MIKE O'HARA

Terron Armstead could be a mid-round option at offensive tackle

Posted Feb 22, 2013

In his Friday Combine Notebook, columnist Mike O'Hara looks at Armstead as well as the buzz surrounding Manti Te'o, Tavon Austin and this year's quarterbacks

INDIANAPOLIS– Sometimes it pays off to think small in the draft. Players from small colleges and small places have had success in the NFL.

Offensive tackle Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff might qualify as a diamond in the rough, but he arrived at the NFL Combine as more than an undiscovered gem.

Armstead's athletic ability stood out in college, and he got favorable reviews for his performance in two post-season all-star games.

Armstead was a late addition to the Senior Bowl as an injury replacement and held in stepping up in competition from what he faced regularly in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

"It's just football," Armstead said. "I had to knock off some rust from sitting, just training, not playing football. I think I got my feet under me."

Armstead, who checked in at the Combine in a little under 6-5 and 306 pounds, hopes to move his feet in the Combine drills in a way that would put him among the elite performers in Combine history.

He did not hesitate in stating his goals for two of the benchmark drills – under 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and 35 inches or higher in the vertical jump.

Since 2000, only two offensive tackles have run the 40 in under 4.8. Bruce Campbell of Maryland did 4.75 in 2010. Joe Staley of Central Michigan did 4.78 in 2007.

Campbell was a fourth-round draft pick who has never started a game in the NFL. Staley was a first-round pick by the 49ers and has made multiple Pro Bowls.

Only a handful of tackles have gone as high as 35 inches in the vertical jump.

Schools in the Southwestern Athletic Conference don't send as many players to the pros as it once did, but the SWAC has a rich tradition in producing players who achieved greatness in the NFL.

Jackson State had Walter Payton and Lem Barney. Jerry Rice came out of Mississippi Valley State. And Grambling has had numerous players who became NFL stars.

If the Lions were interested in Armstead, or any tackle with his background, it probably wouldn't be until the middle rounds or lower.

Martin Mayhew

GM Martin Mayhew said the scouting process is the same for small-college players, but the level of competition has to be taken into account. Mayhew was not speaking specifically about Armstead.

"They're all playing football," he said. "'A lot of times you have to make a projection about what they'll be able to do in the NFL. They're playing the same game with the same rules. There are some good players in the small colleges."

Sammie Hill, drafted in the fourth round by the Lions in 1999 out of Stillman, has been a role player at defensive tackle for four years.

Last year the Lions drafted defensive back Chris Greenwood in the fifth round out of Albion. Greenwood spent his rookie season on injured reserve.

Man to Manti: Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame is one of the top-rated tight ends in the draft. After a few questions about how he prepared for the Combine, Notre Dame's lineage of tight ends and the transition from college to pro came the inevitable barrage about teammate Manti T'eo.

T'eo was involved in the hoax about a long-term telephone relationship with a woman he never met – and who never existed.

Eifert answered about a dozen questions without getting flustered. All answers were supportive of T'eo. They work out together at the IMG center in Florida.

"He didn't do anything wrong," Eifert said. "He took the advice of people he trusted."

The linebacker media interviews are scheduled for Saturday, and T'eo is certain to draw a big crowd.

Wonder if Katie Couric and Oprah Winfrey will compete in the 40-yard dash. The winner gets an exclusive Combine interview with T'eo.

Austin city limits: There weren't any limits for receiver Tavon Austin in his career at West Virginia. He was a small man who produced big results.

He was measured at 5-8 and 174 pounds. That would make him one of the smallest players in the NFL.

No problem, Austin said.

"Naw, he said. "It definitely shouldn't be a problem. I haven't missed a game in eight years. I think my durability should be pretty good."

The Lions are looking to upgrade the return game, and Austin was electrifying in that area with his quickness and speed.

"That's one of my specialties," he said. "I really take pride in doing punt return, kick return. A lot of teams are looking for that type player who'll do multiple things on the field."

Austin produced 572 total yards from scrimmage in a 50-49 loss to Oklahoma. He had 344 yards rushing (and a 16.4-yard average), 82 more on four catches and 146 on eight kickoff returns.

Was he tired from running so much?

"I was more excited than anything," he said. "That was my first game I played running back the whole year."

QB buzz: It's several decibels lower than last year, when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III came to the Combine as stars. They delivered in the drills, and they were stars in their media interviews, too.

Luck and RG3 were drafted 1-2 by the Colts and Redskins respectively and were instant stars on the playing field.

There are no quarterback prospects in that class this year. Matt Barkley of Southern Cal and Geno Smith of West Virginia are the top-rated passers, and it's possible neither will be drafted in the top 10.

Barkley was the first quarterback at the podium. He was poised, but he didn't light up the room the way Luck and RG3 did. The biggest issues for Barkley were about the shoulder separation he sustained late in Southern Cal's season and the team's shocking skid at the end of the year.

The Trojans were 6-1 at one point but lost five of their last six to finish 7-6.

Barkley's shoulder was injured in a loss to UCLA in the next-to-last game of the regular season. Barkley had considered entering the draft last year but said he had "no regrets" about staying in college an extra year.

He is still rehabbing the shoulder injury and will not throw at the Combine. He'll throw at his Pro Day on March 27.

"I'm 100 percent on track with my rehab," he said. "By my Pro Day, I should be perfect to throw."

There were question marks about Barkley's arm strength before the injury. Obviously, he doesn't agree with that.

"Look at the tape," he said.