Thursday, March 29, 2007

No slow Cole (report from Pro Day)

For years, buzz about cornerback Marquice Cole's exceptional speed spread throughout the Northwestern program.

At NU's annual Pro Day on Thursday, the former Wildcat finally showed it off for NFL scouts.

Word around the Pro Day was that Cole ran a 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. Cole, meanwhile, claimed he clocked in at 4.33.

A little slow, by his standards.

"It was OK," Cole said, "but I could have run faster."

Even so, he might have run fast enough to place himself back onto draft boards for next month's NFL Draft.

Considered a possible mid-round selection heading into 2006, Cole instead struggled on the field and with his health -- eventually being supplanted by freshman Sherrick McManis at the right cornerback position. But, with scouts and general managers placing high value on raw numbers, Cole's 40 time clearly had the scouts in attendance impressed.

Even if it was only 4.35, not 4.33.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, only one of the 55 defensive backs invited to Indianapolis ran faster than Cole. That was Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston (4.32), who is ranked by Scouts, Inc., as the 27th best prospect in the Draft.

Also, only one player at the combine even matched the 4.35 figure: LSU safety LaRon Landry, considered the No. 7 prospect by Scouts, Inc.

And even if the rumored time was a hundredth of a second or two on the kind side, only eight defensive backs ran 40s in the sub-4.4 range, and five of those were 4.39s.

That bodes pretty well for Cole, who can use coaching changes, a struggling offense and injury woes as excuses for a sub-par 2006, especially after he snagged five interceptions and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors during his junior season.

Plus, despite his (possibly coaching-strategy-induced) lack of numbers as a punt returner, he also has a reputation as a strong special teams player, and ranks as the No. 5 return specialist, according to Scouts, Inc.

These all might not add up to having his name called next month, as his durability and on-the-field production bring up a number of questions. But one thing's for sure: That dazzling 40 time, be it 4.33 or 4.35, certainly didn't hurt his chances.


He pushed and pushed to rehab his broken leg in time for the Draft.

NU even scheduled its Pro Day a little late, one coach said, so he could have the chance to work out for scouts.

But after all that preparation, linebacker Nick Roach's draft prospects remain in jeopardy after he pulled up lame about 10 yards into his first 40-yard dash.

The prognosis: not further injury to the leg he broke last year against Michigan State, but a reaggravated injury to his left hamstring, which he said he tweaked less than three weeks ago.

"I had a feeling that it might give me trouble today," Roach said. "I was just kind of crossing my fingers and praying and hoping it wouldn't go bad.

"It's not a complete tear or pull or anything, it's just a strain that will keep me out of workouts."

Naturally, Roach was disappointed, scowling in frustration as he limped away from his failed 40 attempt. Coach Pat Fitzgerald was saddened, too.

But, Fitzgerald said, he's not worried about Roach getting down on himself.

"He's a fighter," Fitzgerald said. "For the last two years he's been battling injuries that are just freak injuries -- they're not because of anything else besides that's just what's happened. He's dealt with them great. He hasn't pouted, felt sorry for himself. He just keeps competing, so who knows where he could be if he didn't have these little dings and injuries over his career."

The problem is, these injuries could be his downfall -- at least in terms of draft position. While he's been productive on the field (he averaged a team-high 7.75 tackles in eight games last season), he hasn't been on it that much. It's these durability issues that might prevent a team from taking a chance on him with a late-round pick.

Still, Fitzgerald and nearly everyone else raves about his character -- something that's becoming more and more important in the new NFL.

Also, Fitzgerald had another perspective on Roach's injuries.

"I that's why the NFL is in love with him, is because he's got a great upside," Fitzgerald said. "He hasn't hit the ceiling of where he's going to go."


  • Other ex-NU players who participated in Pro Day were offensive linemen Ryan Keenan and Joe Tripodi, running back Terrell Jordan, wide receiver Shaun Herbert and fullback Erryn Cobb. Of that group, Keenan appears the most likely to be drafted.

  • While most players trained at NU after the season, Cole in December moved to Redondo Beach, Calif., and spent two months training and living in the Los Angeles area with a few other NFL Draft hopefuls, including former Washington State defensive end Mkristo Bruce, a second-team All-American. "We formed together like a brotherhood and we helped each other out," Cole said of the group.

  • Remember me? Two years after being dismissed from NU's football team after a series of violent incidents, tight end Braden Jones participated in the second half of Pro Day, featuring players from nearby non-Division I-A colleges. Jones spent the last two seasons at Southern Illinois, last season catching 32 passes for 521 yards and seven touchdowns.

    --Patrick Dorsey

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