Former Maryland cornerback Will Likely talks at the NFL Combine about coming back from injury. (Video by Jeff Zrebiec)
Former Maryland cornerback Will Likely looks around at some of the other participants at the NFL scouting combine and sees guys he played against in college or faced while growing up in Florida.
He admits it stings that he won't be competing with them Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium when the defensive backs get put through their on-field workouts, and that he can't show his speed and athleticism by running the 40-yard dash or doing the other testing.
However, given how far he already has come since his productive Terrapins career ended when he tore the ACL in his right knee while returning a punt Oct.15 against Minnesota, Likely isn't having too much trouble remaining patient.
"You have to run your own race, take it one day at a time and eventually you're going to be able to show what you can do," Likely said Sunday. "I'm way ahead of schedule. Just for me to get invited and just to be here, that's a blessing in itself. I don't take anything for granted."
Likely, the only Terp invited to the combine, will only do the bench press Monday as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. He expects to graduate to position drills on March 29 at Maryland's pro day. However, the past couple days have given Likely the opportunity to meet with teams and show them how much physical progress he has already made.
"I'm going to be back healthy, and whoever picks me will know what they're getting out of me," Likely said. "… The coaches have been liking what they've heard and they like my film. That speaks for itself, but just getting to know those guys, just building a relationship with them, it's been pretty good."
Likely played 43 games at Maryland over parts of four seasons, registering 229 tackles, two sacks, seven interceptions and five forced fumbles. He established himself as a home-run threat with the ball in his hands, and one of the most dangerous return men in the country. He returned two interceptions, two kickoffs and four punts for touchdowns in his career and his 2,233 career kickoff return yards are the second most in Terps history.
At 5-foot-8, Likely understands he'll face skepticism in a league that covets big and long cornerbacks. However, he believes he has proven that he's a "competitor and a true playmaker." He also thinks his special teams prowess should help his draft status.
Likely said he has blocked out any talk about where he might be drafted, preferring to keep his focus on rehabbing his knee. He has been working in Phoenix with Brett Fischer, who runs a physical therapy and performance facility. About five months out from surgery, Likely is already running and doing other defensive back drills.
With his pro day 3 ½ weeks away and the draft about eight weeks away, Likely is thrilled that he's in the position he's in.
"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," he said. "It's just a blessing that it happened at this point. Now, I know what it's like [to deal] with adversity. Once it's time to get ready to play on Sunday, I'll be past that and have a strong mindset. It will be full speed ahead."
Following Young's lead: Temple cornerback Nate Hairston hasn't needed to look very far to get motivation or advice as he goes through the scouting combine. Last year, his former teammate and close friend, Tavon Young, represented the Owls at the combine before he was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round.
"Any time I needed something or had a question, that's like my best friend, that's like a brother to me," Hairston said Sunday. "I'm hitting him up [like] 'Hey, what about this or what about that?' And he'd always shoot me some advice all the time. That's like family to me. Him going through this process last year was a big help to me this year."
Hairston is a Frederick native who played high school football at Thomas Johnson High. Temple gave him his only scholarship offer and he transitioned from a wide receiver to a defensive back in time for his redshirt junior season. Now, like Young, he's on the cusp of making the NFL.
"Any time you see someone that you're that close to have that success, it's like, 'I can do it, too. I want to do it, too,'" Hairston said. "It definitely pushed us and made us chase the same dream."
End zone: Michigan pass rusher Taco Charlton said he would welcome going from one Harbaugh brother to the other. "I loved playing for Jim Harbaugh. I would love to play for John Harbaugh, just because I know how the other Coach Harbaugh was for us and he has that same passion for football." … Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett, the presumed first overall pick to the Cleveland Browns, ran a 4.64 40-yard dash Saturday. That was the fastest time among defensive linemen in the first on-field testing session. … The majority of Ravens officials are expected to return to Baltimore late Monday following the conclusion of the defensive backs' workouts. The two-day free agent negotiation window, which precedes the market officially opening Thursday afternoon, begins Tuesday.