The 49ers have their eyes on defensive backs. The consensus top two players in the secondary are Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Florida cornerback Joe Haden.
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Berry comes off as an impressive guy. In Monte Kiffin’s scheme at Tennessee, Berry was used in a variety of ways. He was a free safety, strong safety, a nickel cornerback, a true cornerback and could also play close to the line of scrimmage as a linebacker in certain alignments.
“I bring a lot to the table,” said Berry, who appeared at ease in front of a large throng of reporters this morning at the NFL Scouting Combine. Berry said he believed he is the most talented player in this year’s draft.
His versatility will give whichever team that selects him a lot of options. “It all depends on how the team wants to use me,” he said.
Berry is clearly the top-rated safety. He had 14 interceptions in his career, including 12 in two seasons. He said his interception numbers dipped this season as teams were reluctant to throw in his direction.
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Haden was recruited as a quarterback to play at Florida. But the Gators had a player named Tebow. Then, he was moved to receiver, but there was a guy named Percy Harvin there.
So he accepted the invitation to switch to cornerback. He’s been there only three years, but he has thrived at that position after breaking passing records in the state of Maryland as a prep standout.
The 49ers like big corners. Nate Clements is 6-0, 205. Shawntae Spencer is 6-1, 190. They invested a fifth-round draft pick in 2007 on Tarell Brown (5-10, 193). Haden checks in at 5-10 ½, 193 pounds.
He said he likes the change. Now, he’s tackling after trying to avoid tackles as an offensive player.
“It’s a lot easier,” he said. “I don’t have to look at my blindside worrying about getting hit by guys like (linebacker teammate) Brandon Spikes.”
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Other notes . . .
–USC S Taylor Mays (6-3, 230) will probably test the best of any of the safeties in the draft. But he did not make nearly as many plays as Berry in his career. “I haven’t watched much film on Taylor Mays, but I understand he’s a great athlete,” Berry said.
–Mays said he has been working on his backpedal and changing directions with fluidity – areas of his game that need a lot of work. He was considered a potential high draft pick a year ago, but he did not improve his stock during his senior season. “I came back to be a better football player, and I think I did that,” Mays said. Mays said he would be open to shifting to linebacker if the team that drafts him believes that’s the best fit. Mays has not yet met with the 49ers, yet.
—Oklahoma State CB Perrish Cox said the 49ers were one of the teams with which he has interviewed at the combine. Cox experienced the advantage of playing against teammate WR Dez Bryant in practice. “Oh man, it was spectacular, man,” Cox said. “I really can’t explain it. It’s tough. He is the best receiver I ever picked on, since I’ve been in college football, hands down, I can actually say that. It’s tough. Bring a crowd. Hyper excitement. All of the above. He gave me a bad attitude. He gave me an attitude, when I go in on Saturday, what are you going to do differently that I stick on every day.”
—Alabama CB Kareem Jackson (5-10, 196) declared after his junior season, and is unquestionably a player the 49ers will want to get to learn more about. Jackson said he has 13 formal interviews scheduled for this evening, but he only had the times and room numbers for those meetings (not the identity of the teams). Jackson said he has return skills but he did not get that chance in college because his teammate, Javier Arenas, took care of that duty. Jackson is higher-rated cornerback than Arenas, but Arenas is considered one of the top punt returners coming out in the draft. Alabama defensive backs are considered hot commodities because that is the forte of coach Nick Saban.
—Florida State CB Patrick Robinson was not very comfortable at the podium. But that’s OK. He’ll be asked to do his talking on the field. He checked in at 5-11, 190 pounds. He played in the same secondary as S Myron Rolle, skipped his senior season to accept his Rhodes Scholarship and study in Oxford, England. “He’s a student of the game,” Robinson said. “I learned a lot from him.”
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