Norwood trimmed down, trained up

Draft analysts think slimmed-down former USC star has to demonstrate mobility, improve coverage skills

jperson@thestate.comFebruary 25, 2010 

USC's Eric Norwood celebrates a sack during the first quarter during the Gamecocks game against Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium, Saturday, November 1, 2008.

GERRY MELENDEZ/GMELENDEZ@THESTATE.COM

  • Area players at NFL Combine

    USC, Clemson and area players invited to the NFL Combine. Comments by NFL.com, mockingthedraft.com and from staff reports.

    Eric Norwood, LB/DE, USC | Instinctive player who reads quickly as both a run and pass defender.

    Darian Stewart, DB, USC | Big hitter who was a hybrid linebacker/safety in college.

    Clifton Geathers, DE, USC | Has great size and above average strength for the defensive line.

    C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson | Possesses elite game speed. Runs away from just about any defender.

    Crezdon Butler, DB, Clemson | A project who might contribute early on special teams.

    Chris Chancellor, DB, Clemson | Good tackler, and good coming off corner on blitz.

    Kavell Conner, LB, Clemson | A good tackler who projects as a solid backup at the next level.

    Jacoby Ford, WR, Clemson | An explosive receiver who has a lot of skills but is a bit undersized.

    Ricky Sapp, DE, Clemson | Competitive but tends to be a finesse defender against the run.

    Andre Roberts, WR, Citadel/Columbia | Dominating in college, who can make the jump to the NFL.

    Armanti Edwards, QB, Greenwood | Undersized, needs another position to take advantage of speed and athleticism.

    Carlos Dunlap, DE, Charleston | Bats lots of balls with good awareness of throwing lanes vs. the pass.

Eric Norwood moved from a college town to a posh retirement area to train for the NFL combine.

Norwood still is getting used to the luxury vehicles - and the white-haired folks driving them - in Boca Raton, Fla. But South Carolina's All-America linebacker said leaving the college scene does have its benefits.

"I'm not out at Five Points, so I can't put all that unnecessary weight on," he said.

Cutting the late-night, empty calories from his diet, Norwood has trimmed nine pounds off his 6-foot-1 frame while working with Tony Villani, a Clemson graduate and founder of XPE Sports (Explosive Performance Enhancement) in Boca Raton.

There were 16 players who trained with Villani in preparation for this week's combine, including Tennessee safety Eric Berry and ex-Clemson players Jacoby Ford, Crezdon Butler, Chris Chancellor, Ricky Sapp and Kavell Conner.

Norwood will be joined by two other USC defenders - end Clifton Geathers and strong safety Darian Stewart - at the combine, which begins today in Indianapolis.

Norwood expects to weigh in at about 244 pounds - down nine from last season and nearly 30 pounds lighter than when he made the transition from defensive end to linebacker before the 2008 season.

While Norwood made his name as a pass-rusher - he is USC's all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss - draft experts believe he has to demonstrate more mobility and improve the coverage skills required of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

"I want to see him under 250, where you could utilize his speed and quickness to the fullest," said Mike Detillier, publisher of the M&D Draft Report.

Norwood said his most recent recorded time in the 40-yard dash (4.79 seconds) came in the spring of '08 when he was 273 pounds. After working on his starts, he hopes to run in the 4.6 range in Indianapolis.

Norwood believes moving from end to linebacker two years ago gives him an edge on players making the move at the next level.

"I've been doing it for two years, and doing it productively for two years," he said. "I think that's one thing that helps me out and gives me an advantage over those other guys."

Most analysts believe Norwood will go in the late part of the first round or early in the second in the April draft. Detillier said Norwood, who had three blocked kicks last season, has added value as a special teams player.

"He's smart, very instinctive. He's quick. He can get off the line of scrimmage very well," Detillier said. "He's got good, natural pass-rush skills and has been a very active and productive football player."

Detillier had similar praise for the 5-11, 216-pound Stewart, who had a good showing at the East-West Shrine Game last month in Orlando, Fla.

"I like him a lot. He really impressed me at the East-West," Detillier said. "He's not a real big kid. (But) he's tough and very physical. He'll come up fast in run support."

Detillier said Stewart was so adept in run support in the Gamecocks' scheme - an average of five tackles a game in his three seasons as a starter - that he did not have a lot of coverage responsibilities.

"It's important for him to run well (at the combine)," Detillier said. "Everyone's going to want to see how well he can cover."

Stewart said his 40 time at USC was in the 4.4 range, and he believes he will equal or better that in Indy. As for his coverage skills, Stewart is confident he could play anywhere in the secondary.

"I've been asked some questions like that. Like I told most of them, I pretty much feel comfortable at any position just because of my athletic ability," Stewart said. "I think that's something that teams definitely look at. As a safety, they want you to be interchangeable and just versatile."

Stewart has been training at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he has improved his flexibility through yoga classes. He said he is getting the knack of Upward Facing Dog and other poses.

"I was hurting bad. But I'm good now," Stewart said. "I pretty much know all the positions now."

On Florida's other coast, Norwood did not mention yoga - just a lot of explosion drills.

And retirees in nice cars.

"It's cool. It's a little different down here than Columbia," he said. "It's a lot more old people."

But Norwood said he plans to wait before treating himself to a luxury vehicle. So his former teammates should not expect to see Norwood driving an Escalade or BMW sedan when he returns to campus for next month's pro timing day.

"I'm not going to do any big purchases or anything until after the draft," he said. "When I come back to Columbia, I'll be in a little rental car."

He can go bigger soon enough.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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