MOBILE, Ala. — Oren Burks woke up Wednesday morning to five texts and a missed call from his agent. An hour later, he was headed to the airport and — following a sequence of events that included a missed connection and a forced one-night stay in Houston — made it to Mobile for the final day of Senior Bowl practice.
Burks had been on the event’s watch list, but didn’t get an official invitation until Senior Bowl director Phil Savage was forced to replace a group of injured players.
On Thursday, Burks was a little salty about the initial snub.
“I was wondering why I didn’t get an invite in the first place,” he said.
But his late arrival yielded something positive. Facing players who had a two-day head start, he navigated his way through Day 3 of practice and received an emphatic “Good job today!” from a Houston Texans assistant coach as he walked off the field.
Burks’ primary goal is to maintain his playing weight because teams have indicated they want him at inside linebacker instead of safety (He played a hybrid position at Vandy). He entered his senior season at 230 pounds, but shed a bit as the year dragged on. He’s back up to 228 at the moment and expects to meet his goal by the NFL combine in March.
He looked back on Vanderbilt’s mostly-disappointing season (a 3-0 start followed by a 2-7 finish) with some regret.
“We were in a rut and had to dig our way out,” he said. “We got better near the end of the year, but there’s definitely a couple games we wish we could’ve gotten back.”
There was a triumphant conclusion: A second straight win over in-state rival Tennessee.
“To end on an exclamation point like that. … We own the state of Tennessee for another year,” Burks said. “So we get bragging rights. That’s a big deal for us. Especially the seniors.”
The Fairfax Station, Va., native said coach Derek Mason returns a “strong core” of players, and he specifically mentioned rising redshirt senior linebacker Charles Wright as a defender who “is definitely going to make some noise this year.”
Those who want to watch Burks play in the Senior Bowl can tune in at 2:30 p.m. ET (NFL Network) Saturday afternoon.
“I just want to thank everybody for the support,” he said. “It’s been a blessing to have everybody holding me up and just keeping me in their prayers. I definitely wouldn’t be here without them.”