MOBILE, Alabama -- The crowd was noticeably thinner Thursday as colder temperatures and clouds covered Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
The majority of scouts, coaches and general managers will depart over the next 24 hours. The evaluation of these 110 prospects, for the most part, is complete. Saturday's game (4 p.m., NFL Network) is simply an exhibition for the thousands of fans who will pack the parking lot and metal bleachers of the 67-year-old stadium.
Here's what we learned after this final, important session of practices.
Potential 1st round pick T.J. Clemmings has a Browns connection
During a Thursday radio interview, T.J. Clemmings, who is among the top-rated offensive tackles in this year's draft class, brought up Browns secondary coach Jeff Hafley, unprompted, in an answer about the path that led him here. Clemmings, who spent five years at the University of Pittsburgh, was a four-star defensive end out of high school and held offers from most of the nation's top schools, including Notre Dame, Penn State and Florida. Hafley was his lead recruiter and ultimately served as the reason why Clemmings landed with the Panthers. "He was awesome," Clemmings told ClevelandBrowns.com. "He felt like a friend. It was just a genuine attitude and persona about him I really connected with. We just clicked. He made me feel at home." Clemmings' redshirt freshman season was Hafley's last at Pittsburgh, as head coach Dave Wannstedt resigned after the Panthers went 7-5. For a while, Clemmings lost touch with Hafley, who went on to work for Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before he landed with the Browns last season, but the two recently reconnected, Clemmings said. "It hasn't changed much," he said. "I haven't seen him in a while, but through texts, he still cares about me, making sure I'm all right and making sure my family's OK."
Nate Orchard just keeps making plays
Undersized as a 4-3 defensive end and inexperienced as a 3-4 outside linebacker, Utah's Nate Orchard has tuned out the doubts and continued doing what he did throughout a stat-stuffing senior season. Orchard was disruptive throughout the North Team's practice Thursday and made one of the defense's most notable plays, as he busted up a screen pass and secured an interception off the deflection. This is nothing new for the Salt Lake City native who piled up a whopping 18.5 sacks this past season. Orchard said he's felt interest from 4-3 teams as well as those, like the Browns, that run their base defense from a 3-4. "I prefer to play with my hand in the ground, I've been doing it for 10 years," Orchard said. "If I had to play outside linebacker, the transition would be smooth." At 251 pounds, Orchard is the ideal weight to play as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4. He conceded he would probably have to add 20 pounds if he wanted to continue playing end in a 4-3. "A little more muscle wouldn't hurt," he said.
A reason why the game matters
As we alluded to earlier, Saturday's game, from a scouting perspective, pales in comparison to what the players do throughout the week in practice. Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, who is coaching the North Team, laid out why there are still plenty of reasons to watch Saturday. "They're turned loose in the game," Whisenhunt said. "They don't have the coach standing behind them, so it's always interesting to see how they handle that environment because that's really an important piece of it as well. Do they know where they're supposed to line up? Do they know their assignment? Can they execute it?"
Who? From where?
Lynden Trail was on the wrong end of a Clive Walford touchdown Wednesday but he's been drawing constant praise from analysts throughout the week. The outside linebacker/defensive end from Norfolk State showed off some soft hands with an interception during red zone drills Thursday and even played a little tight end. The projected mid-round selection took a long road to this point, as he began his career at Florida but opted to transfer after he didn't see the field for the first two seasons. The three-year starter logged snaps at both outside linebacker and defensive end and could potentially do the same in the NFL. The last team to draft a player from Norfolk State? The Cleveland Browns, who used a sixth-round pick in 2009 on defensive back Don Carey.
There's a doctor in the house
It's hard to find anyone with a more intriguing backstory than offensive guard Laken Tomlinson, whose journey from Jamaica to Chicago to Duke was chronicled at length by Sports Illustrated last month. Though Tomlinson has shown he belongs on the field and has been among the game's top offensive linemen, it's safe to assume he's in a class of his own when it comes to his college major. Tomlinson double-majored in psychology and evolutionary anthropology. According to SI, he shadowed a neurosurgeon last summer and plans to take the MCAT in the next year or two. "At the end of the day when football is all set and done, you've got to have something up here," Tomlinson said, pointing to his head.
This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.