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Houston Texans

Senior Bowl standouts generate draft talk


MOBILE, Ala. - When Thursday rolled around at the Senior Bowl, most NFL general managers, coaches and scouts were on their way out of Mobile, opting to forgo the remaining light practices and Saturday's game.

Instead, they packed the local airport, huddling up to review players with the potential to become headliners on Sundays.

Even with so many quality juniors entering the 2008 draft and not eligible for this event, there was a lot expected of these seniors, who were slated to be exceptionally deep at the defensive back and wide receiver positions.

Those two units did deliver with several players garnering heaps of hype. There also were a handful of virtual unknowns who shined as bright bleeps on the draft radar.

{QUOTE}Here is a breakdown of the prospects who increased their draft stock in the 2008 Under Armour Senior Bowl.

Cornerbacks such as Troy's Leodis McKelvin (5-11, 186), Indiana's Tracy Porter (5-11, 181), Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (6-2, 181) and Auburn's Patrick Lee (6-0, 201) all impressed with their athletic and instinctual play.

Rodgers-Cromartie proved his versatility, working out as a free safety and a corner. He can run with the best of them, but teams would like to see him increase his overall body strength.

"They (coaches) have said that I'm out here working hard," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "But I need to work on strength and get a little stronger in the weight room."

Both Porter and Lee showed solid footwork and good work ethic, but McKelvin stole the show.

The Troy product came into the week regarded as a third-round pick and will leave Mobile with a chance to go late in the first round, perhaps earlier. McKelvin possesses the speed to turn and run with receivers downfield and the instincts in coverage to jump passes and anticipate routes. Plus, he can play on special teams as a returner.

"Scouts saw a competitive guy here," McKelvin said. "I'm not just competing with small schools, but I'm competing with the best guys in the country.

"They saw just how physical I can be."

Wide receiver also proved to be a solid group this week. Forida's Andre Caldwell (6-0, 203) emerged as one of the South's best overall players at any position.

Caldwell, who recorded 761 receiving yards and averaged 13.6 yards per catch for the Gators last year, made tough grabs over the middle and came down with some deep balls near the sidelines. His consistency and tenacity this week earned him a first-round grade in the draft. His brother, Reche, was chosen in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.

"I want to show teams that I'm 100 percent healthy, that I'm a playmaker and that I can play with the best," said the younger Caldwell, who sprained his medial collateral ligament last season.

The emergence of Califorina's Lavelle Hawkins (5-11, 186), who probably did more to enhance his draft status than any player in Mobile this week, generated buzz around Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Hawkins ran crisp routes and caught everything in sight, proving he also is first-round worthy.

With junior running backs like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones of Arkansas, Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois, Oregon's Jonathan Stewart and Texas' Jamaal Charles expected to dominate the position in the draft, the senior prospects were thought to be primarily second-tier types. However, two backs clearly set themselves apart: Cal's Justin Forsett (5-8, 183) and East Carolina's Chris Johnson (5-11, 198).

Forsett powered through seams and made plays after catching the ball.

Johnson simply stole the show on the ground, hitting holes with his speed and strength and powering by tacklers. He also showed excellent field vision when returning kicks on special teams.

At offensive tackle, UTEP's Oneil Cousins (6-4, 303) and Boston College's Gosder Cherilus (6-7, 313) were considered the highest-rated prospects. Both surprised scouts with their good footwork and solid technique. Plus, the tackles overwhelmed defenders during one-on-one drills.

Cousins said he still had to work on his pass blocking, but he excelled at finishing his blocks.

"I play hard and I give great effort," Cousins said. "If I lose, I'm going to come back again. I'm not going to give up. I'm going to keep going and going."

Arizona State center Mike Pollak (6-3, 293) improved tremendously during the week, grabbing the eyes of several pro teams. Pollack is slightly undersized, but he has athletic feet and good balance.

He did have a hard time handling defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (6-1, 307), who is considered to be a top-10 draft pick. Ellis ended up the highest rated player at any position in Mobile, dominating the inside and showing great motor. Teams had been concerned about his height. Not anymore.

Finally, the talent at quarterback underwhelmed observers with Boston College's Matt Ryan and Louisville's Brian Brohm opting out of the game. Michigan's Chad Henne (6-2, 225) was the exception. He took advantage of the opportunity to shine, enhancing his draft stock by showcasing a strong arm, poised pocket presence and excellent leadership on the field.

"To play with all these All-Americans and guys from different teams all across the country is a great opportunity," Henne said. "There is great speed out here and definitely great talent."

Noteworthy: In injury news, Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed will not play in Saturday's game because he aggravated a wrist injury he suffered in October. Sweed had to undergo surgery last fall and was sidelined for the rest of the season.

Another wideout, Early Doucet of LSU, tweaked his hamstring Tuesday in practice and may not be able to play in Saturday's game. Receiver Dexter Jackson from Appalachian State, who played in the East-West Shrine Game last week, was just added to the South roster.

West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt hurt his knee and probably is done for the week.

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