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Q&A: Duke’s Ross Cockrell looks forward to the NFL draft

Duke Virginia Tech Football
Don Petersen - AP

Over the past four years, much has been written about Ross Cockrell’s transformation from deer-in-the-headlights redshirt freshman to two-time captain and first-team all-ACC cornerback at Duke. He performed well at the combine and improved many of his workout numbers at Duke’s March pro day. Now, he is ready for the next level and will eagerly wait to hear his name called during this week’s NFL draft. Most projections have him as a mid-draft pick.

Over the weekend, Cockrell took some time to talk with The News & Observer’s Laura Keeley.

Laura Keeley: Have you been training anywhere?

Ross Cockrell: I’ve been at Duke. I’ve been working out there, working with the coaches. (Defensive backs) coach (Derek) Jones, (strength coach) Noel Durfey, with some of our strength staff, and then a lot of the guys – (Buffalo Bills quarterback) Thad Lewis, (Cincinnati Bengals linebacker) Vinny Rey, Chris Rwabukamba, Abraham Kromah, they all came back, and they were working out as well.

LK: Since the end of last season, have you pretty much just been working out? Did the combine, did Duke’s pro day, that kind of thing?

RC: That’s exactly right. I spent the first two months of the year in California, and then after the combine I came back to Durham and just finished training out here.

LK: Who did you work out with in California?

RC: I worked out with Proactive Fitness. It’s a group based in the Los Angeles area.

LK: Were there other people training for the combine there with you?

RC: There was probably about 15 other people over there, all guys with the same company I signed with, Athletes First. They have a pretty good client list, and they signed some pretty big guys, (Texas A&M offensive tackle) Jake Matthews, (Southern California wide receiver) Marqise Lee, (Alabama safety) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, some big names.

LK: Were you pleased with how the combine went and how pro day at Duke went?

RC: I am, I’m extremely happy with how all that went. It was a great experience to be out there and try to represent Duke football to the best of my ability. But just as far as exposure and getting to know different people from different areas, that was the best part about it.

LK: At this point, would you say you interviewed with a majority of the NFL teams?

RC: Yeah. At this point, I’ve probably talked to just about every team.

LK: What was that process like?

RC: It’s just like a job interview. You have to demonstrate your football knowledge a lot of times, talking about different formations, the type of defenses and what you learned in college and how that will work in the pro game. That’s what it comes down to, that’s what they want to know. When you go to the combine, they get to know your medical history, and they also see how well you learn and how well you can speak about the game of football.

LK: I’ve obviously seen John Gruden and his quarterback camp – is it like that when you meet with teams, they have film of your past games, and you break it down, or is it more theoretical?

RC: It’s more theoretical, just talking Xs and Os, at least my meetings were. You sit down, you have a piece of paper, and you can draw up different formations, draw up different routes, how your team, how Duke would have played or made a certain check against a different route, or something like that. And then they’ll try to install some of their defense and quiz you on it to see how fast you can really pick it up.

LK: How many visits did you take after the combine?

RC: Post-combine, I took two visits. I went up to Buffalo, and then I went to Pittsburgh.

LK: You mentioned you’ve been working out with Thad, Vinny Rey, guys like that – at this point, is there a Duke alumni NFL network that you’ve tapped for preparation on what to expect?

RC: Yeah. Thad, Vinny and even Rumba and AB (who play in the CFL) can give me what it’s going to be like when you don’t have school, when there’s nothing but football in your life, and how you can use that free time to get better as a player, or it can go the other way. They give me both sides of the coin.

LK: Do you have plans to watch the draft, and do you know who you are going to watch it with?

RC: I’ll just be at home. I’ve got a pretty big family, a lot of uncles and aunts, and my grandparents are going to come into town and some of my other family. We’ll just be in Charlotte, enjoying the time together and find out where I’m going to be.

LK: Do you have a feel for what round you will be picked?

RC: The most consistent thing I’ve heard is in between the 3-5 area. I’ve heard seventh round, I’ve heard second round, I’ve heard things all over the map, but I think I’ll be in the middle part of the draft.

LK: When you look back over your career, is there any one game or games in particular that you point to and say this was great experience for the next level, this is where I showed people I can be a next level cornerback?

RC: The last two games of this past year really helped my case a lot because I got to play against guys that are potential first-round picks in (Florida State’s) Kelvin Benjamin and (Texas A&M’s) Mike Evans. My play against those guys opened up some eyes, at least to the outside world, that this guy can compete at a high level.

LK: At this point, there has been a few months since your college career ended – have you had time to reflect on what you guys were able to accomplish over your four years?

RC: While I was out in California, I had a lot of free time, extra time to sit and think to myself about what went on. It was extremely special, what we did this past season. The more I thought about it, the more I was satisfied with how the team came together and the kind of brotherhood and family we had. That helped us a lot during the past year.

LK: Do you have any ideal purchases in mind once you get all settled with your contract?

RC: No, not really. I’ve put on a little bit of weight through this whole process, so I’ll probably have to get some new clothes, because my old clothes don’t really fit as much any more.

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley
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