UConn's Shamar Stephen, a 6-foot-5, 320-pound senior nose tackle, and Yawin Smallwood, a 6-4, 236-pound junior linebacker, are among 300 or so players who will compete at the NFL combine Feb. 22-25 in Indianpolis..
The Huskies have several players eyeing the prize of playing in the NFL, from Stephen and Smallwood to defensive end Jesse Joseph, and offensive linemen Jimmy Bennett and Steve Greene.
For the other Huskies, barring last-minute invitations to the combine, it means other avenues to get on the radar of NFL scouts.
Joseph had a tackle in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the StubHub Center at California State University on Jan. 18. Bennett competed in the Medal of Honor Bowl Jan.11 in Charleston, S.C.
Then there is UConn's Pro Day in March, when most NFL teams send a representative to see what UConn has to offer. That date has not been set.
A school-record five Huskies were drafted in 2013: Dwayne Gratz (Jacksonville); Sio Moore (Oakland); Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Tennessee); Trevardo Williams (Houston); Ryan Griffin (Houston).
"It drives me more than anything, not getting a shot to go to the combine," said Joseph, who had 40 tackles and a sack after earning a medical waiver last season following a ruptured Achilles tendon 2012. "At the same time, I figured something like that might not happen because of my Achilles. I have no other choice but to just come to the Pro Day and show out. I'm taking that and using it as motivation to show everybody what they missed by not inviting me to the combine."
Greene is on the same page.
"It gives me a bit of a chip on my shoulder being overlooked for some of those games," said Greene, a captain who is training with Bennett in Pittsburgh. "Really, it gives me a chance to focus in on Pro Day, focus in on what I need to improve so I can come out on Pro Day and just kill it."
Joseph (6-3, 262) and Bennett (6-9, 309) benefited from attending bowl games. For example, Joseph didn't play linebacker in college but that was his position for much of the week leading up to the game.
"When [coach Paul] Pasqualoni was here he'd have me do some [linebacker] stuff during practice, dropping back and how to stand up, basically outside linebacker stuff, but we never got in too much detail with it so I'm still learning the ropes," Joseph said.
Bennett said he thought his week in South Carolina went well. He said he talked to about 11-12 NFL teams while in South Carolina, some more than others because of his injury history.
He had four surgeries (right knee, left knee, right shoulder and right wrist) at UConn, which led to him missing all of 2009 and playing in only seven games combined in 2010 and 2011.
"I was healthy the past two years and didn't miss any games, and that's what I tried to show while I was down there," Bennett said. "It's not like I'm getting older and falling apart. The injuries were circumstantial. The good thing is I'm not worried about knees or anything else."
Bennett and Greene (6-5, 308) are represented by agent Jeff Jankovich of Vantage Sports Management. Jankovich said a letter from a doctor will be sent to each NFL team showing Bennett's clean bill of health.
Bennett, Greene and Joseph are working out six days a week, twice a day. Joseph, represented by Marc Lillibridge of Pro Football Syndicate, is training in Virginia. Bennett and Greene are working with an offensive line specialist.
Smallwood also is working out every day but the company he's keeping in Boca Raton, Fla., is an indication he's in another league. Smallwood, tied for 22nd in the nation in tackles, is working out with Auburn running back Tre Mason, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and many other top players.
"There's a lot of good players down here, lot of Clemson guys, lot of Florida Gators," said Smallwood, who had 118 tackles (9.8 a game) in 2013. "This is a big moment in my life. I'm just trying to be as prepared as I can be."
Smallwood is represented by Tom Santanello of Elevate Football.
Stephen, who played in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Saturday, is represented by Al Herman and Jared Fox of Sportstars. He was second on the team in tackles (60) and sacks (three) and started all 12 games.
"I started out behind Kendall Reyes [now with the San Diego Chargers] learning the system and just trying to develop myself into a player, and as I got older I became more of a leader just showing by action how I can play," Stephen said. "I want to focus really on showing people that I'm not just a big guy, that I can move, that I'm athletic, that can be a presence in the league."