U football players prepare for NFL Combine

The NFL Scouting Combine begins Wednesday in Indianapolis.

by Michael Rietmulder

With the NFL Scouting Combine beginning Wednesday in Indianapolis, four Gophers have been hard at work preparing for their professional auditions. University of Minnesota seniors Eric Decker, Simoni Lawrence, Nate Triplett and Lee Campbell have all been invited to this yearâÄôs combine, which features a bevy of speed and strength drills as well as interviews with NFL teams which test the character and football IQ of hopeful draftees. A selection committee comprised of the directors of National and BLESTO scouting services and members of NFL player personnel departments are charged with inviting as many as 335 players to participate in the workouts before NFL scouts. Of the four Gophers to earn invites, Decker has garnered the most attention. In his junior season, Decker had 84 receptions, breaking his own single-season school record, earning him a spot on the All-Big Ten first team. Decker continued to impress during his senior season until he tore a ligament in his right foot during a game against Ohio State University, ending his collegiate career. The 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound wide receiver said he has been out of a protective boot for three weeks and is recovering well. âÄúI thought my foot would be more sore than it is,âÄù Decker said. âÄúItâÄôs been feeling great.âÄù Despite his improved condition, Decker will be unable to participate in any running drills and instead has been focusing on upper body workouts. Steve Muench, a draft analyst for ESPNâÄôs Scout Inc., said DeckerâÄôs draft position âÄî currently projected for the second or third round âÄî could be affected by how other wide receivers perform in the combine. Muench said that most NFL teams place more importance on how players perform in game film rather than their combine workouts. During his career at the University, Decker proved to be an elite receiver who displayed exceptional toughness for a player at a skill position. As the UniversityâÄôs all-time leading receiver with 3,119 yards, Decker is confident his résumé will speak for itself and doesnâÄôt get caught up with what draft prognosticators say. âÄúA lot of that you just have to clear out of your head and just worry about what you can control,âÄù Decker said. Lawrence, a linebacker, has been working out six days a week in San Diego to prepare for the combine. Lawrence said he has been trying to improve his speed heading into the workouts, though Muench questions his size and tackling ability. Muench said his relatively small stature âÄî 6-foot-1-inch, 205 pounds âÄî could deter NFL teams from drafting him as a linebacker. âÄúI really believe after watching him on film that he would be a better fit at safety,âÄù Muench said. âÄúIâÄôm concerned about his ability to basically hold up when teams run at him when heâÄôs lined up at linebacker.âÄù Fellow linebacker Campbell, who led the Gophers with 119 tackles last season, has been in his hometown of Naples, Fla., trying to improve his overall strength and speed. Last month, Campbell received a last-minute invitation to the East-West Shrine Game, one of several exhibition games providing college football players with an opportunity to showcase their talent to potential NFL suitors. Campbell said that having to face the gameâÄôs top talent in the NFL will be a challenge. âÄúEvery single guy [in the NFL] was the best player on their college football team,âÄù Campbell said. While Campbell is undoubtedly a hard worker, Muench said that that only goes so far in the NFL. âÄúCampbellâÄôs a blue-collar guy that gets by with effort and instinct,âÄù Muench said. âÄúCampbell still has some room to improve. IâÄôm just not sure how much.âÄù Of the three Gophers linebackers heading to Indianapolis, Muench said Triplett has the most upside, which will get him drafted ahead of his peers. Triplett, who started only 14 games during his career at the University, finished second on the team in tackles last season behind Campbell. Muench said Triplett and Campbell are two very similar players, but Triplett is more athletic and has better range than his counterpart. âÄúThey both have kind of a nasty disposition to them, and as inside linebackers, I love that,âÄù Muench said. Of the four Gophers invited to the combine, Decker is the only lock to be selected. Nevertheless, being drafted guarantees neither playing time nor a lengthy career in the NFL, a facet of the game Decker is cognizant of. âÄúThe NFL is strictly business,âÄù Decker said. âÄúIf you donâÄôt perform, you could be cut.âÄù