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Combine notebook | Defensive line, linebackers take center stage

Texas defensive lineman T'Vondre Sweat (DL25) speaks to the media at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Kevin Sabitus via AP)
Texas defensive lineman T'Vondre Sweat (DL25) speaks to the media at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Kevin Sabitus via AP)

The NFL scouting combine has officially begun, and the entire league has converged on Indianapolis as players from the next generation of talent try to make a case that a team should use one of their valuable draft picks on them.

Technically, players have been in town for a couple of days now. The defensive linemen and linebackers were the first to arrive on Sunday, while the defensive backs, tight ends, running backs quarterbacks and wide receivers flew into town on Monday and Tuesday. The on-field workouts will start tomorrow, but before that can happen, prospects need to interview with front office members and coaches and answer questions from media members.

And that's where we'll start our coverage of this year's combine as well. The defensive linemen and linebackers spoke with reporters earlier today, so let's take a look at some of the highlights from their scrums.

-- Penn State's Chop Robinson is one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft and should be someone to keep an eye on this week. The stats he had in college (35 tackles and six sacks) aren't eye-popping, but his traits and test results are expected to entice scouts. He's a quick, athletic edge defender and knows how to take advantage of offensive linemen. While that makes up most of his reputation, he also said this morning that he has other qualities he thinks teams will appreciate.

"When you're so explosive and you get off the ball, especially with a guy like me, a lot of O-line wouldn't be thinking about speed and power," Robinson said. "When they see me getting off the ball, they're just assuming I'm trying to work the edge. Once they give me their chest, I'm able to stay low and put my power through my chest."

-- Missouri's Darius Robinson is another player expecting to see his stock rise this week in Indianapolis. A strong performance during practice for the Senior Bowl has many believing he will at least an early Day 2 pick, but a good showing in drill work could move him even higher. Robinson is quick and powerful, using his mix of strength and athleticism to play with ferocious intensity. And according to Robinson, he can do it all.

"I can run, I can hit, I can get my hands inside, I can do anything, man," Robinson said. "Just give me an opportunity to put my cleats in the ground. I showed that at the Senior Bowl. I got better each and every day against the best competition in college football. I played in the SEC, which is the best conference in football. I don't wanna talk too much about myself. Just cut the tape on, and it'll tell you."

-- Washington's Bralen Trice, a top 10 edge defender, per, made a name for himself with the Huskies by being named a First Team All-American and recording 19 sacks in three seasons. He plays with relentless attitude, and that style comes from watching how his mom handled herself when he was growing up.

"I've seen her work really hard my whole life," Trice said. "I just want to be just like that in order to support her at some point. I know it's gonna take a lot of hard work and constant effort."

-- Western Michigan's Marshawn Kneeland saw a jump in production during his final season with the Broncos, recording a career-high 57 tackles with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. His biggest improvement was finding a way to stay healthy. He said he had a stress fracture in his right fibula in 2022, which caused him to miss the first four games. He was able to play out the season, but it hindered him and limited his speed. For him, the hope is that playing a season with a clean bill of health will show teams his full capabilities.

-- T'Vondre Sweat hasn't weighed in yet, but it's clear that he's a massive human being. He said he played at 365 last season and felt comfortable doing so. He plans on participating in every drill, including the 40-yard dash. We're emphasizing that here because he claims that many are going to be surprised by his time (he even gave a surprised face to show how people would react). So, that's something to keep an eye on when the defensive linemen begin on-field drills tomorrow.

-- The linebacker class is considered to be on the thin side this year when it comes to talent, but Ohio State's Tommy Eichenberg is either at or near the top, depending on the analyst. Eichenberg, who had 200 tackles in his final two seasons with the Buckeyes and was called a "psychopath" by teammate Steele Chambers, is following in the footsteps of his brother, Liam Eichenberg, who plays for the Dolphins. 

"I don't know if he knows," Eichenberg said of his brother, "but I'd love to play with him or play against him one day. I'm still trying to chase that goal."

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