Vaught's Views: Draft does not worry Abney

March 05, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - It would be easy for this to be a nerve-wracking time for Derek Abney.

He didn't run the 40-yard dash quite as fast as he wanted at the recent NFL combine in Indianapolis. He had just one team interview and has no idea how interested NFL teams might be in him.

Still, Abney knows there is no reason to panic between now and the NFL Draft on April 24-25.

"I am just trying to relax, enjoy myself, and get stronger and faster," said Abney, who graduated in December. "I won't feel pressure over things I cannot control. I already have my engineering degree. That's a blessing in itself. I didn't have to pay to go to school because of my football scholarship. I don't know a lot of people that lucky. Why should I worry?"

He shouldn't. He finished his career at the University of Kentucky with his name all over the school, Southeastern Conference and NCAA record books. He was a phenomenal kick returner and finished his career with 197 receptions for 2,339 yards and 18 touchdowns.


Abney will try to add to his NFL resume at UK's Pro Day Wednesday where he'll try to show that he can run the 40-yard dash quicker than the 4.47 seconds he did at Indianapolis. He broke a bone in his foot late last season and thinks having more time for the foot to have healed will help his time.

"My foot was not exactly up to par at the combine. I think I'll run a better 40 here," Abney said. "That's the biggest thing I want to do. I'll also be able to do better on the shuttle runs they have you do."

Abney has no idea how many NFL scouts and/or coaches will be at UK's Pro Day. He does know that UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who was also at the Indianapolis combine, will be there. So will former Harrodsburg and UK receiver Craig Yeast, who still hopes to revive the NFL career that saw him play for Cincinnati and the New York Jets.

The four-day combine was a new experience for Abney. He had five hours of psychological tests, an area where he should have excelled because of his demeanor and intelligence. He had 15 or more X-rays taken of everything from his foot to his finger to his back to his ribs. His left shoulder was examined.

He had several general interviews. His only specific interview with a head coach was with Butch Davis of Cleveland and his staff.

"They are notorious for being very intimidating to see how you react and handle pressure," Abney said. "I was a little taken aback, but it was not too bad."

Abney knows players likely to be taken high in the draft had 15 to 20 interviews. He's counting on what many told him about the scouts and coaches basing most of their opinions on game film to work to his advantage.

"You do some football drills like run routes and catch balls, but that's about it at the combine," Abney said. "A lot of time if you are on the (draft) bubble, the combine can hurt or help you."

He wanted to make sure everyone knew he also was a quality receiver

The general consensus among draft analysts was that Abney improved his stock at the combine even though he had to remind many that he could do more than return kickoffs and punts. He got most of his national headlines with his record-setting kick returns, but he worked hard to make sure everyone knew he was also a quality receiver.

Of course, part of the combine left Abney wondering what the NFL scouts and coaches were doing.

"One day I was in a room with a video camera and regular camera," Abney said. "They made me get in tights and took two pictures in front and two from the back as if how I looked really influences how I play football."

Abney is also doing a diary for Sports Illustrated's website about his draft experience. His agent volunteered him, and he hopes the exposure might somehow help him.

"It's nothing real serious, but it has been fun," Abney said. "You never know what could help you get in a training camp. Most of it is how you play, but little things like how you behave and handle yourself can make a difference, too."

He'll be at Sunday's UK-Florida basketball game to receive an award. Then he'll be focusing on the Pro Day before getting ready to go back to Indianapolis April 2 for more tests on his foot. He's also hoping other teams will call him for workouts before the April 24 draft.

"The foot is about 85 to 90 percent now, which is about as good as it will be until after the draft," Abney said. "I have no idea what will happen with the draft. A lot might depend on my Pro Day. A lot might depend on what teams do with free agency.

"But I'm not going to worry. If I can just get into a training camp, I'll take my chances. I am not going to let the pressure get to me. I'm just going to do the right things and once I get my chance, then I still believe I can find a way to be on an NFL team next year."

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