A handful of images of players Denver might be considering in the 2015 NFL Draft
INDIANAPOLIS — With Jameis Winston's media availability held until Friday, Marcus Mariota took command of most of the attention when he strode to Podium C on Thursday, Day 2 of the Combine. Meanwhile, the running backs made their case for returning to first round of the NFL Draft consideration.
Running backs hope to buck trend
Melvin Gordon is losing sleep.
The players here are told to treat meeting and interviews with teams like games. If that's the case, some have played two dozen games in the past day or two.
Gordon is assuredly in that class after the season he had for Wisconsin, recording team records in a number of categories including most rushing yards in a season, and, most notably, breaking the NCAA record for rushing yards in a game with 408.
But now he's having restless nights thinking about what coaches will talk about and how the interview process will go.
What he wants to do, as do all running backs here at the Combine, is break the running trend of running backs missing the first round completely. The last to be drafted in the first round was Trent Richardson, Doug Martin and David Wilson in 2012.
"It's a lot running backs out here, including myself that's trying to break that trend," Gordon said. "We've been trying to show people all year that we're capable of being drafted first round. That's been a lot of our goals and hopefully we can change that."
Had he come out of college early to the draft last year, his name might not have made such a splash, but he looks to be much better off for it this year after honing his skills and torching the earth every Saturday.
"I wanted to be more of a complete running back. I wanted to be a better football player. And I think I achieved that," Gordon said. "I showed people that I don't need James [White] or Montee [Ball] to go out and pass protect. I wasn't perfect—not everyone is—you make some mistakes but they could count on me. And that's what I wanted to show in the passing game, in the running game and pass protection."
Joining Gordon in the race to be a top pick is Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who exploded early in the season before suffering an ACL tear in November.
He's still rehabbing, but progress is good so far, Gurley says.
"It's going good, just going day by day," he said, discussing where his health is currently at. He's able to do light jogging and has started strengthening his quad and hamstring.
It might have surprised some people to see that Gurley would be an early entrant to the NFL Draft because he still had a year of eligibility left, but it didn't worry him in the slightest after his initial concern that he got past.
"I was a little bit worried, definitely," Gurley said. "[It] was kind of sad but at the end of the day, I had to be positive about the injury and move on and just let this motivate me to get back and take all the anger out when I get back."
And he still wants to be the top overall pick because, well, whose goal is to be the No. 5 overall pick when you can set a higher bar?
"That might sound ridiculous but that's the confidence I have in myself," he added.
Mariota prepares for NFL transition
Marcus Mariota has no desire to be pigeonholed with easy and cheap comparisons. With a shot at being drafted early, he doesn't try to compare himself to anyone.
Right now he's just focused on improving and diversifying his game with the intention of fitting better in pro style offenses.
"While working with Kevin O'Connell, he's given me a play sheet and at night he tells me to just read the play calls out loud," he said before a crowd of reporters and videographers huddling around him. "That's something little but as this process goes, it's going to help me with whatever team I get to in terms of just speaking in the huddle and articulating the plays."
That's not an entirely new thing for him, but he deviated from that aspect after high school at Oregon.
"You know, I think for any rookie quarterback it's going to be an adjustment stepping up to this new level," he said. "For me, I'm going to continue to absorb as much as I can, learn from all the people I can and do my best in whatever situation I get into."
Mariota said the biggest change he expects will be huddling, which might seem like a small change. And though few people run as well as Mariota, he aims at working on his footwork in dropping under center.
"I haven't huddled in a while. That will be one thing," he said. "To everyone, it seems like a little detail, but that is kind of a big thing. There's other things as well, in terms of the three-, five-, seven-step drops under center. That's all stuff I've been able to work on the last month and will continue to work on."
These changes may raise questions, but there's no question in his mind that he'll be able to manage adjusting to pro-style offenses.
"It's something I'm going to continue to work on with Philip [Rivers] and different other quarterback coaches right now because Kevin's with the Browns," Mariota said. "Learning as much as I can, learning how my drops time up with the route concepts and how my feet are going to help me go through my progressions. All this stuff is little things that I can continue to work on that will help my adjustment."
One thing he might not have to work on is his favorite throw, a seam toss in three-deep coverage.
"At Oregon we did get to see a lot of trhee-deep zone," Mariota said. "Tight ends and some of our slot receivers were kind of able to get in their zones. It's a fun throw because you can't put too much onto it because you'll throw it into a linebacker's face. You've got to put enough touch on it to put it over the linebacker and have enough zip on it to be in front of the safety."
Son of former Bronco making his own name
Kenny Bell bears the distinct honor of being both Nebraska's most prolific receiver in team history and perhaps one of Lincoln's best bartenders.
Naturally, there aren't a lot of players at the Combine this week who spent their free time tending bar for money and Bell might be the only one. He needed money to pay for utilities and wanted to earn his own money rather than asking his parents.
"I'm a people person. I enjoy human interactions," he said. "It's a really good time, especially in a place like Lincoln, Nebraska, where everybody's nice. It's hard not to get along with people. But I needed a job to pay some bills and had a buddy that owned the bar and started working there and enjoyed my time I worked there when I was 22, so just last summer."
That may be one of the more interesting anecdotes about Kenny Bell, but his performance at Nebraska as a wide receiver tore up record books and left a lasting impression. He set the school's records for career receptions (181), career receiving yards (2,689) and was First-Team All-Big Ten as voted by the conference's coaches.
"I think the most thing I bring to the table as a wide receiver is consistency and I'm reliable," Bell said. "You can rely on me to make big plays when they need to be made, and I'm consistent. I consistently catch the ball and I consistently do my assisgnment and, like I said, I'm consistently reliable on and off the field. And in this day and age, I think it's very, very important for guys to be able to be just as reliable on the field as they are off the field."
For Broncos fans, his name may be a bit familiar (...or ring a bell — zing!). His father, Ken Bell, played for the Broncos from 1986 to 1989, mostly returning kicks and punts. In his career, he totaled over 2,000 return yards.
2015 NFL Combine WR prospect Kenny Bell -- the son of former Denver running back Ken Bell -- has an interesting story all his own.