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2024 NFL Combine

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Combine Notes (2/28): Sizing up the edge rushers

EDGE-HELLMANNS

When Joe Schoen was a young scout in Miami, Bill Parcells warned him never to draft or sign a player based on scheme. "Coaches come and go," Parcells, who led the Giants to their first two Super Bowls as a head coach and later served in front offices round the NFL, would say to his staff.

Those words still ring true.

Over the offseason, the Giants hired seven new assistant coaches, including two new coordinators. The only phase that did not change at the top was the offense, where Mike Kafka assumed assistant head coach duties in addition to his role as coordinator.

As for the defense, Shane Bowen came over from the Tennessee Titans after the Giants and Wink Martindale parted ways. Now Schoen, entering his third season as a general manager, must tweak his roster to the new coordinator – or does he? The answer is somewhere in the middle.

"We've kind of kept that philosophy in mind throughout the draft since I've been here, so there really aren't any guys on our defense that are scheme specific," Schoen said during a live Q&A with fans on Giants.com from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "There's versatility. If we would have went to a 4-3, those guys still play that along with our cover guys, or if we stayed in the 3-4. It really won't affect any of the players that are on the current roster. They'll be able to play in Shane Bowen's system, and he's a bright, young coach that had a lot of success in Tennessee."

At the same time, history shows that force-feeding a player to a coach is a recipe for disaster.

"That's never easy because you don't want to draft a player that the coaches don't want, but that's what your personnel staff does and there are discrepancies," Schoen said. "We're going to like players that maybe the coaching staff don't like, but we know they're good players. So, trying to be delicate in how you handle those situations, you try to bring them your way or on board because, again, history says if you draft a player they don't want, they're not invested, the chances of success usually goes down sometimes unfortunately. But we're always going to work with our staff. I think it's important for them to be involved in the process. That way they have buy-in when you draft or sign a player. That'll always be an important part of the process."

So, what kind of player does Bowen want?

"Philosophically, Wink preferred more run stoppers on first and second down – let's get to third down where we can do the exotics and blitz and all that stuff," Schoen said of Martindale's blitz-heavy scheme. "Whereas Shane's philosophy is going to be a little bit more, let's get after the passer – like we'll stop the run on the way to the passer and going to look for more edge guys and ability to rush the passer versus stopping the run. Stopping the run is still going to be important, it's always going to be important, but in terms of how you're prioritizing those, you may flip those in the new scheme."

It just so happens that the best of both worlds are gathered this week in Indianapolis. The defensive linemen and linebackers were the first group or prospects to enter the combine gauntlet and kicked off the media sessions Wednesday morning. Here's what you need to know from the podiums of some of the top edge defenders:

Dallas Turner, Alabama (No. 11 overall on Daniel Jeremiah's Top 50)

A consensus first-team All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year (as voted by coaches), Turner tied for the conference lead and ranked eighth nationally with 10 sacks in 2023. The 6-foot-4 five-star recruit said he had a "crazy" weight journey at Alabama. He entered at a "COVID-19 260 pounds," as he described it, but played his freshman season at 240 pounds, sophomore campaign at 245, and then junior year at 255.

"That's probably the best weight I can move at and feel comfortable and stuff like that," Turner said of his size as a junior. "I could tell the difference for sure in the strength, power and explosiveness. I feel good at that weight. I feel like that gave me a lot of versatility and can play in any type of scheme."

Now he will look to follow in the footsteps of the Texans' Will Anderson Jr., his close friend and former teammate who was recently voted the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Jared Verse, Florida State (No. 14)

Verse had no FBS scholarship offers coming out of high school, but University at Albany saw a hidden gem. The Great Danes were right about the undersized (at the time) 200-pounder who was part of the state championship 4×400 relay team. After redshirting the 2019 season, Verse began his transformation during the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020. He returned home and got serious about his training, which led to a career-high 10 tackles vs. Stony Brook in his first collegiate start. He went on to appear in 15 games over two seasons at Albany, recording 74 tackles, including 21.5 for loss, with 14.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, and one pass breakup.

"You looked at me in high school, you look at me today, you would probably be like, 'What the … ?' Verse said. "So I was definitely small, but during COVID I took over took full advantage of the time I had off and it all worked out."

Verse became coveted in the transfer portal and made the "world-changing" decision in his life to go to Florida State. Now he has appeared in mock draft as high as No. 6 to the Giants.

"I have respect for everyone in this class," Verse said. "All these guys are hard-working guys. I don't feel there's anything athletic that separates you from these guys. There's dudes that are fast, there's dudes out here that are strong. I think the only thing that I have guys over all these guys is that I had to earn my hard-working ability. Being at Albany made me get that. Being that coming out of high school I only had that one offer is something that forced me to have that ability."

Laiatu Latu, UCLA (No. 20)

Latu writes a three-word phrase at the top of all his notebooks – "LIKE YOUR LAST."

There was a chance that he had played his last game four years ago, when team doctors at the University of Washington, his former school, advised him to medically retire as the result of a neck injury. After sitting out 2020 and 2021, he eventually received clearance from another doctor and transferred to UCLA. He became the College Football Comeback Player of the Year after leading the Bruins with 12.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. In 2023, he became the program's first Lombardi Award winner as he led the nation in tackles for loss per game (1.8).

Of course, the neck was a topic during his media availability, but Latu said teams have not showed any concern about it during his meetings so far in Indianapolis. In the meantime, he is going to do everything like it's his last time.

"Really every aspect of my life, right at the top of my notes, in my journal and stuff like that, I really just remind myself to do everything like the last," he said. "Even this interview, even everything I'm doing here (at the combine), you never know when it's going to be the last time you get to do something that you love."

NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah released his updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft.

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