Since graduating from Duke in December, Conner Vernon has devoted his energy to preparing for the NFL draft.
First, he went home to Miami and worked out at XPE Sports, where head trainer Tony Villani prepared Vernon and guys such as Florida States E.J. Manual, Clemsons Andre Ellington and North Carolinas Kevin Reddick for the Senior Bowl.
In the January showcase, Vernon led the South team with four catches for 36 yards.
Last week, he was at the NFL combine, where he ran a 4.68 40-yard dash and impressed draft analysts and scouts with his catching ability.
Conner Vernon from Duke stood out to me today. Natural catcher. Best trait is his hands. Did show up Sunday, tweeted Bryan Broaddus, a former NFL scout and current Dallas Cowboys employee.
Vernon, who is projected as a mid- to late-round pick, is back at Duke, leaving the inherent distractions of Miami behind so he can focus on getting stronger with strength coach Noel Durfey and preparing for the Blue Devils pro day in late March. Vernon took time to answer a few questions.
Was the combine about what you expected it would be like?
Yeah it was. You definitely have to get ready for it, thats for sure. Its a little like the Senior Bowl but on a greater scale with all the NFL teams there. It was cool, its a big-time production, obviously, but it was a great experience. I was glad I was able to be a part of it.
You did everything but the bench press. Were you pretty pleased with your results?
Yeah, absolutely. I did what I set out to do when I got there, and I think I impressed a few guys in the process. At this point, theres not much else I can do besides work out every day and get better. Now its just waiting for your phone to ring in April.
Anything specific youre working on between now and pro day?
Obviously I want to get stronger. Thats one of the reasons I came back to Duke because from my freshman year until now Ive worked with coach Durfey, and he knows me very well. Hes going to get me stronger.
Well work on everything so I can get back into that football shape. Also well work on footwork stuff so I can continue to get quicker. I definitely didnt come up here for a vacation, I can say that much.
(Note: Vernon does plan to bench press at Dukes pro day).
Youre not the tallest or the fastest football player is how people describe you. Was it weird that the emphasis at the combine was on how you measured in certain drills instead of more on natural football ability?
I dont get involved in all that. The combine is obviously a place to showcase your talent, but there are only really two drills you do at the combine that you would do in a football game.
One is one the 40-yard dash but even thats not exactly realistic in a football game. No receiver or (defensive back) is going to be in a three-point stance at the beginning of every play. And very seldom do you run 40 yards on a single play anyway.
The only realistic thing from a football standpoint is the position drills. And I think thats where I excelled. I think thats what the scouts noticed also.
The other drills are great, and obviously they matter, but theyre not exactly things that are going to happen in a football game.
Theres no way to run a shuttle in a football game, theres no way to run around cones in a football game. Maybe the vertical for jump ball at the receiver position but I would never broad jump in a football game.
Unless youre diving for the end zone, I guess, but those arent really things that are going to happen in a football game.
Like I said, I dont really get caught up in the numbers. I just go out there and show them that Im a football player, not a combine freak.
Do you know about how many teams you talked to while you were at the combine?
Im not sure, but between the Senior Bowl and the combine, I talked to all 32. A lot of people just want information on you, and they dont necessarily contact you and instead they go through your agent. I know hes talked to a lot of guys. Right now, theres not much else I can control. At this point, most of it is out of my hands.
Who is going to be throwing to you here at Duke since Sean Renfree cant do that?
Its going to be Mike Cappetto, a former Duke quarterback who still works here at Duke. Im working with him this whole month.
Have you seen or talked to Sean recently?
I saw him at the combine. Hes doing well, really well, and he looks good. He said hes feeling a lot better. I dont exactly know his timetable to start throwing, but hes hanging in there. He looks well and he feels well.