By the time the NFL Draft begins here Thursday night, the top prospects may be more exhausted than nervous.
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A whirlwind schedule for the 26 players invited officially begins Wednesday with participation in a Play 60 children’s exercise clinic. But some of the draft’s biggest names rolled into Manhattan before that for sponsorship and marketing opportunities.
One of those players is Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. EA Sports debuted the cover of Griffin on its NCAA Football 13 video game during a Tuesday night party in mid-town Manhattan. As part of another endorsement deal earlier in the day, Subway unveiled a three-foot high bust of Griffin made largely from barbeque chicken.
Along with numerous media responsibilities, Griffin admits the week already feels long. But he isn’t complaining.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Griffin said. “You never grow up as a kid thinking that someday Subway would make a food sculpture of you, but it happened. You have to enjoy it.
“Don’t let the moment live you. Live in the moment.”
Griffin was joined Tuesday night by a host of other prospects who are trying to do the same. Here are pre-draft news updates and personal tidbits from some of them:
1. Alabama safety Mark Barron said his recovery from double hernia surgery went so well that he didn’t have to return to Indianapolis earlier this month for a medical re-check, which is the standard protocol for players who are injured at the time of the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Barron, though, did say some of the teams that entertained him on pre-draft visits put him through their own physical examination.
“Every team asked me about where I was (in my recovery),” said Barron, who is considered the top safety in the draft and a likely Top 20 selection.
2. As first reported by the Charlotte Observer, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney traveled to Chapel Hill last weekend for a pre-draft visit and dinner with North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples and his family.
“Coach Rivera and Marty were great,” Coples said. “We had a great time. We got to know each other a little better and the meeting was productive.
The visit will fuel speculation that the Panthers are targeting Coples with the No. 9 overall pick. Coples led the Tar Heels in tackles for loss (15.5) and sacks (7.5) while earning first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors.
The 6-foot-6, 284-pound Coples has drawn comparisons to former Tar Heels standout Julius Peppers, who was drafted second overall by the Panthers in 2002.
“I’m not tired of hearing (the comparisons),” a laughing Coples said. “He’s (Peppers) done great in college and the NFL. I’ve looked up to him. I took some of his moves and put them in my game.”
3. If the Miami Dolphins select quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick, he will be reunited with his former college head coach at Texas A&M. Tannehill, though, said he and new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman decided to keep the tone of their conversations more personal than professional through the pre-draft process.
“We stay in touch just like if he was with the Raiders,” Tannehill said. “We just try to leave the Miami part out of it.”
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While that may sound hard for some to believe, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said the team didn’t lean too heavily on Sherman when evaluating Tannehill.
“Obviously, Mike has been around Ryan for a long, long time, but it’s not like we’ve sat around and said, ‘OK, what about (Tannehill) at (No.) 8,’” Philbin told Dolphins media after a Tuesday offseason practice. “You have to remember a coach doesn’t have the same perspective on a draft that a general manager has. A coach doesn’t sit there and exhaustingly watch every single player and then compare X player to Z to D and to F.
“Sometimes as coaches we are guilty of falling in love with guys a little bit too fast, so we really haven’t had any discussions about where he should go. But certainly, (Sherman) is a resource.”
4. Wide receiver Stephen Hill might not be as green as some people think from playing in a triple-option offense at Georgia Tech.
Hill was used primarily as a deep threat with the Yellow Jackets, averaging an NCAA-high 29.3 yards on his 28 catches in 2011. Hill, though, believes the foundation was laid for him to follow in the NFL footsteps of other former Georgia Tech wideouts like Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas.
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“I started as a raw guy, but I’ve definitely learned a lot more of the dynamics since I’ve been running NFL routes (in pre-draft) workouts,” said Hill, whose draft stock rose after a strong Combine performance. “As a matter of fact, we had a route tree at Georgia Tech. It was just deeper routes.”
5. Mississippi State defensive lineman Fletcher Cox is glad he didn’t stay in college hoping to improve his draft standing.
Cox said he was only given a second-round grade by the advisory board established by the NFL as a resource for underclassmen who are considering turning pro early. After his pre-draft workouts, Cox is now considered a surefire first-round pick and possible Top 10 selection.
Cox said he “wasn’t happy” about the second-round ranking but still decided to enter the NFL Draft after speaking with Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. Cox had 56 tackles and five sacks as a junior playing at both defensive tackle and end.
“I said, ‘Coach, I think I can prove to the whole country that I’m a top-10, first-round guy with my work ethic and the things I do on the field,’” the 6-foot-4, 298-pound Cox said.
Asked if the draft-advisory grade lit a fire under him, Cox said, “Yeah. It’s not what I wanted. I thought it was going to come back with a first-round grade. But it made me realize that I still had a lot of work to do.”
6. Devon Still said he leaned heavily on Jared Odrick — another former Penn State defensive tackle — in his pre-draft preparation. Odrick was the No. 28 overall pick by the Dolphins in 2010, which is in the same range where Still may be drafted.
“He told me the biggest thing I could control is how good I looked at my Pro Day,” said Still, the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. “If I trained hard, everything would take care of itself.”
Still also is drawing inspiration from his two-year-old daughter Leah.
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“She’s got me wrapped around her finger already,” a smiling Still said. “I try to be as mean as I can on the field. As soon as I see her, it’s like a light switch goes off. It’s crazy.”
7. Alabama running back Trent Richardson once joked about appearing in GQ Magazine. Little did he know that dream would come true.
Richardson, Griffin and Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon are among the incoming NFL rookies who will be profiled after participating in a photo shoot on Sunday.