February 23, 2008 // NFL Fighting Irish

Irish Hopefuls Descend Upon Combine

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Indianapolis, IN (UHND) – The annual NFL Scouting Combine can make or break a prospects draft chances and for a handful of former Notre Dame football players coming off one of the worst seasons in school history this year’s combine will likely determine their draft day fate.

Tight end John Carlson, center John Sullivan, defensive tackle Trevor Laws, and safety Tom Zbikowski will all be in Indianapolis this weekend and after a season in which highlights were few and far between for Notre Dame, these four former Irish players are going to need to post some impressive numbers to convince the scouts on hand to take a chance on them.

Notre Dame’s historically bad offense in 2007 has clouded the draft prospects for both Sullivan and Carlson more so than their fellow teammates. A year ago at this time, Carlson would have been a sure fire first day pick after a 47 catch, 634 yard breakout performance during a 10-3 campaign for the Irish. Notre Dame’s last ranked offense didn’t give Carlson much of a chance to build upon the momentum he created with his strong junior season.

Had Carlson not come back for a fifth year in 2007, scouts would have been talking about his speed and hands instead of questioning his blocking abilities after Notre Dame ran the ball without much success this past season. Carlson is going to need to put up strong numbers in the 40 yard dash in order to rebuild his draft status. If he can post one of the better times amongst the tight ends, he can still be a first day pick.

John Sullivan’s stock may have dropped ever farther than Carlson’s after the 2007 season because he added concerns about his abilities to snap the ball out of the shotgun to scouts’ list of concerns. Sullivan was never a truly dominant center at any point in his career, but did have sound technique up until his shotgun woes in 2007.

The combine won’t do anything to help Sullivan ease those concerns, but strong numbers in the bench press will help his cause. Based on last year’s performance by Notre Dame lineman in the bench press though, that might not happen. At last year’s combine, Brady Quinn posted more repetitions (24) than both Dan Santucci (23) and Ryan Harris (22).

On the defensive side of the ball, no one may have improved his stock more by coming back for a 5th year this past season than Trevor Laws. Laws went from a solid defensive tackle in Rick Minter’s 4-3 defense to a tackling machine in Corwin Browns 3-4. He lead all defensive linemen in the country with an eye popping 112 tackles and based on recent reports on his own blog, he has cut his 40 time under 5.0 seconds.

If Laws can run a sub 5.0 this weekend and post good bench press numbers, he should easily solidify himself as a first day pick. As a former standout wrestler, Laws should also post some good numbers in the other agility drills.

Of all the Notre Dame prospects at the Combine though, none will have more to prove than Tom Zbikowski. Zibby is the highest profile former Golden Domer in Indy this weekend and after four years as a starter, he’ll have to answer concerns about his coverage skills and speed. Zibby’s speed was routinely underestimated by people outside of the Notre Dame program, but just as Reggie Bush and Santonio Holmes have found out in the past, NFL scouts should be pleasantly surprised with his 40 time. Zibby’s measureables will not be what holds him back in the draft though. Concerns over his deep coverage skills will be the main knock against him leading up to the draft.

One area where all four should impress is in the interview room. All four are very well spoken and all were captains this year which should give scouts some idea of their leadership capabilities.

Carlson should be able to help his cause with a good 40 time and Laws and Zbikowski should be able to help themselves as well because their skills should translate well into the drills they will be running. Sullivan could find himself falling down even farther after the combine, however, if he posts similar numbers to his fellow Irish offensive linemen from a year ago.

We’ll have the full results for all four Irish prospects throughout the weekend and will have plenty of coverage of the draft for each here and on the blog.

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