like most about the six-foot-five, 294-pound end is his versatility. He projects as a capable end in a 3-4 or 4-3 system.
"I can't follow it, it's his legacy. I want to be in the NFL and he was there. I want to leave a legacy of my own. I don't want to live in his shadow. He was a great player. He's always in my heart and I appreciate everything he's done. I want to do everything by my own. I'm not asking anybody to give me a second look or anything just because my dad was Iron Head. They all know I have a big head, just like him." * "I hope I've got pressure. That's one thing I'm hoping I have a little pressure behind me. I want to perform. I wouldn't have it any other way. If guys are expecting a lot from me, so be it because I'm a guy that's going to produce and give it all I've got." * "I feel comfortable on the line, that's all. It doesn't matter. Going to Ohio State I've been in a 4-3 system. I can play end and tackle. But we also went to a 3-4 in third downs, so I played that." * "(Versatility) helps me be able to pick out different things. I'm not going to be set in one thing. I'm able to help a lot more. There's a lot of teams that do both so it's only going to help me."
The Matthews family culminated a season of championship with Clay, Pro Bowl linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, winning the Super Bowl. Casey, a linebacker himself, found himself on the losing end of the National Championship in January. Matthews' father also played in the NFL and he knows the lights are shining bright on him. Like Heyward, Matthews is using the pressure to propel him. Once he returns home his brother will be wrapping up his post-Super Bowl media tour and they plan to begin training together for the upcoming season.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed like my dad and my brother. I want that pressure to help me get to the next level. ...I put it on myself and it would be nice to play at that level." * "My brother had some success, I'll stick to what he does. It worked for him." * "The overall leadership I bring is a positive. I get people lined up and then read and react. I also focus on getting to the ball carrier as quick as I can." * "No matter where I go, I'm going to try to make a name for myself, not just be known as Clay's son or Clay's brother."
Though they're not linked to a current or former player in the NFL by blood, Iowa defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard share something they believe they can show teams to demonstrate they're NFL-ready. At Iowa, they both faced off against Packers offensive tackle and first-round draft pick Byran Bulaga.
Ballard, who holds a degree in art and designs his own tattoos, checked in at six-foot-four and 283 pounds. He's not the higher profile player that his counterpart Clayborn is, but he believes he's doing everything he can to make a name for himself.
"I want to put my name out there as one of the best D-linemen in the draft. Going against guys like Carimi at the Senior Bowl helped me." * "Playing against guys like Bryan Bulaga was a good measuring stick to see where you are."
Clayborn hopes to show his strength isn't the only part of his game. He believes his quickness can still set him apart, but he also is versatile enough to help his cause on the inside or the outside. He joked that if he slimmed down enough he believes he could play outside linebacker.
"I can play regular 4-3 defensive end. I can play the three technique in the 4-3 and the five technique in the 3-4. If I lose enough weight I can play outside linebacker." * "My game is about just being physical, tough and hard nosed. " * "There are a lot of great defensive ends in this class. Having that range that I can play is definitely going to help me out." * "(Teams) ask me what I'm most comfortable with. I'm most comfortable with a 4-3 because I've been playing for four years. " * "I definitely want to show my speed and quickness. I think people think us country boys can't move. I want to show my agility and things like that."
One of the players most often linked to the Falcons in mock drafts is Purdue's defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. A team captain at Purdue, Kerrigan is described as a player with an effort that doesn't stop and a relentless style that has produced some of the best defensive numbers in college football in the last two seasons. Kerrigan cited coaching in college as one of the reasons for his style of play and an attempt to make the effort on the practice field translate to results on the playing field.
"I'd say the biggest thing is really how you practice is how you play. I feel like a lot of us on our team learned that last year, if you practice hard it'll translate over to the game." * "I was just really sure of myself. I had a good idea of what plays were coming. That came from watching a lot of game tape. I was able to take that to the field and that allowed me to have a little bit quicker of a start when the ball was snapped." * "It was a transfer of training from the practice field to the game field. We really emphasized tomahawking the ball when you got to the ball carrier. I think it just carried over from the practice to the game." * "Our motto at Purdue was it's not enough to just get the sack or the tackle, we wanted to force a fumble and get the ball back for the offense. We really tried to do that every game." * "I've been able to put together some solid seasons back to back and I think my production overall and my being a captain, I think that will speak volumes to some of the scouts here." * "I understand getting drafted is a process. It's about what you do on the field, but also what you do in these workouts. That's part of it. I did have production in college, but now I need to be productive and be athletic in this process." * "(My effort) comes from my first position coach in college. When I first got there as a freshman he said if I ever see you guys not sprinting every play, I'm going to take you out. That resonated with me through the rest of my career. Every play after that I was sprinting to the ball 100 percent. It's really paid dividends."
Two other players present on Saturday with similar playing styles as Kerrigan were Texas defensive end Sam Acho and Wisconsin end J.J. Watt. Both spoke about their playing style and what they hope to bring to the NFL.
Acho, the recipient of the 2010 William V. Campbell Trophy for his success in the classroom and the community, fielded questions about his ability to play defensive end in the NFL or if his size makes him a better fit at outside linebacker in the NFL. Ultimately he believes he's going to get to the quarterback no matter where he goes in the league.
"Just get to the quarterback, whatever it takes." * "I consider myself a hard worker. I'm a self starter." * "At Texas we were taught relentless effort to the ball and pursuit. I think that had a big deal to do with (my fumbles), always being around the ball."
Watt walked on at Wisconsin as a freshman (he transferred from Central Michigan and changed positions) and was told by his coaching staff that the only way he'd earn a scholarship was to make the two-deep depth chart. Using his size, speed and football intelligence he did just that and became a Second-Team All American as a senior.
"I'm a tenacious and relentless defender. I never take a play off. I think that's disrespectful to the game." * "I'm a very smart player and I study film a lot. I'm always in the coaches office trying to learn." * "I worked my tail off (to earn Wisconsin scholarship)"