One of the reasons that the 2011 NFL draft is so unpredictable is the high percentage of players — especially first-round prospects — who can play different positions and do different things in different systems. Defensive linemen like Alabama's Marcell Dareus can play just about anywhere on a three- or four-man line, and there's a conga line of potential five-tech ends in the 6-foot-4, 280-pound range who could line up in multiple positions, depending on the scheme.
Similarly, there's some confusion in the defensive backfield of this draft class — Texas cornerback Aaron Williams might operate better as an NFL safety, and UCLA safety Rahim Moore might be a better nickel corner. One player who has managed to transcend such multi-position analysis is Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, the outstanding defender who led a Cornhuskers pass defense that has been among the NCAA's best over the last two seasons.
Some wanted to question Amukamara's ability to play cornerback at the NFL level, wondering if he might be better off switching to safety because of his trail speed and fondness for tackling. But when you look at the game tape, it's pretty easy to see that Amukamara has the long-range speed and short-area quickness to excel under the most challenging circumstances. After he pulled off a 4.38 40-yard dash, a 38-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot-8 broad jump, credible times in the shuttle and cone drills, and a set of defensive back drills in which he didn't drop a single pass, the NFL seemed to take notice.
I recently spoke with Amukamara about a variety of subjects — we start with the adidas adiZero cleat he's now using, what he's working on in preparation for the draft, which teams he's visiting, and the particulars of his unique skill set. This is part two of the interview; part one can be found here.
Shutdown Corner: Did teams adjust the way they threw to you in 2010? I'm wondering because you didn't have any picks last season, but I actually thought you had your best season. You see that with cornerbacks at times. How does that happen?
Prince Amukamara: In 2009, I was still getting my feet wet, so I wasn't as confident or aggressive. I played off more on receivers, and I think that actually helped me get picks, because there was that cushion between me and the receiver and the quarterback was throwing at me more. In 2010, I really wanted to press my (receiver) and eliminate him out of the equation. My coaches kind of gave me my own island — they didn't admit to it, but they kind of gave me my own island.
SC: So, one day in the NFL, there might be an Amukamara Island in the same way there's a Revis Island now?
PA: (Laughs) I hope so! I really haven't done anything to prove myself yet, but I hope to get that island.
SC: I wanted to talk about the game against Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State, where you gave up some jump balls, only because some people seem to have used one game as an outlier example to say that you can't do this or that at the NFL level. What were the problems you faced in that game in retrospect, and I'm assuming, from watching other games, that you don't actually have a problem defending jump balls?
PA: There were really two plays — it was the flea-flicker, and the 30-yard back-shoulder fade. On the flea-flicker, I just got beat with using my eyes, and on the 30-yard fade, I just lost track of the ball.
SC: You're on one of the NFL Network's Game Changers series — what was that experience like?
PA: I'm on there with (Texas cornerback) Aaron Williams and (NFL Network analyst and former defensive back) Charles Davis. It was a lot of fun, learning from Coach Mooch (Steve Mariucci) and Charles Davis. They just educated us about the NFL.
SC: You mentioned that you visited Detroit, and I assume you talked to (former Nebraska teammate Ndamukong) Suh -- have you talked to other ex-teammates about the NFL life and what you have to look forward to?
PA: Suh was a big part of this process for me. He's definitely told me how to carry myself and handle myself in certain situations — he told me to embrace the whole process, and to conduct myself like a pro.
SC: You presented yourself pretty well at the combine, looking good in the drills and scoring well in all the measurable tests. Did you accomplish everything you wanted to there?
PA: I was definitely happy with the way I performed, but I wasn't satisfied. I know I could have run a better 40, but with all the critics doubting my 40 time (ability to run a fast 40), that was definitely motivation to run faster. I think I did well on the DB drills — I didn't drop a ball, and I was happy overall, even though it was a very stressful process. I think that's what the combine in for, to see how the top athletes perform under pressure.