Irish at the Combine

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The NFL Scouting Combine came to a close yesterday in Indianapolis, as the safeties and cornerbacks completed their workouts. Many fans know the combine for the 40-yard dash seen on television. While important, a player's opportunities to make an impact on NFL teams are about more than how fast he runs in a straight line.

There are a series of on- and off-the-field evaluations, screenings and interviews that help teams get a better idea of how they will use their selections in April's NFL Draft.

Six former Notre Dame football student-athletes participated in this year's combine - cornerback Robert Blanton, offensive lineman Taylor Dever, running back Jonas Gray, linebacker Darius Fleming, wide receiver Michael Floyd and safety Harrison Smith.

Gray is still rehabbing the knee injury he suffered this past November against Boston College, and was only able to participate in the bench press segment of the physical tests. He hopes to be ready for Notre Dame's Pro Day in April.

Here's a look at some notable performances from the Irish who took part in the combine:

- Robert Blanton tied Jamell Fleming (Oklahoma) and Josh Robinson (Central Florida) for third among cornerbacks in the 20-yard shuttle. Blanton's time of 3.97 seconds also ranked third for all defensive backs in the drill.

Blanton also fared well in the three-cone drill. His 6.71 placed fifth among cornerbacks, seventh among defensive backs and 11th among all combine participants.

The Matthews, N.C. native tied for seventh among all defensive backs in the 60-yard shuttle, clocking a time of 11.28.

- On Saturday, Taylor Dever ran a 7.49 in the three-cone drill, tying Nate Potter (Boise State) for fourth out of 43 offensive linemen who completed the test.

- Darius Fleming completed the combine drills on Monday, where he ranked sixth among linebackers in the three-cone drill (7.03) and tied for seventh in the 20-yard shuttle (4.28).

Fleming also placed sixth in the 225-lb bench press test with 27 reps. The Chicago native tied Keenan Robinson (Texas) and Luke Kuechly (Boston College), winner of the 2011 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Butkus Award, Lombardi Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy.

- Michael Floyd ran a 4.47 (13th among wide receivers) in the 40-yard dash, quieting some critics who had previously questioned his speed. With the exception of Miami's Tommy Streeter and Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill none of the other wideouts who ran faster share the 6'3," 220-lb receiver's combination of size and speed.

- Harrison Smith, the 2011 Notre Dame captain, had an impressive Tuesday, the final afternoon of the combine. Smith's best drill was the three-cone test (6.63), where he placed first among safeties, fifth for defensive backs and seventh among all combine participants.

The safety ran a 4.57 in the 40 and completed 19 reps in the bench press test, both good for seventh at his position.

Smith also turned in a strong showing in the 20-yard shuttle, running a 4.12 - good for second among safeties and 13th among all defensive backs. He tied LSU's Morris Claiborne, who is projected as a possible top-5 pick.

These former Fighting Irish players aspire to play on Sundays, but no matter what happens eight weeks from now in New York, and in the free agency period thereafter, each will have a degree from the University of Notre Dame - and that will benefit them long after their playing days are complete.

Notre Dame's NFL Combine participants, as well as other Fighting Irish professional hopefuls will be back in action just over a month from now on Pro Day, to be held on April 3 in the Loftus Sports Center.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

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