News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Colts

February 23, 2013

Colts keeping eye on large crop of talented linemen in NFL Draft

INDIANAPOLIS — According to most National Football League draft observers, this year’s crop of prospects is deep with quality offensive and defensive linemen.

Among the offensive line candidates who have been showcasing their talents at the National Football Scouting Combine, which began in earnest Thursday and wraps up on Tuesday, the spotlight has been on the offensive tackles. Offensive left tackles in particular.

It’s a deep and talented group, led by Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Florida State’s Menelik Watson. Prior to the start of the combine, Joeckel has been mentioned as a candidate to be the first player taken in this year’s draft.

But there’s been a couple of small school prospects – Arkansas Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead and Azusa Pacific’s Luke Marquardt – that have grabbed the attention of coaches and scouts the last couple of days.

Armstead, who stands in at 6-foot-5 and 304 pounds, set a combine record for offensive linemen Saturday morning by running a blistering 4.71 40-yard dash. He had an unofficial time of 4.65 on his first run of the day.

His play last fall had already forced scouts and league player personnel executives to take a longer look. His performance this week, particularly on Saturday, so impressed NFL Network’s Mike Mayock that he has Armstead as the quickest ascending player thus far at the combine. Mayock added that Armstead played well in last month's East-West Shrine Game.

And then there’s Marquardt, who also has been projected as a possible NFL offensive guard. A former basketball walk-on in college who did not play football in high school, he certainly has the size (6-8,315) to intrigue teams at the next level.

He’s the biggest offensive tackle prospect at the combine. Marquardt, who’s mother played college basketball at the University of Washington, also has 341⁄2–inch arms and topped out at 31 reps on the bench press. He also has respectable speed for a big man.

That’s the good news. What concerns coaches and scouts is his relative lack of football experience. Of his 34 total games during a college career that lasted just over two seasons, four were as a tight end.

“I don’t view [his lack of experience] as a challenge. [But] it’s definitely something I’m going to have to overcome,” Marquardt said during a meeting with the league’s media late last week. “Coaches and teams have recognized my talent and natural ability. I feel like this is only the beginning. I’m just going to keep striving forward.”

How he came to play football is an interesting story in itself.

“I came there [Azusa Pacific] originally for basketball as a walk-on and the head coach wasn’t there for the day. I came down and just by chance we were talking by the [football] coaches locker. I deiced to go meet him just by chance and he talked with me,” Marquardt recalled.

“He was like ‘You have great size, great athleticism and we’d love to have you come out for tight end.’ So I went out on the field, did a couple of [pass] routes, threw with the quarterbacks and they offered me a little but of [scholarship] money. I eventually got a full ride.”

His attributes a lot of success on the football field to the time he spent playing basketball.

“It’s been huge. I’ve always been told [that] I have great feet. And I think that does come from basketball. I played that growing up,” Marquardt said. “I was a late bloomer in high school. I was 6-1 as a freshman and I grew to be 6-8 by my senior year. [But] I was a lot skinner back then.”

One thing that has helped his stock with NFL teams is that his offensive line coach the past two seasons at Azusa Pacific was former Los Angeles Rams Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jackie Slater.

“It’s been incredible. He’s improved my game in every aspect. He’s been great,” Marquardt said.

Prior to playing football at the collegiate level, his only other experience in the game came as a youngster. But he gave it up when he went to high school.

“I felt like I had more of a body type for basketball. I was a lot skinner and felt that basketball was a better choice,” Marquardt explained, adding that he is looking his lack of football experience as a positive rather than a negative.

“I feel like the passion for football has just now started. It’s the beginning. It’s only going to rise.”

NFL teams like what they see. He has talked to representatives from 25 of the league’s 32 franchises. And he has had private chats with officials from New England and Indianapolis.

“It’s been exciting. I met with the Patriots the other day and [New England coach Bill] Belichick is just sitting right there casually,” Marquardt remembered. “It’s like, ‘Holy Cow, it’s Belichick.’ But it’s been cool.”

By the way, the last Azusa Pacific football product that created this much NFL buzz? Running back Christian Okoye in 1987.

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