*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 —Thursday represented the first day of the NFL Combine and with it came offensive linemen, tight ends, kickers and punters through the media room at Lucas Oil Stadium.
For all involved, the Combine is the next step in the process leading up to the draft. Players describe it as equally exciting, scary and intimidating.
Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder said he was approaching everything with an open mind.
"For me, it's going into the unknown," Solder said.
Thursday featured players from two position groups linked to the Falcons in early mock drafts around the internet, like offensive tackle Derek Sherrod from Mississippi State and Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi.
Sherrod spoke confidently from the podium Thursday afternoon about his belief that he's an NFL-ready left tackle and even though the knock on him is his height, he feels it's something he can use to his advantage.
"I feel like I fit at the top. We have a good offensive tackle class this year. I can compete with everyone this year. I plan on coming out on top." * "Football is mostly mental. Most of the time if you do your homework, you study and you know the ins and outs of the game, you'll be well prepared." * "I feel like it does. Even though I'm tall, I have a very large wing span. I feel like maybe because I'm a little shorter, I can get under defenders a little bit better." * "I can play either side of the ball, but I love left tackle and I feel that's the best spot for me."
Mammoth offensive lineman Orlando Franklin from Miami shared that he tore the meniscus in his knee early on in camp during his senior year, but opted to skip surgery and play the season with his teammates. The six-foot-six Franklin played the previous three years at guard and was switching to tackle and felt he could still make a positive impact. Franklin had surgery in January and described his status as "98 percent" and hoped to remind everyone at the Combine what kind of player he can be when healthy.
"They're excited to see what I'm going to do. Everybody knows that I had surgery six weeks ago and they're excited to see that I got back as quick as possible and that I'm going to be doing everything at the Combine this weekend." * "I'll play any position they'll have me at. I played guard for three years at the collegiate level and tackle for one year. When I look at the situation, I am more comfortable at guard because I did play it for three years, but if they needed me to go in and get it done at tackle, I'd definitely get it done." * "I never played that much at tackle (before my senior year) so I feel as if I've got all the answers at guard. I feel as if I'm a beast at guard."
Colorado's Nate Solder, a tight end convert in his redshirt sophomore season, felt the athleticism he brings from that position to protecting the edge gives him a leg up on the competition.
"The only pressure is on myself to be the best I can be. I know if I perform at my highest level, it will sort itself out." * "I think I'm a more athletic player than they (other offensive tackles in the 2011 class) are and can move a bit better in space." * "The transition from tight end to tackle is going to help me out when I'm thinking about a couple of different things at once. I'll be able to more quickly read and react."
Like Franklin Carimi has experience at both guard and tackle. Carimi looked at the versatility as building his resume, but he thinks his time at the Senior Bowl changed an earlier opinion of his future NFL position.
"When coaches ask me what my best games are, I give them all the games against first-round prospects and All Americans." * "I think a lot of people have switched their minds back. That was something that was being mentioned earlier, but I think a lot of people think I can play left tackle too, especially after the Senior Bowl."
Georgia tackle Clint Boling is another highly-rated tackle prospect who spent time at guard during his Senior Bowl experience. Boling was among the many Southeastern Conference players waving the flag of their conference on Thursday.
"I feel like it's helped me. Obviously I feel like the SEC is the best conference. We've won national championships over the past four years. That's a big accomplishment. Every year there are top-five and top-ten guys coming out of the SEC and I feel like playing against a lot of those guys has definitely helped me prepare my game to play at the next level." * "I played both guard and tackle all through school so I was used to moving around a good bit."
Boston College tackle Anthony Costanzo didn't play in the SEC, but didn't hesitate to name players he faced in the ACC that make him a top prospect. Like many of his cohorts, he believes he can play either the guard or tackle position.
"I played against guys that are starting in the NFL right now. …I played against some very good defensive ends and I feel like I've definitely prepared myself for the NFL."
Versatility was one of the themes of the day and Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker used it to illustrate why he's one of the better options at the position in the draft. The six-foot-five, 258-pound tight end handled the comparison of former Tennessee Volunteer and current Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten in stride, sharing the honor he feels, but acknowledging there's a place for a Stocker in the league as well.
"As a tight end you want to be a balanced guy. I feel like that's my strength coming out this year. I can block, I can run and I can catch the ball." * "I think as a tight end you have to give both sides 100 percent effort. You can't focus on catching and not blocking or on blocking and not catching. If you do that you won't play balanced. As a tight end the more balanced you are the more of a threat you are to a defense." * "It's a huge compliment to be compared to Jason Witten. He's one of the best. I do want to make my name for myself, but at this point in time, I'll take it."