MOBILE | It doesn't take long for Senior Bowl players to figure out what they have to prove to NFL scouts and coaches who attend practices and Saturday's game, which features some of the nation's top seniors.
For some, the questions are about attitude. For others, it's about size, speed, or some other physical measurable.
For Nico Johnson, it's whether or not he can defend the pass. And the former University of Alabama linebacker knows that's the area where he must impress.
"That I'm a much better player than what people think," Johnson said when asked what he wants to show this week. "That I can be more of a sideline player than just a straight-ahead player, and that I can cover. ... That's the only thing bad about the way we did it at 'Bama. We rotated a lot. It would seem like people can't cover, people thought I can't cover, people thought C.J. (Mosley) couldn't play the run because we split that time."
UA linebacker C.J. Mosley played more against spread offenses because of his strong pass coverage skills and open-field tackling ability. Johnson played more against traditional offenses with power rushing attacks. But with college football trending more toward the former than the latter, Johnson's playing time was less than an even split with Mosley's.
"Texas A&M, I think I got five snaps," Johnson said. "The most (I) took this year was 50-something against LSU. It's all exciting. That was my role on the team. I ran with it," Johnson said.
For Johnson, and former UA teammate Robert Lester, repetitions in Senior Bowl practices aren't as regular as the reps they received as starters at Alabama. The Detroit Lions coaching staff, which is coaching the Senior Bowl South team, has to rotate players as much as possible in order to evaluate the entire roster in a single week.
The South roster includes 23 Southeastern Conference players, and competition is stiff.
"These guys, they've got a point to prove. The game is fast out there," Lester said. "You've got to play fast and think fast. You don't get that many chances, either."
Johnson said he will rely heavily on close friend and former teammate Dont'a Hightower, now of the New England Patriots, for pre-draft advice.
"Me and Dont'a are very close. I didn't want to bother him because of the (Patriots) game, but his game is over now, and I'll call him after the Senior Bowl to see how he handled the process, as far as training, as far as eating right, and everything," Johnson said. "I will talk to him and see what he thinks, give me a heads up, and go from there. I talked to Courtney before I came here, and he gave me a heads up on things to do the right way."
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