- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
- 0 Shares
INDIANAPOLIS -- Golden Tate and Arrelious Benn didn't end their college careers with textbook seasons. In fact, it would be hard to find two college teams that were more disappointing than Notre Dame and Illinois. Both players left their situations after their junior seasons, to no surprise.
While Illinois' woeful passing game turned out to be an odd fit for someone of Benn's talents, he thinks the Illini's struggles might help him in the long haul.
"I know what it feels like to win, I know what it feels like to lose," he said. "That helped me out a lot; being able to go through that kind of adversity and just keep going."
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Ron Zook era. Scouts Inc. ranks Benn as the second-best receiver in the draft and 27th-best player available. Mel Kiper Jr. has him ranked 19th. Leaving school wouldn't have been a tough decision if he were at Florida. But the uneasy state of the Illini program certainly didn't help.
"If I would've stayed for my senior year, it would've been my third offensive coordinator," he said. "And I felt like if I was going to learn a new offense, let it be on next level."
With a coaching change and the departure of his quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Tate didn't have a difficult decision, either. He said coach Charlie Weis gave him some statistical benchmarks before the season to prove he was draft-worthy.
"Funny story," he said. "I spoke with Coach Weis before the season, before we played a down, before camp. He told me unless you have around 1,500 yards and around 16 or 17 touchdowns, I should not leave early. I had 1,500 yards [1,496 actually] and I think 15 touchdowns, so he was right there with that fact."
Scouts Inc. ranks Tate as the 49th-best player and fifth among receivers. The sub-6-footer said he considers himself a clone of Carolina's Steve Smith and Minnesota's Percy Harvin.
"I think I model my game after [Smith]," he said. "I'm not afraid to go up the middle or throw a block."
Tate also said NFL teams shouldn't doubt Clausen's maturity.
"I thought he was a great leader," Tate said. "He was really consistent. Every day he showed up to work. Sick, hurt, we got the same Jimmy. He did a great job keeping the team together."
LeFevour fever: Benet Academy graduate Dan LeFevour got a podium spot in the media center at Lucas Oil Stadium, where he had to defend himself for not throwing to wide receivers this weekend. LeFevour, less famously than Tim Tebow, is trying to show scouts he can leave the spread offense behind and play from under center.
"I'm throwing," he said. "I don't plan on throwing to receivers. I'll throw to receivers on my pro day. I'm doing all the movement and the stationary targets. With receivers, it's getting into a rhythm and throwing to guys that I'm used to. I'm doing it so I can put the best product out there on pro day."
LeFevour set the NCAA record for total career touchdowns at Central Michigan and was the Most Outstanding Player of the Senior Bowl. Scouts Inc. has him as the fifth-best quarterback in the draft, one spot ahead of Tebow.
Kafka ready for shot: Northwestern's Mike Kafka showed up at the combine with a shaved head and a winner's attitude.
"I want to be an NFL starter," he said. "I'm not going to the league to be a No. 2. I think my whole game can go to another level. I'm ready to take it up another notch."
Kafka was a multi-threat quarterback at Northwestern and put up some big numbers. Scouts Inc. has him ranked 11th among quarterbacks, a class that Bears general manager Jerry Angelo ranked as "iffy."
"I know my athletic ability takes care of itself," he said. "There's a lot of film people can watch to know I can throw. Most important for me are the interviews. I want to show them I know football, I can talk football. I'm a smart kid. I can learn a system and run it efficiently."
New Knox: Ohio University receiver Taylor Price has been told he's a dead ringer for Johnny Knox and he's not shying away from the comparisons. Price is one of the more buzz-worthy players at the draft, considering how few reporters monitor the Bobcats.
"I trained at the same spot Johnny did [in Miami, Fla.]," said the 6-foot Price, who came out of a wing-T offense in high school in suburban Columbus. "A lot of people say I remind them of Johnny, so I hope I can put up the numbers he did. He ran fast and I'm looking forward to doing the same thing."
Price, who had a great Senior Bowl week and is ranked as the 11th-best receiver by Scouts Inc., is considered one of the fastest players in the draft. Knox's 4.34 40-yard dash last year boosted his draft stock and he wound up being one of the Bears' few bright spots in 2009.
Illinois' Arrelious Benn and Notre Dame's Golden Tate look to catch on at NFL combine.