MOBILE, Ala. — Antonio Morrison knew the question was coming, and yet, there was no filter with his response.
After Tuesday’s South practice at the Senior Bowl, the Florida linebacker was asked about the supposed upgrade of collective speed on the field that day — especially during 11-on-11 live scrimmaging — compared to his college experience.
The Chicago-area native lit up at the query, flashing a wide smile, knowing a boastful answer would soon follow suit.
“There wasn’t any difference,” said Morrison, a second-team pick for All-SEC as a senior (Associated Press vote). “No, I play in the SEC, and that’s as fast as you’re going to get in college.”
It’s hard to argue Morrison’s point. The SEC has captured eight national championships since 2006. Twenty-two SEC players were selected in Rounds 1-3 of the 2014 NFL Draft — and that was a so-called down year for the conference.
Plus, the 2015 Gators defense held elite-level national rankings of eighth in total defense, 11th in scoring defense, 13th in passing yards allowed, 15th in sacks and 23rd in tackles for loss.
“Speed” may be synonymous with the SEC, which grooms more NFL-caliber athletes than any other conference — on a year-to-year basis. But ay the rub when discussing “combine” speed with Morrison:
He has never posted an official 40-yard dash time. Not in high school. Not in college.
“Never ran a 40, ever. Never broad-jumped, ever. So, a lot of it’s new to me,” says Morrison, who originally committed to Oregon before switching to Florida. “But I’m an athlete. I’ll be able to do it.”
But that’ll change very soon, as Morrison — a likely Day 3 pick in the upcoming draft (Rounds 4-6) — preps for the NFL combine … otherwise known as the Underwear Olympics.
“We played (Michigan on Jan. 1). Since then, I’ve been combat training — and not a lot of training for football,” says Morrison.
At the Senior Bowl, Morrison plans to convince the NFL legion of scouts, coaches and talent evaluators that he’s fully capable of running a pro-style defense. He also wants to convey how he’s a proverbial sponge — when it comes to soaking up every bit of knowledge about the NFL game.
The NFL people will certainly love Morrison’s confidence. With the 2015 Gators, he posted career-highs with sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (11); and citing the previous two seasons, Morrison notched 197 tackles — while fending off a litany of NFL-grade offensive linemen.
That confidence comes from within, of course. But Morrison also derives hubris from his defensive mentors at Florida through the years: Dan Quinn (now the head coach of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons), D.J. Durkin (now the head coach at Maryland), Geoff Collins (currently Florida’s defensive coordinator) and Will Muschamp (now the head coach at South Carolina).
The personable Morrison also volunteered a specific example of that confidence — the Gators’ 38-10 thrashing of No. 3 Ole Miss on Oct. 3.
On that night, the high-octane Rebels collected only 328 total yards.
“It wasn’t about (reaching a one-time emotional peak), man. It was about putting Ole Miss on tape, and seeing what we could do against them,” says Morrison, who wowed Florida recruiters with his power-lifting prowess in high school. “We knew that what we had drawn up against them was going to work, so we just had confidence. But we have confidence going into every game.”
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.
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- 2016 Senior Bowl: Reggie Ragland on his move to OLB
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- LSU DB Jalen Mills: QB’s avoided throwing my way ‘most of the time’
- 2016 Senior Bowl: Alabama RB Kenyan Drake shows explosiveness, also shows glaring weakness in first practice
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- UGA WR Malcolm Mitchell done with ‘What if’ on to watch what ‘I can do’ next
- 2016 Senior Bowl: Arkansas RB Jonathan Williams lost his senior season, gained ‘intelligence’
- Alabama QB Jake Coker enjoying Senior Bowl in hometown: ‘Sometimes I wonder why people want my autograph’
- 2016 Senior Bowl: Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott starts over, shies away from Tim Tebow comparisons
- 2016 Senior Bowl: Missouri LB Kentrell Brothers using Super Bowl star as NFL model
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