Future proCanes intend to use the NFL Combine to boost their draft stock

AVENTURA – Olivier Vernon trotted past the finish line so fast Pete Bommarito just about triple checked his stopwatch. The former University of Miami standout who left school early to enter the NFL draft had just ran a 40-yard dash time that would be declared fast for a linebacker. Ironically, that's the position most NFL experts believe this Hurricanes defensive end might end up playing.

"Don't you dare write that down," said Bommarito, the founder and CEO of Bommarito Performance, a training program that works with NFL and MLB players.

Bommarito immediately became paranoid, and no longer trusted the 40-yard dash times he had on the 50 NFL draft prospects he's trained for this week's NFL Combine, and their school's Pro Day.

Suspecting his times were wind assisted during their Tuesday workout Bommarito spends 15 minutes changing directions of the sprints. But Vernon runs another fast 40-time fellow teammate, UM linebacker Sean Spence, is envious of.

If Vernon manages to keep that pace at this week's NFL combine his lukewarm draft stock will certainly heat up.

"I want to show off my athletic ability. I want to show I'm versatile. I want to show I can play in any scheme, a 4-3 or a 3-4," said Vernon, who contributed 18 tackles, and 1.5 sacks in the six games he played last season. "I don't want to be looked at as a defensive end."

Vernon, who contributed 39 tackles and six sacks in 2010, missed six games because of an NCAA suspension. Plenty Hurricane fans second guessed his decision to enter the NFL draft, but he has plenty of company in his early exodus to the NFL.

A record-setting 65 underclassmen entered this year's draft class, and five of them were Hurricanes.

Tailback Lamar Miller skipped his final two seasons at UM after rushing for 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns. However, he's got a pretty decent excuse considering tailbacks have a short shelf life in the NFL.

Miller, who is often compared to Clinton Portis, is projected as a second-round pick, and is unanimously viewed as one of the draft's top three tailbacks.

Tommy Streeter, who led the Hurricanes in catches (46), receiving yards (811) and touchdown catches (eight), cashed out after his one breakout season. Streeter hopes his rare blend of speed (6-foot-5), size and athleticism pushes him up the draft boards.

Brandon Washington left UM after playing out of position as a tackle his junior season. This offensive guard is viewed as one of the draft's top 50 prospects.

"I felt like I was ready for the next level," said Washington, who a first-team All-ACC left guard selection as a sophomore. "My mindset was different. I'm ready to play against grown men."

Defensive tackle Marcus Fortson played in three games last season before blowing out his knee. He could have petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility, but preferred to move on.

"It is unusual to have that many [early entries] especially given the record they had last year. I don't know what the situation is," said Mike Mayock, NFL Network's draft analyst. "I'm an Al Golden proponent. I live in Philadelphia. He came from Temple. I don't know if he went down there with a different way of doing things, and that's why so many underclassmen left. I don't know that answer. But we're not talking about five first-round picks like in the old days at Miami."

The early defections gutted the Hurricanes' talent base. But UM's loss could be the NFL's gain.

All of the early entrants were invited to the combine, and with strong performances in the draft process their draft stock could rise considerably.

The recent success of former Hurricanes tight end Jimmy Graham, a third-round pick who made it to the Pro Bowl last year, and undrafted success stories like Sam Shields and Antonio Dixon proves the UM brand still has some cache.

"I'm a physical specimen, a physical playmaker, a guy who creates mismatches on any area of the field," said Streeter, who'll receive his degree this spring. "I still feel like the first round is still a possibility….I control my own destiny."

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