January 28, 2008
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA (UWIRE) --
By the time Saturday's Senior Bowl was set to kick off, Dan Connor had already been through inside run drills, seven-on-seven scrimmages and full team practices in front of about 600 officials from NFL teams.
The game, Connor said, almost seemed more "laid back" than the practices leading up to it. The NFL scouts who had been taking notes on Penn State's recently graduated linebacker all week weren't as prominent among the 40,000 fans who filled Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
The decreased pressure ended up helping Connor -- he led both teams in tackles, with nine, and intercepted a pass from Hawaii's Heisman Trophy finalist, Colt Brennan. Connor earned the Under Armour Award for his efforts, given to the North team's most valuable player.
"I got a chance to do a lot of different things," Connor said yesterday, while traveling between Mobile and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where he will continue his training in preparation for the NFL's scouting combine and pro day.
Connor viewed the experience -- everything from the practices to sit-downs with NFL general managers and scouts -- as "the prelim" to the NFL scouting combine, which will take place late next month in Indianapolis' RCA Dome.
Frank Coyle, the head scout and publisher for draftinsiders.com, called the week of practices and the game "a big job interview." The NFL team officials who attend the Senior Bowl, Coyle said, are evaluating the players' ability to get onto the field and pick up a system quickly.
"Here it is, a big game, a short week, in front of coaches," Coyle said. "He settled into the defense, made a lot of heady calls and such. ... They're all good signs."
When Connor pulls on his jersey and helmet, the 22-year-old is in his element and never outwardly shows signs of nervousness, his father, Jim Connor, said. When the two discussed the Senior Bowl, however, the linebacker admitted to being slightly nervous for the game.
"Once the pads are on, it's fine," Jim Connor said. "It's all the other stuff -- they interview the kids every night, they can pull kids aside for a personal interview."
Still, throughout the week, Connor was asked to show his poise and versatility when he lined up at the inside and outside linebacker positions, Coyle said. Connor was a regular at the outside spot during his underclassman days at Penn State, before moving inside for 2007, his senior season. Connor didn't miss a beat during the move, leading the Big Ten in tackles (145) as a senior.
Regardless of where he plays in the NFL, however, scouts will all continue to look at Connor and wonder the same thing:
"Can he help us next September, when we play the Broncos?" Coyle said. "That's basically what it comes down to."
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