Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Soon-to-Be Super Irish?

The Blue-Gray Sky has a meticulous recap of the performance laid down by the three Notre Dame graduates who participated in last week's Senior Bowl activities, which wrapped up with the actual game Saturday night. Trevor Laws impressed scouts all week with his motor along the defensive line, and collected a sack of Colt Brennan to go with a nice, acrobatic fumble recovery which conjured memories of his pick against J.D. Booty versus USC in 2006, and six tackles.

Tom Zbikowski was close behind, totaling five tackles, a fumble recovery of his own, and many plaudits for his punt returning. The Chicago Tribune shadowed Zibby for the week, and most of the same questions Notre Dame fans once pondered came up in his first meetings with NFL reps:
While others around him are bombarded with questions about college fights they shouldn't have engaged in, Zbikowski gets quizzed about confrontations he might have in the future.

"They all want to know about boxing," he says of his other passion. "They want to make sure I'm giving it up; if I was offered $20 million for football or boxing, which one I would chose. That's an understandable concern.

"I'm down here at the Senior Bowl to compete, not box."

Another subject that arises is special teams and Zbikowski's willingness to return punts. He receives good feedback, but one of the conversations delves into a stereotype of how a bulky white guy couldn't possibly have success returning punts. The conversation didn't make Zbikowski cringe. It enlightened him.

"I like that he said a special teams player is special, that you can't really look and say what a prototype returner is -- that it's just someone who has a knack for doing it," Zbikowski says. "That's me in a nutshell."
That teams would want rock-solid assurances that they won't need to compete with boxing promoters for Zbikowski's undivided attention is hardly surprising. Nor is the fact that many of them see a stocky safety who doesn't reach six feet in platforms as a bit of reach pick, particularly when the skill he's most likely to contribute defies conventional thinking. But anybody who knows Zibby knows he doesn't back down from a challenge.

The third and final member of the ND delegation (John Carlson was locked in a nasty bout with the flu and elected to skip Mobile) was center John Sullivan, who may not have turned heads but certainly didn't do anything to harm his stock in advance of the NFL Combine which takes place starting three weeks from tomorrow in Indianapolis. Sullivan (along with Zbikowski) was at one time the best senior at his position according to draft guru Mel Kiper, but a year full of botched shotgun snaps and membership in an offensive line that surrendered more than 50 sacks causes a lot of people reexamine their thinking.

These four - Laws, Zbikowski, Sullivan, & Carlson - are all certain to get a chance at some NFL team's training camp, and potentially all four of them could be first day picks. It's far more likely that only one or two of them - likely Carlson, perhaps Laws too - will go on the first day as they battle the perceptions that come with being part of a 3-9 Notre Dame team. A lot will depend on how they "test out" during the Combine.

Meanwhile, as Super Bowl XLII inches closer (complete with today's Theater of the Absurd....oops, "Media" Day), there will be two more players with Irish connections strutting their stuff. But it'll be during the real entertaining portion of Sunday's game, namely the commercials. Zibby and his pal/ex-receiver/current Cubs prospect Jeff Samardzija will be among the 27 athletes putting the new UnderArmour footwear on display for 60 seconds of airtime. Everybody gives Brady Quinn a hard time about cashing in for commercial glory before making it in the pros - hell, these two didn't even get drafted before making it onto the big stage!

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