Aaron Curry, Safe at Home -- Part 2
When we last left Wake forest linebacker Aaron Curry, he had just wrapped up a top five draft pick with a senior year that saw him win the Butkus Award as college football's top linebacker. His Demon Deacons had been turned into a consistently powerful program by coach Jim Grobe, and Curry was the star. After a 29-19 win over Navy in the Congressional Bowl on December 20, it was time to start thinking about the future.
Curry signed up with Athletes Performance Institute in Phoenix, training with some of the highest-caliber draft prospects for the Senior Bowl and the Combine. "Brian Orakpo, Jason Smith, Matthew Stafford, Eben Britton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, [who ran the] fastest 40 at the Combine. A lot of big-time guys, and we're just out here just competing with each other, having fun," he said.
"For the NFL Combine, we worked with Luke Richesson, who is now the strength and conditioning coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. When we went to the Combine, he left for Jacksonville. He did strength for us and for speed, a guy by the name of Joe Gomes. He did a really good job making sure we had the proper technique for running the 40."
However, Curry was talked out of participating in the Senior Bowl by his agent, Andy Ross of Octagon Football. "He told me that I had laid out a body of work in four years of college and there wasn't much left to prove," Curry said at the Combine. "It was a big battle between me and my agent. I was telling him yes, he was telling me no and he pretty much got the better of me."
Opting out of the Senior Bowl isn't uncommon for elite players; the Combine would be what it was all about. Fully prepared for the mid-February event, Curry ranked first among linebackers in four of the six drills -- the 40-yard dash [4.56 seconds], vertical jump [37 inches], broad jump [10 feet, 4 inches] and 60-yard shuttle [11.35 seconds]. He confirmed all the positive scouting reports, firmly established himself as the safest pick in the draft with the way he carried himself -- his press conference was the hit of the Combine with the assembled media -- and defied any team not to draft him. How was the experience for him?
"It really wasn't as stressful as everybody said it was going to be," he told me. "I was surprised that I was able to go in there and relax and be myself. A lot of people in there were a little uptight and a little nervous and stuff, but it just wasn't that stressful. It was amazing how it seemed like they always wanted us to be uncomfortable. Kind of get us out of our comfort zone, just to see if we can still perform and we could keep our cool and still go through the interviews and still break down our film and stuff. The days were long, because they went from 6:00 a.m. until 11:30 at night."
"One full day, we sat in the hospital, all day long [to get physicals], and then we had to come back and meet with coaches and stuff. We were kind of warped, but we were able to manage. We had interviews every night, until 11:30. And some teams played good cop/bad cop, just to see how you responded to them. We spent another day just getting physicals from every team doctor in the NFL. So we spent all day at the Lucas Oil Stadium just getting poked and prodded, and then we had to do some more interviews.
"We had to take psychological tests and the Wonderlic. So we had to do that, and then had to kind of get out of that mindset all together to bench press. They did a lot of stuff it felt like just to throw us off to see if we could still perform. It was like a hurry up-and-wait process. Because every time they said we need to be somewhere at say, 9:00, we would leave the hotel at 8:30, get there around 9:00, and then it's 'Ok, just sit here and wait until we call y'all', and then we'll be sitting around for another hour before we do anything."
"I wish I had run a little faster, but I can't complain about that performance. I gave it my all, I mean, after you said that about the categories, I guess I can't complain."
How does the NFL feel about him? The Detroit Lions, who have the first overall pick, invited Curry for a serious talk about his future on March 15. New head coach Jim Schwartz, long respected as a defensive mastermind, believes that Curry's worthy of the first selection. "You don't draft a linebacker early unless he's a three-down player," Schwartz recently told the Detroit Free Press. "I mean, a player that can't be on the field on third down, that's not an early draft pick. Aaron has size. He has speed. He has athletic ability. He could fill a lot of different roles."
The St. Louis Rams have the second pick, and though everyone expects them to take a left tackle, general manager Billy Devaney said this to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Curry was the first guy we put (tape) on, and we were like, 'Wow! This guy is special.' He is really good on tape. And then we started talking about the intangibles, and to a man, everybody said he's top of the line."
The Kansas City Chiefs have the third pick, and that's where most people seem to think Curry will go. He played high-school football with Chiefs defensive tackle Tank Tyler, and he told me that a reunion would be just fine with him. If Curry slips to Seattle with the fourth pick -- well, the Seahawks just traded linebacker Julian Peterson to the Lions, and Curry has a private workout scheduled in Seattle on March 26. That's right around the time he'll do the same for the Cleveland Browns, who have the fifth overall pick.
Experts agree that the Seahawks and Browns shouldn't hold their breath -- Curry is no secret to anyone anymore. Rob Rang, Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com and a PreDraft Panelist himself, agrees with all the accolades.
"Curry is NFLDraftScout.com's highest rated prospect for the 2009 draft," Rob told me. "He is the safest player in the draft. He is a spectacular athlete at 6-2, 254 pounds. He is an instinctive defender who is an active playmaker against both the run and pass. He has the explosiveness to be effective rushing the passer, though he wasn't used in this way. He can defeat blocks with technique, physicality or agility and is a reliable open field tackler. He's a four year starter with high intangible grades. In an era that doesn't necessarily give outside linebackers great value, he's a certain top five selection."
Let's let the man himself have the last word. What will the team that drafts Aaron Curry have in their newest player? "They'll be getting a great leader. A passionate leader."
It's as simple as that.
X-and-O Show: Curry's Big Move
I asked Aaron which play he'd most like me to draw up, and he mentioned a play in the first quarter of Wake Forest's 28-17 win over Virginia. Running back Cedric Peerman took a handoff at the Virginia 45, and it all went downhill from there.
"They ran a straight draw. I took on a block, made the tackle, forced a fumble and recovered it. It was just one of those plays that really set the tone for the whole game. We were in just our base defense. They were in a pretty much run formation, they had two tight ends in the game. They ran what we call a pick, where they pull both the guard and the tackle towards me. I took on the tackle with my arms, with my hands, extended them, got off the block, and the ball-carrier, he was just right there. I thumped him pretty hard and took the ball away."
While I was not able to find tape of that play to diagram, I was extremely impressed with the play he pulled off to end Virginia's third drive. At the snap, Virginia's right tackle stayed inside to contend with the left end in a three-lineman front, while the center and right guard first double-teamed tackle Boo Robinson. Robinson then dropped back in coverage to read the quarterback while the right guard chipped right to help the right tackle. Unfortunately for Virginia, the inside focus of their right side left Curry completely unblocked as he rushed in and mauled quarterback Marc Verica. Verica tried to dump the ball away and get out of trouble, but the throw was affected by Curry's pressure, and Robinson came up with the pick.
As much as Curry excelled as a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 formation, this play is a great example of what he can do as the rush end in a 3-4 defense, where two linebackers make a five-man front overall. This is where his closing speed and agility with angles set him apart. When you add his ability to drop into coverage in various zone blitz packages, it's easy to see how he could become the linchpin of any 3-4 defense.
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