Versatile DE Jordan offers a mouthful

SAN FRANCISCO – Cameron Jordan took a forkful of fresh calamari and warm white beans, devouring it like a helpless Pac-10 quarterback being pummeled on an outside speed rush. The former Cal defensive end smiled broadly as he swallowed the exquisitely prepared appetizer at a bustling restaurant last Wednesday night. Appropriately, the calamari was grilled – a condition to which Jordan, a first-round prospect in the 2011 NFL draft, can relate.

Dining at Delfina with Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Jordan was experiencing pro football’s equivalent of an entry-level job interview, a process with which he has grown accustomed over the past several weeks. Though the Falcons, who hold the 27th overall selection, won’t likely be in position to select Jordan – Dimitroff has had similar meetings with numerous prospects since the NFL scouting combine in early March and is predictably coy about his plans – the 21-year-old couldn’t help but feel that he was on the spot.

Yet Jordan, the son of an accomplished NFL player and a loquacious young man with an oversized personality, showed no signs of being intimidated. When Dimitroff steered the conversation toward his perception of a generational shift that has current college students pushing to graduate and enter the workforce quickly, the self-described “out-of-the-box” thinker Jordan put a different spin on the GM’s hypothesis.

“I don’t think we’re stressed out about achievement or nervous about the economy or unable to relax,” Jordan said. “Our attitude is, ‘Why should we wait?’ We’re ready to step up and get in the mix and make our mark immediately. What’s the point of putting that off? Our time is now.’ ”

Like many talent evaluators who’ve spoken to Jordan since he completed his senior season, Dimitroff was impressed with the versatile defensive lineman’s maturity, intelligence and poise. To the reigning NFL executive of the year, interacting with players in such settings is a valuable tool in the player-evaluation process. Thanks to owner Arthur Blank’s checkbook and the franchise’s aggressive approach, the Falcons’ top decision-makers have spent the past several weeks traversing the country in an attempt to get a better feel for many prospects at various positions, the vast majority of whom won’t end up playing for them.

Similarly, Jordan’s existence has been a whirlwind. He has visited eight teams (the Bills, Bucs, Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Rams, Saints and Steelers) at their training facilities, has had at least two private workouts (Falcons, Jets) in Berkeley and has been wined and dined by coaches and executives attempting to gauge whether he’s a good fit. He was less enthralled with the succession of rapid-fire, 15-minute interviews he experienced at the combine, a process he described as “the speed-dating realm. ‘Hi, I’m Cam Jordan. I like long walks on the beach, and when the sun hits me on the left side of my face, I just melt …’ ”

While Jordan’s sense of humor may make him an NFL journalist’s dream, his steady ascent to the upper echelons of many mock drafts has more to do with his physical skill set. The 6-foot-4, 283-pounder has the versatility to be an every-down end in both 3-4 and 4-3 alignments and is adept at rushing the passer and stopping the run, and he surprised scouts at Cal’s pro day by offering to participate in defensive-backs drills, a signal that he feels comfortable dropping into coverage. It has even been speculated that Jordan could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. He has bench-pressed 400 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.7 seconds at the combine.

Jordan during the combine.
(AP Photo)

If the perception is true that Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers and North Carolina’s Robert Quinn are falling out of favor, Jordan is the seeming beneficiary.

“There’s a definite sense that his stock is on the rise,” says Jordan’s agent, Doug Hendrickson of Octagon, who obviously has incentive to embrace that perspective. “He’s considered one of the more mature players out there. We represent [the Giants’] Justin Tuck(notes), and I keep hearing that comparison from [talent evaluators] – he can move inside, play outside and do a lot of different things.”

The Cincinnati Bengals’ Marvin Lewis became a Jordan fan in January when the all-Pac-10 player landed on the North squad Lewis coached during the Senior Bowl. “He had a good week,” Lewis said. “He came there for the right reasons. I think he’s a really good player. He’s similar to [the Raiders’ Richard] Seymour, though maybe not quite as angular. He’s like what Rob Burnett was in Baltimore – a guy who’s gonna play for a long time, be really productive and sit out there on that edge and give you a presence. Any team would be glad to have him.”

Interviews with numerous NFL insiders suggest that the list of teams most likely to select Jordan includes the Bucs, Chargers, Jaguars, Lions, Patriots and Rams. He’s not expected to last past the 20th pick, which the Buccaneers currently own, and could sneak into the top 10.

“He’s a guy who really fits in either front, which is pretty unique, and he can play on all three downs,” one AFC scouting director says of Jordan. “It’s really hard to find these complete defensive linemen, guys who can get upfield and penetrate through a gap, and who are able to sit and spy with arms extended, lock a guy out and wait for the ball to clear. Plus he’s a first-rate kid from a high-level program with good bloodlines.”

Cam’s father, Steve, was a standout tight end for the Minnesota Vikings from 1982-94, earning six consecutive Pro Bowl selections in the middle of his career. He and his wife Anita weren’t sure that Cam, the second of their three children, was destined for gridiron greatness – but they quickly concluded he was a handful.

“He was a spirited child,” Steve Jordan says of Cam. “We just had to beat the demon spirit out of him.”

Father and son chuckled over Steve’s description while staring down at the San Francisco Bay as they were dining at the Paragon restaurant in Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel following Cal’s pro day last month. And dad’s characterization did not seem to be merely figurative.

“I’ve always been bold,” Cam says. “That doesn’t really mix well when you have a mother who pretty much was born in the 20th century and believes in beating children. Anything I do, I push to edge, and I was always that way. If my parents said, ‘Don’t touch the asphalt on the street,’ I’d walk to the edge of the driveway and put my foot over the line. That equaled a beating. Now, does this mean that I was a bad kid, or that my mother couldn’t get to the tennis courts and wanted to get a workout?”

Cameron, 15, and Jordan during a trip to New York.
(Courtesy Jordan family)

Cam has pleasant memories of hanging around the Vikings’ facility on Saturdays as a kid. “I used to hit the bag in the indoor facility,” he recalls. “I guess I was preparing to be an offensive lineman.” Yet upon moving to Arizona – after retiring from football, Steve, who’d earned a civil engineering degree at Brown, took a job with a construction management and real-estate development firm in the Phoenix area – Cam gravitated toward basketball, embracing his father’s sport only after, in Steve’s words, “we got over our issues.”

Said Cam: “Yes, he was that dad. He threw me in against my will.”

From Steve’s perspective, Cam was “a 180-pound eighth-grader who didn’t like to run. That didn’t bode well for a basketball future. I didn’t want to be ‘that dad.’ But I made him play that one season of Pop Warner …”

The early results with the Southeast Valley Destroyers were predictably disastrous. Cam, Steve says, repeatedly “showed his ass … he was last in every drill. He was pouting. He wanted me to know that he was only here because I wanted him here. In the games, it was mandatory that each kid got four plays per half, and that was all he got. And he was the biggest kid on the team.”

Says Cam: “Look, I was 13. These other dudes were 15. There were kids with beards!”

Eventually, Jordan earned some additional playing time, and by the end of the season he was a team captain. A similar pattern played out when Jordan arrived in Berkeley carrying 299 pounds that included plenty of baby fat. “I was real sexy,” he recalls. “But I was slow.”

Tosh Lupoi, Cal’s defensive line coach, remembers the first time Jordan hit the practice field: “He was a little chubby. We thought he’d be a defensive tackle type. His arms were going everywhere, and he didn’t have much of a clue of how to deal with blocks. But when we saw that ball go away, all of a sudden he was pursuing it faster than anybody. We said, ‘Damn, the fat kid can run.’ ”

Jordan got leaner and meaner – and, eventually, more serious about his craft.

“He learned when to have fun and when to be serious,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford says. “At first, when he came in, it was about having fun all the time. But he really matured and grew as a player and as a leader.”

By his junior season Jordan had become a key performer for the Bears, with six sacks and three forced fumbles among his statistical accomplishments. A year ago, when the Jaguars stunned most draft observers by selecting Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu(notes) with the 10th overall pick, Jordan became even more driven.

Jordan takes down UCLA QB Kevin Price last season.
(Getty Images)

“After that, the light went on,” Lupoi says. “It was like he realized, ‘I’m bigger, stronger, taller and faster. I can go where he went, or higher.’ It wasn’t like he suddenly became more serious – it had been a process – but he took it to a new level. He’d call me up and say, ‘Can I come in Sunday and watch film?’ He had a different sense of dedication.”

Jordan said he actually cranked up his commitment level following his sophomore campaign, when Alualu began receiving attention from NFL scouts: “It was sort of like a ‘Zoolander’ moment. ‘Maybe I can do that for a career. I could be really, really, really good-looking.’ ”

Following a senior season which included six sacks and 12½ tackles for loss, Jordan looked even better – and his personality seems to have increased his attractiveness to talent-evaluators over the past few months. Though many football coaches value obedience over edginess, Jordan seems to have straddled that line effectively. One example came during a combine interview with a Steelers contingent that included a Hall of Fame defensive tackle and legendary cola pitchman.

Upon being introduced to Mean Joe Greene, Jordan smiled and contemplated asking, “Can I have a jersey, too?” He thought better of it, instead telling Greene, “I wish I had a Coke on me.”

Weeks later, during a one-on-one interview with an NFL coach, Jordan was asked if the persona he was projecting during interviews was “the real you” or the product of careful preparation. He shrugged and told the coach, “I’m just being me.” Jordan may be a guy who sucks the air out of the room, but he doesn’t seem to be capable of blowing smoke.

“He’s a very confident guy, and he’s got a lot of energy,” Lupoi says. “But his enthusiasm comes from the heart, and he’s never going to jeopardize his opportunity by popping off and saying something stupid. It’s taken awhile, but he now understands the right time to be Cam and the right time to be Business Cam. And he’s going to be a total score for whoever gets him, because that energy can pick a team up when practice becomes a grind, and it carries over onto the field.”

As Jordan finished his meal with Dimitroff and prepared to head back across the Bay in a rented town car, he politely thanked the general manager for the opportunity to get to know him better, projecting anything but boldness.

“He’s an impressive guy,” Dimitroff says of Jordan. “A lot of young people might get intimidated in that kind of setting, or they might get nervous and try too hard to make an impression. He seems very comfortable with himself, and eager to become a pro.”

Why should he wait?

Michael Silver covers the NFL for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Mogotxt, Twitter and Facebook. Also check out ridewithsilver.com. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Apr 13, 2011