By Jeff Schudel
INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL Combine isn't just about the big stars such as Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford.
Sometimes it's about players from colleges many fans could not find on a map.
Jared Veldheer is an offensive tackle from Hillsdale College, a liberal arts school in Hillsdale, Mich., founded in 1844. And while most fans might not know the Hillsdale Chargers were 9-3 in 2009, or even what a Hillsdale Charger looks like, the NFL knows all about the 6-foot-8 Veldheer, rated ninth among draft-eligible tackles this year by NFLDraftScout.
The top three tackles in the draft are Russell Okung of Oklahoma State, Bryan Bulaga from Iowa and Trent Williams from Oklahoma. It is safe to say Hillsdale did not play the same schedule as those schools from the Big 12 and the Big Ten.
"I feel like that doesn't matter at this point because everybody here is through playing college football," Veldheer said, a little testily. "At this point it's a new slate for everybody."
Chances are good the Browns have already completed their homework on Veldheer. Browns general manager Tom Heckert graduated from Hillsdale.
"I knew that," Veldheer said. "He's actually part of the same fraternity I was a member of. He's president of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity."
Okung, Bulaga and Williams all play left tackle. The Browns don't need a left tackle because they have Joe Thomas. But they need a right tackle. John St. Clair, the Browns starter at right tackle in 2009, gave up 15.5 sacks the last two seasons — in 2008 with the Bears and 2009 with the Browns. So whether they draft Veldheer or someone else, they have to find an upgrade to replace St. Clair.
"Regularly outmuscled undersized Division II competition with ease, but still must prove he can handle matching up with the big boys," Pro Football Weekly wrote in its 2010 Draft guide. "An intriguing developmental left tackle prospect with outstanding measureables and upside."
Veldheer was a left tackle at Hillsdale, but he knows his future in the NFL might be on the right side. He is projected as a third-round pick. The Browns have two picks in that round — their own and the one they got when they traded Braylon Edwards to the Jets.
"Through training for the combine, I've been working with Brad Hopkins, who played 13 years for the Titans and was a two-time Pro Bowl player," Veldheer said. "For every rep we do on the left, we do one on the right. If a team already has a left tackle, I'd have no problem going to the right. I've heard both positions from the scouts."
Friday, February 26, 2010
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