February 26, 2008

Keller shines at NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS - If teams didn't know about Dustin Keller before the NFL Combine, they're well aware of him now.

The former Purdue tight end had the best workout of any at his position, finishing in the top-two in six of the nine drills. He was one of just two tight ends - Louisville's Gary Barnidge being the other - to finish in the top-eight of every drill.

Keller was one of four former Purdue players at the NFL Combine in the RCA Dome, joining wide receiver Dorien Bryant, linebacker Stanford Keglar and defensive end/linebacker Cliff Avril.

"There was a good group of tight ends and I thought (Keller) looked pretty good," former Dallas Cowboys director of personnel and NFL analyst Gil Brandt said. "He's a good athlete and has good speed."

Combine participants are brought in for media interviews one or two days prior to their workout, at which time Keller made a confident prediction.

"I'm not going to disappoint," Keller said. "People are going to be surprised and hopefully my stock will increase."

Keller backed up his talk and became the hot topic at the combine. He was selected as the NFL Network's top performer of Feb. 23, which also included the offensive linemen group.

First, he started off by showing his strength, benching 225 pounds 26 times, the second-highest total among tight ends.

Then, Keller's quickness was on display in the 40-yard dash, where he ran a 4.55, the best at his position.

Considering his background as a high school high jumper, it was no surprise he also had the best marks in the vertical (38 inches) and broad (10 feet, 11 inches) jumps. His distance in the broad jump was eight inches farther than any other participant.

Keller was also the top performer in the 20-yard shuttle run in 4.14 seconds, while doing well in the three-cone drill (6.88, second-best), 20-yard dash (2.65, fourth), 60-yard shuttle (11.74, fifth) and 10-yard dash (1.63, eighth).

"He runs well and has good ball skills," said St. Louis Rams assistant offensive line coach and former Purdue offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who was Keller's position coach from 2003-05. "We just got through the tight end workouts and I think Dustin opened some eyes up."

The main concern with Keller seems to be his size. He doesn't fit into some teams' prototypical tight end who stands 6-foot-6.

"He's not real tall at 6-2 (he was listed as 6-4 in the 2007 Purdue media guide), so he will probably have to go to a team that utilizes an H-back," Brandt said.

Chaney said Keller's size shouldn't be a big problem for the All-Big Ten performer.

"He's not your 280-pound tight end, but that's what they have systems for," Chaney said. "Someone will pick him that has a system that will fit his needs and he'll be fine."

Keller also had some on-site references, as numerous Purdue coaches attended various sessions of the combine, which is closed to media and spectators.

"There were a few questions people had about him, but of course my opinion of Dustin Keller is pretty high," former Purdue co-offensive coordinator Bill Legg said. "It's easy for me to talk about him."

As for Bryant, he had some mixed results at the combine. And some of his problems began before he even got there. He didn't arrive until 1 a.m. Friday, Feb. 22 after his flight was delayed in St. Louis due to weather. Most wide receivers, quarterbacks and running backs arrived sometime the day before to weigh in and begin the tedious process of team interviews.

Bryant said his main focus at the combine was in the 40-yard dash.

"There have been conflicting reports that maybe I run this fast or saying maybe I'm only a 4.5," Bryant said. "I just want to disprove any of that and run what I know I can run.

"A sub-4.4 or 4.4 - somewhere in there would be good for me."

Bryant ran a 4.53 on Feb. 24. He did clock well in the 20-yard dash, running in 2.57 seconds, the eighth-fastest time among recievers.

Putting up quicker times at his pro day may be vital, since scouts are likely to look down at his 5-9, 175-pound frame.

"I think I averaged 70 catches a year," Bryant said. "I think somewhere along the line I can break in as a receiver.

"It's weird because people don't pay attention to what you did all the time, they just go by what you look like."

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