EXCLUSIVE – Day one of practice for Saturday’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is in the books, and it gave each of the college players one last opportunity to take the field sporting their college teams’ helmets. More importantly, scouts from all 32 NFL teams were present, giving players a chance to shine and try to catch a scout’s eye as the NFL teams start to lay out their war room strategy for April’s NFL Draft.
The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will be the last chance for scouts to see these players in live action before next month’s NFL Combine, where they will be tested, poked, prodded and running a 40-yard dash, but live game action is far more telling.
In addition to trying to impress the scouts, the players got some NFL caliber coaching and had a chance to meet their teammates, from different conferences all across the country. Players were running routes, doing position drills and then finished with some 9-on-7’s. It was their first taste of NFL-style practice structure, and they also got to experience team meetings, where they watched film and received additional information about what to expect with the transition from college to the pros.
NFL legend coaches Dick Vermeil and Herm Edwards were very active in practice, as well as other big name assistant coaches and former players. The big names included Amp Lee (Rams/49ers,) Robert Griffith (Vikings/Cardinals), Donte Hall (Chiefs/Rams) and Priest Holmes (Chiefs/Ravens). Former NFLPA President and 13 year NFL veteran (Seahawks, Jets, and Titans) Kevin Mawae is coaching up the American offensive line.
Jordan Rodgers, the Vanderbilt QB and little brother of Green Bay QB and reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, is excited to play against guys he’s seen on TV – though he admitted that most of the time, he’d rather watch the Food Network or badminton. Rodgers has the advantage of having an NFL role model in the family, but says he doesn’t feel like he lives in Aaron’s shadow.
Wisconsin CB Marcus Cromartie’s also has the advantage of an NFL star in the family. Marcus Cromartie’s cousin, Antonio, plays for the Jets at the same position and he had the opportunity to train with Antonio last year in the offseason. Marcus is looking forward to playing under Herm Edwards’ “swagger” and is excited to meet his teammates. For many players, this is a chance to reconnect with players they’ve met in conference games, and for some reconnecting relationships going all the way back to playing together in a high school All Star Game.
Former Nebraska linebacker Will Compton says he is excited to work under Dick Vermeil, since he watched him coach the Rams in his home state of Missouri. He’s also really looking forward to working with American assistant coach Will Shields, former Nebraska standout and 12-time Kansas City Chief Pro Bowler, and a current Hall Of Fame finalist. Compton acknowledged that it will be a big transition, and he thinks mostly the speed of the game and learning a new system will be hardest.
Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is most looking forward to ”being able to get pointers from the NFL legends that will be coaching them up,” although he seemed equally excited about really good food they were being treated to. He’s got a big engine to keep fed, as Goodwin is a world-class track and field Olympian who represented the US in the long jump at the 2012 Summer Games in London. Goodwin has some good NFL role models, as he looks up to his Kappa Alpha Psi frat brother, Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, as well as fellow Texas alum and current Raiders safety Michael Huff, who he says is like a brother to him.
For linebacker Bruce Taylor, he’s focused on everything he has to learn. “There’s so much knowledge to soak up before the combine,” Taylor said.
“After 5 years at Virginia Tech, it’ll be different learning a new system and playbook,” Taylor added. “I’m going to have to study up. I’ve been comfortable in the same set for 5 years and I’ll need to learn quickly.”
Taylor’s role model is the player who has defined linebacking for most of Taylor’s life – Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis has been in the league for 17 years, and Taylor respects everything about the way he plays the position. “It’s not just his abilities, it’s his intensity and leadership qualities, and he makes other people better. He’s a man’s man!” Taylor said.