MOBILE, Ala.-- Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom obviously knew what he was talking about a few years ago when he sat down Titus Brown and shot straight with him.
To this day, Brown is thankful.
He's playing defensive end this week for the South team in Senior Bowl practices, the same position Croom told him would be his home during their fateful conversation soon after Brown's freshman season.
Brown was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team as a middle linebacker in 2004, but Croom moved him to defensive end the next season. The move was even harder to swallow for Brown initially because he was a backup.
"I was starving myself to stay down at 237 pounds because I wanted to stay at middle linebacker," Brown recalled. "Coach Croom called me in and said, 'What are you doing? I'm just going to tell you that you can play linebacker, but linebackers like you are a dime a dozen in the NFL. But at defensive end, you can be a game-changer, and more than that, you can be a leader.'"
Brown, who had eight sacks this season, still wasn't buying in completely. But the more he played at defensive end, the more he understood what Croom was trying to tell him.
"Coach Croom told me just to trust him," Brown said. "I did, and I'm glad I did."
PSU's Connor weighs in for NFL scouts
Two days into the Senior Bowl practices, and Penn State linebacker Dan Connor is still shaking his head at how it all started.
The infamous weigh-ins were held Monday morning before the first practice.
"It's weird. It's different," Connor said. "The first day, we get up in our underwear and walk in front of about 200 or 300 guys and get weighed. It's not normal, but it comes with the territory."
Connor is playing middle linebacker this week, but he said NFL clubs have told him they could also see him playing outside in a 4-3 system. In a 3-4, he'd factor in at one of the two inside linebacker spots. Just prior to his senior season, he moved from outside linebacker to inside.
The Nittany Lions' all-time leading tackler, Connor won the Bednarik Award this season as the nation's top defender. It's the fourth time in the past nine years that a Penn State defender has won the award (Lavar Arrington '99, Paul Posluszny '05 and '06).
"You look at our coaching staff on defense, and it's easy to see why there have been so many good linebackers come through there," Connor said.
Connor wasn't shedding much light on how much longer the ageless Joe Paterno might coach.
"I'd say he'll go 100 more years," Connor said, laughing. "He'll be there for a while. He doesn't let up at all. He's on the ball. He's the man. I don't think he'll ever step aside."
Razorback steps out of backfield shadows
Peyton Hillis was the "other" running back during much of his career at Arkansas.
That's because Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were sharing the same backfield with Hillis, a 245-pound fullback who's showing this week that he can do a little bit of everything.
"When you're playing with two great players like that, you're not going to get a lot of attention," Hillis said. "I didn't mind. It made me a better player, and this is my chance to show what I can do."
Hillis was versatile enough at Arkansas that he even returned some kicks. He said most NFL clubs have talked to him about playing a traditional fullback role and maybe some H-back. As a high school senior, he had nine touchdown runs of 55 yards or longer.
"I just want to get on the field and contribute," said Hillis, who had his pick of colleges coming out of high school in Conway, Ark., but chose to stay home and play for the Razorbacks. "The more things you can do in the NFL, the better chance you have. I think that's the best thing I have going for me."
LSU receiver Early Doucet, who struggled with a groin injury for much of the 2007 season before returning for the stretch drive, tweaked his hamstring Tuesday in practice and may not be able to play in Saturday's game.
Short body of work for Vols tight end
Tight end Brad Cottam played in just five games this season for Tennessee, but he has been one of the more intriguing prospects this week at the Senior Bowl.
For starters, he's 6-foot-8 and weighed in Monday at 271 pounds. But he's athletic enough that he had a 31-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl and set up a touchdown against Kentucky with a 59-yard catch and run.
Cottam broke his wrist during a preseason scrimmage and missed the first nine games. He filed an appeal for a sixth season but was denied by the NCAA because he'd already redshirted earlier in his career.
Healthy enough to play, he returned for the Vols' final five games and averaged 25 yards on five catches.
"I think I've shown that I have some athleticism," Cottam said. "The important thing for me this week is to show that I can catch and block. When you can do that, you can play in any system."
Among some of the college head coaches attending Senior Bowl practices the past two days were Alabama's Nick Saban, East Carolina's Skip Holtz and Croom.
Former Mississippi head coach Ed Orgeron stopped by for Monday's practice. He was on the sideline briefly but was told by a security guard that he didn't have proper credentials to be there. Orgeron is eyeing a jump to the NFL and is set to interview with the New Orleans Saints.
Former Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges also attended the practices on Tuesday.