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Duke’s Ross Cockrell improves upon combine results at Blue Devils’ pro day

NFL Combine Football
Michael Conroy - AP
Duke defensive back Ross Cockrell runs a drill at the NFL combine in February. Cockrell participated in a full workout at Duke’s Pro Day on Wednesday.

DURHAM As a general rule for NFL draft prospects, if you post solid numbers at the scouting combine and are happy with the results, you may sit out a few events at your school’s pro day.

Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell had a good showing at the combine last month, but that didn’t stop him from doing a full workout in front of scouts at Duke’s Pro Day on Wednesday.

Cockrell and his coach David Cutcliffe said Cockrell, a Charlotte Latin graduate, improved in every measurable month separated from the combine.

“If you’re an NFL team you should be paying attention to what’s been happening with him. Obviously he didn’t go to the combine to take a break,” Cutcliffe said. “He has continued to work at a high-intensity level.”

After officially clocking a 4.56 40-yard dash in Indianapolis last month, Cockrell ran a sub-4.40 according to Duke. No official time was kept, but one timer had him as low as 4.35 and another as high as 4.41.

Cutcliffe said Cockrell, who is considered a mid-round draft prospect, participated in all the events Wednesday because he has no fear.

“I would tell any young football player, you know what’s happening out here today – it’s an interview,” Cutcliffe said. “Can you imagine any of us going to a company interview and saying ‘I’m not going to answer that question?’ You’re not going to get the job. My advice to them is when you’re being interviewed, do the interview ... I call that old fashioned horse sense.”

A 4.40 40-yard dash would have vaulted Cockrell to fifth-best among all cornerbacks at the combine. He also improved his 225-pound bench reps from 10 to 12. His 39-inch vertical – 2 1/2 inches better than the combine – would have tied for third at the combine in his position group.

“I’m a team guy and if all my teammates can do it, I think I can do it, too,” Cockrell said. “I did have the opportunity to go to the combine, but it wasn’t with the guys I came here with and did something special with. I wanted to enjoy that.”

Cockrell joined the Blue Devils weighing 155 pounds with a bad knee after tearing his ACL at Latin. After two trying seasons at cornerback, Cockrell, now weighing 190 pounds, settled in and became one of the top defensive backs in the ACC.

He earned first-team All-ACC honors in his redshirt junior and senior seasons while Duke won 16 games, including a 10-4 mark this past season.

Cockrell totaled eight interceptions in his final two seasons while leading the ACC with five interceptions in his junior season.

Derek Jones, Duke’s defensive backs coach, said Cockrell was the longest corner he had coached at Duke since joining the program in 2008. Because of Cockrell’s length, Jones used Cockrell as a press corner who could jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.

But Cockrell’s shorter arms – he measured 29 7/8 inches at the combine – may force him to play off coverage or in zone, meaning he’ll have to be better on his feet in the league.

“I want to continue to work on my strength to compete with some of the bigger receivers in the NFL,” Cockrell said. “And then I can improve upon my footwork. I’m going to do a lot more backpedaling in the NFL than I did in college, and I realize that.”

Cutcliffe said NFL teams have been impressed not only with Cockrell’s numbers, but also with his interviews. But one thing teams can’t measure is how fierce a competitor Cockrell is.

“And to take you back to his freshman year, I said don’t worry about Ross,” Cutcliffe said. “In some of the more difficult circumstances, isolated on an island, against really good older players at that time, Ross never wavered and never changed. And ultimately he won the battle his last two years.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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