By Barry Barnes, Founder
TEMPE, Ariz – The thought of getting to the NFL is one thing. But to actually taste it, and never get another bite, could probably drive a man crazy.
Many previous NFL Regional Combine (RC) participants experienced what it’s like to sign an NFL contract. Moreover, some, who were released, constantly lick their chops for another smack.
Once again, those RC players had to find another way to get back to the NFL’s table. And the NFL Veteran Combine had a place setting for them.
At least 12 NFL Regional Combine athletes had the liberty to perform in front of all 32 representative scouts, general managers and countless members of the Shield’s front office Sunday.
Offensive linemen Darius Morris (Temple) and Greg Van Roten (Pennsylvania) kicked the sessions off on the Arizona Cardinals practice field as the workouts ventured from inside the practice dome to outside on the turf in the blazing sun.
Morris had a stint with the Dallas Cowboys last season, and Van Roten experienced life as a Seahawk in Seattle. Both beefy O-linemen had solid workouts.
Defensive end Michael Sam (Missouri) was the biggest attraction of the morning as many members of the media were firing their cameras like machine guns. However, the scouts were more interested with the physical athletic specimen in defensive end Rakim Cox from Villanova. Cox had a tremendous outing in the Atlanta-held Regional Combine workouts in 2014.
Cox was invited to the NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit last year, and because of his athleticism, NFL squads were curious to witness, the, then blond-mohawk, perform linebacker drills. Many scouts interviewed him and the Minnesota Vikings signed him.
The 6-4, 260-pound Cox didn’t make the Vikings roster, and shortly after spending time with the Miami Dolphins, Cox’s 2014 NFL experience came to an end.
Due to the challenges of last season, Cox put on more muscle to be ready for whatever position teams want to scout him. Fortunately, he did not lose his speed and athleticism. Scouts were excited by his workout.
The linebacker core was in top form.
Linebackers Ka’Lial Glaud and Brandon Copeland were impressive. Both players are huge and long and moved extremely well with great balance. Gland was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013 as a practice player. After his Veteran Combine output, it would be unimaginable to not see the 6-2, 230-pound Rutgers standout playing full time in 2015.
Copeland is another basketball, turned football player. The Baltimore, MD native combined his pass catching abilities with his athleticism, stamping himself as an athlete. The 6-3, 246-pound linebacker is hungry and ready to prove he is the complete package.
“I’m hungry man, look at these mittens,” said Copeland. “I’m like a dog right now and no one wants to see this dawg.”
Copeland, who signed with the Orlando Predators of the Arena League, valued his time with the Baltimore Ravens as he learned so much from defensive linemen Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. The Ravens released the former Baltimore All-Stars AUU player in 2013 and pulled a mixture of interest from several teams around the league, but nothing turned concrete.
His opportunities to compete will certainly improve for the 2015 season.
Linebacker Chris Baker is a walking testimony of all things are possible, and the word ‘no’ is not the final answer.
Baker was thought to never play football on a high level after landing awkwardly, popping his hips out of place during a workout for the Atlanta Falcons in 2013. Baker caught the attention of many teams following his session at the NFL Super Regional Combine in Dallas two years ago.
When word of the NFL Veteran Combine surfaced, Baker sought out information in hopes for another shot at playing in the NFL. Quickly, Baker realized he did not qualify because one of the requirements stated the participants had to have spent time in an NFL camp.
That perceived denial fueled Baker to plead his case to Matt Birk, NFL Director of Football Development. The 6-2, 255-pound hybrid defensive lineman emptied his soul into a letter to Birk and flooded his email with weekly videos of his training.
Birk was moved by Baker’s quandary and impressed with his determination. Birk allowed Baker to compete in the Veteran Combine and believes the East Carolina standout is a legitimate NFL quality linebacker.
After his performance Sunday, Birk may eventually be held responsible for Baker taking someones spot on an NFL roster.
The tight ends walked onto the field resembling moving towers. Dallas Walker (Western Michigan) is a humbled, talented pass catcher and was “privileged to play” alongside the likes of Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers) and Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys) while in camp the last two seasons.
The 6-6, 250-pound Walker was sharp on his cuts and demonstrated great route running technique.
Eric Waters (Missouri) gave high praise to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. Waters is fundamentally sound in pass catching. The 6-5, 245-pound tight end was having a solid workout until he sustained a minor back injury while doing the Gauntlet, when a receiver runs across the middle of the field while twisting left to right to receive passes.
Still, Water was able to put something on tape for clubs to ponder an invite.
The tight end that towered the rest was Ifeanyi Momah from Boston College. If Momah didn’t drop one of his passes during his Gauntlet exercise, he would have been perfect on the day.
From getting into his stance to snatching balls out the air, the 6-7, 235-pound tight end was aggressively focus.
Momah had an unfortunate knee injury and set out last season to heal. Athletes are recognized for their dedication to rehab in order to return to the game they. Instead of Momah pushing himself, he enlisted the help of older siblings, who work in the medical field, to stay on him. So Momah had no choice but to heal.
Momah was grateful for his brief stay with the Detroit Lions. This time, he is looking to seal a deal.
Baker was not the only player who made a plea to Birk.
Wide Receiver Ben Gadsden was a lot more aggressive. Gadsden trained in Florida with his mentor, and Miami Dolphin wide receiver great Chris Chambers. When he was informed about the Veteran Combine, Gadsden didn’t sent an email, he went to New York to see the Super Bowl winning center, personally.
Gadsden told Birk he would be in New York for three days and waited Birk out to speak with him face to face. Gadsden received his opportunity with Birk, and a few days later, Gadsden was added to the roster.
Gadsden displayed great hands and approach the workouts with a game day mindset. The only regret Gadsden had was the sessions were not long enough because he wanted to showcase more of his talents.
Speaking of showcasing talents, wide receiver Takashi Kurihara, the Japanese sensation, came to work.
Kurihara was flawless in his movements, route running and displayed great hands. Kurihara fell in love with football when he was 15-years old, and his favorite player is Terrell Owens. Kurihara attended the Miami-held NFL Regional Combine last year. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders fan injured his hamstrings shortly after his workouts.
Kurihara was invited to a rookie camp by the Ravens. Kurihara is a speedster, but he was told to catch the ball first and bring the peel in high and tight. He took that sound advice and orchestrated those actions to perfection Sunday.
Kurihara drop his last pass of the day on a deep ball route by his finger tips. But before he walked off the field, a team scout worked him out longer.
The defensive backs had a great showing, led by Jordan Sullen, who was the only player from among the NFL Regional Combine standouts to be on a NFL roster throughout the 2014 season.
Sullen was released by the Denver Broncos before finalizing their 53-man roster. The Chicago Bears signed Sullen to their practice squad for nearly half of the season. After his release from the Bears, the pride of Tulane signed with the Steelers for the remainder of the season a week later.
There’s no question that the NFL hopefuls of the VC are humbled by circumstances that concluded their short lived NFL careers. Undoubtedly, they would do anything, within reason, to play on Sundays once again.
Sam, quarterback Brady Quinn and running backs Michael Bush and Mikel LeShoure were the bigger names, commanding most of the media attention.
Many critics believe that the Veteran Combine will not last. But when they witness these second chance athletes on the field for the 2015 season, such critics will apply for credentials to attend the Veteran Combine for years to come.
“Like” us on Facebook now