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Putting Their Best Foot Forward

Posted Feb 27, 2011

Top prospects Nick Fairley and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara, Patrick Peterson and Jimmy Smith talked about impressing teams at the NFL Scouting Combine.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Nick Fairley hasn't let his success get to his head.

Rather, his parents haven't let him.

"My mom and dad, they stay on me, they make sure I’m a down to earth kid, very respectful and humble, always say yes sir and no sir to your elders," he said with a smile.

As he goes through the rigors of the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, Fairley has maintained that demeanor, wishing luck to his fellow top prospects -- even praising Marcell Dareus and Mark Ingram, who both went to arch-rival Alabama.

Fairley said he hopes teams see the person he is off the field along with his playmaking ability on it.

"Just come out here at the combine and show them with the drills that I am a great athlete and then with the interviews that we have that I am a great person off the field, too," he said of his goal for the week. "I want to show him the one-hit wonder is not in me."

The one-hit wonder claim comes from the fact that virtually all of Fairley's production at Auburn came last season as a junior. He admitted that he didn't fully grasp what it took to excel in the SEC when he came to Auburn as a sophomore from junior college, but it clicked for him last season.

"To me, there is risk and reward with everybody in the draft, but the biggest thing is to find the best players that fit your team and go from there," General Manager Brian Xanders said of so-called one-year wonders on Friday.

Fairley hopes to prove to teams that he will continue his growth and production as he heads to the next level, but he knows he won't be able to rely solely on his strength and speed to get the job done in the NFL.

"They looked at me all this year in college and were like, 'You’re quick and powerful, but when it comes to the NFL you’ve got to use your technique," Fairley said. "There are O-linemen that will just lay on you for three quarters and by the fourth quarter you’re not going to come off of the ball, you’ll be worn out by then. I just have to work on getting my technique to a T, where it comes natural.

"I’ll be ready to go."


As loaded as the 2011 draft class seems to be along the defensive line, cornerback might rival that group at the top.

LSU's Patrick Peterson, Nebraska's Prince Amukamara and Colorado's Jimmy Smith could all be drafted in the top 10 picks come April.

All three stepped to podiums Sunday and talked about the talent of the cornerback crop.

"There’s a lot of good names out there," Peterson said. "Looks like I’m leading the class right now, but there’s a lot of good guys who are definitely deserving to be No. 1."

The LSU product ventured that the reason he's set to go so high in the draft was the ability he showed in college to shut down top receivers.

"In the NFL it’s the (Julio) Joneses and (A.J.) Greens each and every Sunday," Peterson said. "It was a fun experience. I got a chance to go up against Julio Jones three years straight. I got a chance to go up against A.J. Green two years straight. Those guys definitely helped me elevate my game to the next level each and every time we played."

Peterson excelled in the return game for the Tigers, as well, and he said he added some muscle mass in the offseason to help ensure he can't be taken down on the first tackle. In addition to his special teams game, he said his ball skills, toughness and run support combine to create an "all-around" package that is enticing to NFL clubs.

Another enticing cornerback is Amukamara, who became fast friends with Peterson when the two met in Orlando.

Amukamara is slated in many mock drafts to be taken behind Peterson, but he said he doesn't put much stock in the predictions.

"I'm not sure who Googles themselves," he said. "If I see it on ESPN, I pay attention to it, but I know those are just like preseason polls -- nothing is set in stone yet."

The Nebraska product said he has spoken with former teammate and reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh about how to handle the combine.

"Suh has been giving me tips about this process," he said. "He just told me to treat it as a business trip, which is what I've been doing, and I'm happy with that advice."

When it comes to other NFL players, Amukamara doesn't name-drop when it comes to who he models his game after.

"I think every player who considers himself great should have their own identity," he said.

One player who doesn't mind comparisons is Smith, who said he has heard his name alongside the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha.

"He's a shutdown corner in the NFL -- I like the comparison a lot," said the prospect, not lacking confidence. "I think I have better ball skills than he does, though."

But Smith's confidence is certainly not unwarranted. He excelled in the CU secondary, though his tally of zero interceptions last season doesn't tell the full story.

"I had one opportunity for an interception, a one-handed interception, and I dropped it," he lamented. "After that I had like three passes thrown my way for the rest of the season."

Smith took it as a sign of respect, and he hopes to hold on to his title of a "shutdown corner" as he makes the jump to the professional ranks.

"I feel like the sky is the limit for me as long as I do what I know I can do out there," he said.