Alen Dumonjic

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dennard2

They wanted to know if he could run, if he was fast enough, if the only way he would be able to really cover their flankers was by grabbing them and drawing penalties. What they didn’t think about, however, was if their flanker could get off the line and into his route.

In the first eight minutes of the opening quarter alone, Notre Dame tested Darqueze Dennard at least three times downfield. He beat up their flankers every time. He pressed them at the line and arm-fought them downfield. He’d grab and let go of their jerseys to slow them down. After, he would box them out and condense the room for the throw down the sideline with superlative technique.

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verner2

He was a sophomore at UCLA. Playing in off-man coverage against a stacked twin set, he backpedaled on the balls of his feet, squared his hips, and drove on the throw to the receiver running a quick out. He intercepted California’s quarterback, Nathan Longshore, and took it 76 yards to the house. That was the one of the first times in college that Alterraun Verner’s feet took him to the ball for an interception. They never stopped after that.

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eric ebron2

His smile was abruptly neutralized. His eyebrows suddenly stopped jumping above his eyes. He leaned in, expressionless, and listened to the words as they shot out of the reporter’s mouth as fast as he could run the 40-yard dash … How much do teams ask you about your blocking skills?

He thought about what to say, and then as his eyebrows furrowed, pointing straight at the bridge of his nose, he fired back: “They ask a lot. You know, every team wants a complete tight end, an all-purpose tight end. Not just one that can run down the seam and catch passes. They want a guy that can block too. I tell them I have been working hard on it, which I have, and that I’m not bad at it, which everyone thinks.”

It was late February at the NFL Scouting Combine, and Eric Ebron — tight end No. 6 — was at the podium, answering questions about his blocking skills. It’s a skill questioned by many, and Ebron wanted to clear the air. He wasn’t bad at it; he was still learning how to be good at it. There’s a difference, depending on who you ask.

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byrd2

Below the scorching sun and gray clouds, Jairus Byrd stood at his own five and studied the Dolphins’ players at their respective positions. The quarterback was in shotgun five yards from the left hash where the ball was placed. To his right was a running back offset, and on the outsides, two receivers inhabited the short side of the field while another stood staggered at the 20-yard line on the long side of the field. Early indications suggested a passing play.

Standing as the single-high safety in between the white painted hashes of the dark green striped field, Byrd would soon be in the middle of the play. He was the free safety, making it his job to read the passer and find the ball. It seems simple enough, but many safeties can’t do it like Byrd can. He’s different.

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derek carr2

For scouts and general managers, bloodlines connect the dots when it comes to studying NFL draft prospects. Bloodlines are factored heavily in the process, using it to minimize the risk of drafting a bad prospect. When New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning entered the 2004 draft, teams analyzed him with Peyton’s throwing ability in mind. They naturally believed that Eli shared some traits with Peyton, making him a possible slam-dunk of a prospect. Now 10 years later, they’re connecting dots yet again, but in a reverse way — they’re hoping Derek Carr isn’t like David.

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Kyle Fuller2

It’s the short side of the field where Virginia Tech cornerbacks have made their money. They call it the boundary. When the ball is on either hash, the cornerback will line up in the boundary and cover from there. There’s not much of this in the NFL because the ball is always positioned in the middle of the field, but for the Hokies, it speaks to a cornerback’s quality. In Kyle Fuller’s case, there’s been plenty of speaking prior to the 2014 NFL Draft.

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benjamin2

It’s second-and-nine, and Kelvin Benjamin is the second receiver from the sideline in a twins set. He’s facing off coverage from the Florida Gators defense and is given a cushion of more than a half dozen yards. The Seminoles need to pick up meaningful yardage on this play, so they’ve called a flood concept that’ll require Benjamin to run a 12-yard corner or sail route toward the sideline.

At the snap, he stems vertically, going the necessary dozen yards before his left foot hits the ground once more and he turns left, shifting his body at a 45-degree angle towards the sideline. Simultaneously, quarterback Jameis Winston rolls out of the pocket and targets him for the strike downfield. After a long windup that drops the ball near his hip, Winston heaves it over a flat defender’s outstretched arm and straight into Benjamin’s hands. With room to concentrate, Benjamin allows the ball to hit his hands and looks away, never tucking it in his armpit like a receiver’s supposed to do. After some hard steps and juggling, the ball rolls onto the Gainesville grass and Benjamin throws a right handed punch through the air in frustration . . .

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