MOBILE, Ala. — It's not easy for cornerbacks to look good in the first practices of Senior Bowl week. But Oklahoma's Jamell Fleming did.
Fleming and the North team corners were asked by Minnesota Vikings defensive backs coach Joe Woods to play nine yards off the ball in one-on-one coverage against college football's top senior receivers. Woods urged Fleming to stay square and close fast but not to run through receivers for safety purposes.
Using that technique, pass breakups were rare, especially in Monday's wet conditions.
But by the end of Tuesday's much-drier session, Fleming had made his mark. After the 1½-hour workout, he was surrounded quickly by scouts from the Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. They asked him questions as basic as, “What do you like about football?” and more personal ones about his 2-year-old son, Jalen.
The soft-spoken Fleming, who admits to being uncomfortable at times in interviews, answered them all with a smile and walked off feeling good.
“I felt much better today, got my feet under me and got a better feel for what they were asking us to do,” said Fleming, who also was approached by a Kansas City Chiefs scout on his way off the field. Fleming has talked with plenty of other teams this week.
Meanwhile, draft analysts had already taken to Twitter with their impressions of Fleming's performance. One even said Fleming was the best corner on the North team, which includes Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard, who is a projected first-rounder.
“You're not going to make a lot of plays in one-on-one drills,” said former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen, who covers the NFL for NationalFootballPost.com. “But that's not what the scouts are looking for out here. They're looking at how they backpedal, how they read routes and how they compete. And that's what they like about Jamell. To me, he looks the part of an NFL cornerback.”
Fleming also caught the attention of Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier. The Vikings have 10 picks in April's draft.
“The game has changed so much in favor of the passing game that you need more athleticism in your secondary,” said Frazier. “(Fleming) will get a chance.”
Fleming still has plenty to prove, though. He's rated anywhere from the 15th to 20th best corner in the draft and is projected to go as high as the second round or as low as the fourth.
“I'm trying to get into the first round, or at least the second,” said Fleming. “That's what I'm out here trying to do, trying to compete, work hard and play with more enthusiasm every day.”
Fleming has two more days of practice in Mobile, followed by Saturday's game. He'll then head to Austin, Texas, to train with his brother-in-law, before attending the NFL Combine on Feb. 22-28 in Indianapolis. He might attend OU Pro Day, which is scheduled March 14.
Over the next two months, Fleming is looking to dispel the most common knocks on him: his top-end speed, reportedly in the 4.5 range, and his academic suspension last spring.
At 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds, his physicality and cover skills are his top selling points, according to draft experts. Those were on display in one-on-one matchups against California's 6-3 receiver Marvin Jones and Appalachian State's 6-5 Brian Quick.
“What I really like about him,” said Bowen, “was that even when he got beat — and you're going to get beat in one-on-one with the best receivers in the country — that he didn't quit and kept competing.”