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Notes From The 2010 NFL Combine, Part 2

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Continuing with notes on individuals from my three days in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine. Part 1 can be read here.

Trent Williams, OT Oklahoma: I was on the other side of the room when Williams' name was announced over the speakers, and as I began the walk over to where he was speaking, I actually had to mentally pause for a moment and calibrate myself. You're not in a stadium. You cannot boo this man. You cannot ask him where Bob Stoops keeps his trident on game day.

Having been inside the Combine all of about two hours, when I arrived at his stage I decided the best thing to do would just be to stand there silently and record his session. No need to get myself de-credentialed before lunch on the first day.

Like most everyone else, up close and personal Williams was difficult to loathe. He didn't come across as a Rhodes Scholar, but neither was he brain dead or obnoxious. Asked what he'd measured, Williams relayed his stats: 6'4.5", 315 lbs, 34.5" reach, 9 3/4" hands. He conceded that OU's 2009 season was "tough sledding, especially at the beginning," but thought that he played well in the second half of the year, when he said he was fully healthy.

Then, my ears perked up: a reporter asked whether he was close to coming out after his junior season. Say, it Trent. Say it: Bob Stoops made me come back!

"Yeah, I was," Williams admitted, "but I just sat down, talked to my parents, prayed about it, and just felt like I should come back and have a better opportunity."

Bah. Nothing there. But the reporter stuck with the line of questioning: "What about Jermaine and Sam? Did they weigh in to that much?"

Williams nodded. "Yeah, I talked to them both every day leading up to the deadline."

Aw, come on! That's a punt. I looked at the reporter to see if he was going to keep pushing, but he was scribbling in his notebook. But before I could even pout about it, the next reporter to speak kept the flame lit, asking: "Was there enough time after the national championship game? It was like seven days, right?"

"Yeah, it was a personal decision," Williams said, "but I feel like I made the best one." 

That's not an answer! I very nearly objected aloud, barely managing to bite my tongue. But the reporter kept it alive with his follow-up: "You saw what happened with Jermaine and Sam, did you ever have any doubts, like, 'Am I next? Maybe this is something I shouldn't have done?'" 

"Yeah that's just human thinking," Williams said. "Honestly, yeah, I was nervous, but I just thought I can't be timid; I just gotta go out there and play."

I kept thinking to myself, Come on, guys. Come on! Keep pressing! But at that point another reporter jumped in and asked "what kind of leader" Sam Bradford is, and I very nearly threw my notebook down in disgust. A softball question, which predictably got a softball answer.

My patience worn, I tossed aside the passive observer role and called out: "Trent, what advice did your coaches give you about coming back for your senior year? What did they advise you to do?" I'd done it, as directly as possible. Now tell me what I want to hear, Trent. Tell me what the Bad Man did to you.

"Well," Williams began, as I held my breath, "they kinda advised me to make a decision with no regrets, and if I came back to come back 100 percent and not try to come back and play 70 percent and avoid injury."

No dice, but before I could follow up, I heard the dreaded words: "Trent, what are you hoping to accomplish here at the Draft?"

Motherf...  I'd talked to just four players at that point, and in the middle of each session this same oddball reporter interrupted the flow of conversation with this same pointless question. Each of the previous three had stumbled through whatever non-answer they could come up with -- some version of 'Work hard, do my best, try to perform well' -- after which the reporter would leave the session. It was his only damn question, and he didn't even seem interested in the answer.

But rather than dance with the question like the others had, Williams sort of scoffed in the exact same way that I imagined that I would have, and said, "What everyone's hoping to accomplish: move up in the Draft."

And with that, I decided, Trent Williams was off the hook. There would be no throwing Bob Stoops under the bus. And for a Sooner, he wasn't half bad.

Golden Tate, WR Notre Dame:  Despite being in South Bend for the past three years of law school, since the moment I arrived my attitude towards Notre Dame football has been one of smug indifference: "And what, precisely, do you offer that I do not already have?" In the fall of my 1L year, I went to the season opener and, with the Irish trailing Georgia Tech 26-3 early in the 4th quarter, left early to make sure I arrived back home for kickoff of the Texas-Arkansas State game on pay-per-view. I did not attend a single minute of a single game the rest of that season, or either of the next two. (As much as anything, covering Texas and CFB from afar meant I was either traveling or parked in front of a TV most every Saturday.)

All of which is to say: I did not walk up to Golden Tate's media session a fanboy. He'd impressed me quite a bit when I'd caught him on TV, but I was wholly indifferent when he began to talk with us.

But by the time he was finished, I was pretty well floored. Bear in mind that even while most of these kids make good impressions on you up close, it's not because they 'wow' you -- they just seem like good kids, really. So I'm really saying something when I say that Golden Tate was an actual treat. I loved him. He's very, very intelligent, and he handled the media as well as Tim Tebow, except there wasn't anything polished about it. He was natural, and charismatic -- not just smooth.

He made me (and everyone else) genuinely laugh three or four times. He was refreshingly candid and insightful. He didn't shy away from any tough questions, mixed in dabs of self-deprecation and confidence at all the right moments, and generally charmed the pants off of the group from start to finish. When it was all over, I texted an ND friend of mine: "Your boy Golden Tate is awesome. He's gonna get paid on his interviews alone."

And then two days later he ran the third-best 40 time at the Combine. Hello, first round. Bank on it.

Dez Bryant, WR Oklahoma State:  It was big news when Dez Bryant was first suspended in early October, and while we waited for details for emerge, most of us assumed he'd been illegally meeting with people associated with pro football. When the final details emerged, it turned out that Bryant hadn't been suspended for violating any NCAA rules, but for lying to the NCAA when they asked him about whether he was violating any NCAA rules. As punishment for lying, the NCAA ruled Bryant ineligible the rest of the season.

While most took the NCAA's ruling at face value, there was a sense among many that while the punishment seemed severe, Bryant was likely hiding something anyway. Among all of us, the big question was, why on Earth would he lie? Many were understandably skeptical of Bryant's explanation: that he was just nervous.

Dez Bryant may have lied to the NCAA, but after Bryant's media session at the NFL Combine, I can say without hesitation that his explanation is nothing but the truth.

Even standing in front of a couple dozen reporters, Dez Bryant looked as uncomfortable as any big time athlete I've ever seen. Not disdainful or standoffish -- just wary. Nervous. He seemed both genuinely interested in saying the right things and genuinely uncertain he knew what to say, or if he did, how to say it. He spoke softly, addressed everyone as sir or ma'am, shifted uncomfortably from side to side, and sounded at times as though his voice was on the verge of shaking. 

It wasn't until he was nearly done and I had fully processed all this that I thought to pull out my video camera so I could show others what I meant. I literally just caught the final 20 seconds, and it only partially shows what I'm talking about, but if you watch closely and extrapolate a little, you shouldn't have trouble imagining what the rest was like:

As he talked about his exceptionally difficult background and everything that's gone on with his mother, I started to understand very clearly why he was nervous in front of the media, as well as why he was nervous in front of the NCAA. I got the sense that his entire life growing up was filled with change, hardship, and uncertainty. He had very few people who consistently looked after him, and he was surrounded by people who clashed with and did not trust authority. You could tell that the football field was the one place in the entire world where he could feel confident and secure.

Dez Bryant just made a mistake. A really needless one, but one I understand. Nervous as he was, he seemed to genuinely want us to know that he's a quiet, good kid who strives to be a good person. He's intimidated by the world most of us live in that is as foreign to him as his difficult upbringing would be to us.

A lot of those kids get lost in the shadows, or find themselves in trouble. Dez Bryant, bless him, had football.

As he walked off the stage, I was thoroughly happy for him. Happy that he'd made it here. I hope he has a long, prosperous career.

At some point (busy week ahead), I'll continue this series, with thoughts still to come on Adam Ulatoski, Jevan Snead, Zac Robinson, Jordan Shipley, Dexter McCluster, Colt McCoy, and Tim Tebow.