by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
Like putting all their proverbial eggs in one basket, NFL teams tend to read too much into a player’s 40-yard dash. Curtis Steele has dealt with this since his pro day sprint, when he stumbled at the start and finished with a hamstring pull.
The thing is, watching the Memphis product on film, you can see he’s fast. Looking at his 2009 stats (over 1,200 yards at 6.3 per carry), you know he’s productive. Yet the third-leading career rusher in Tigers history finds himself trying to assure scouts that he can play in the NFL.
He talked with PD about making the most out of some tough situations, from his disappointing pro day to his circuitous route to Memphis.
I wanted to get your take on how your pro day went.
Oh, okay. Well, our pro day was the 26th of March. I had, I want to say, a 33-inch vert, which is okay, but I felt like I wish I’d prepared more for the broad jump. I also did 17 reps of 225, which I was pretty impressed with, myself, because when I first started training I did 225 four times. That was just the beginning of January, and when I came out for my pro day, I did 17 reps. So I felt pretty good about that. I weighed in at 194, so I felt pretty good – really good – about that, weight that I maintained from the Hall of Fame (Texas vs. The Nation) Game. But when we started out on our (pro) day, when I ran the first 40, I ran a 4.55, but I pulled my hamstring, too, and I also stumbled at my start. So I was very disappointed in myself with that, and I wasn’t able to finish the rest of my events.
In terms of the times that you were getting in preparing for the pro day, where do you think you were, looking at your 40 and maybe the 20-yard shuttle?
See, I never actually got timed when I was training for it. I was just working on technique, because my trainer Judd Granzow – he was with me at MAD (Making A Difference) Sports Training out at Cool Springs – he was saying that he didn’t want to look at times because it can discourage clients or athletes. So he really wanted to work on technique. I really felt like, from my 40-wise, I know I’m for sure a 4.4. Like I said, I stumbled and I also pulled my hamstring towards the end, so I know that took a lot of time off. I can say I run a 4.4. And in my 20-yard shuttle, I want to say, like 4.1, 4-flat.
So, what are you up to now? Are you talking to teams or working out for teams at all?
Oh, I had a couple teams call me who said they wanted to bring me in for a meeting and a personal workout. But earlier this week, this Monday, I just met up with the Titans, and I also have the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans lined up… I’ve had one with the Titans so far.
You don’t have to get into specifics if you don’t want to, but what are the types of things that they seem interested in?
Really, a lot of teams are concerned about – interested about – my speed. Because I looked a lot faster on tape than what appears to be my 40 time. So a lot of teams were just concerned about my 40-yard dash and really how fast I am. They had concerns about that. And really, they just want to know, like, “How much do you know about the game?” Like, your knowledge of the game (and) of your position. Basically plays, the defense, and technique. That’s about it, just about what offense you know so far. They try to compare your knowledge to what they’re going to tell you, applying to their offense.
Do you think it has helped you or hurt you that you played on a team that didn’t have a successful season, win-wise?
Oh, I really see both. I really think it kind of hurt me, because of the media and the (lack of) national attention. Because we were predicted to win our conference, and I really feel like if we would have won some more games, we would have had some more publicity from the media, just national exposure. But I also look at it like, you think (on the other hand) that we really wasn’t winning, but I was still standing out. So, it’s kind of like a win-win situation, I want to say? Because I would have loved it if we were winning a lot of games, but in the end it worked out for the good, because I still get looked at by a lot of teams. A lot of teams are still interested in me and want to bring me in, so I’m fine with that.
Yeah, I was going to say, do you think it’s better to be a player that averages over six yards a carry on a 2-10 team, or a player that doesn’t do as well on a winning team?
Ah, I prefer the six yards (per carry) on a non-winning team, because, to me, it still shows that the athlete – he’s still working as hard as he would if he were winning. Because stats don’t lie. That’s how I look at it.
And how do you feel about the competition in your conference?
Oh, I thought we got some good players. Conference USA, it’s really kind of tough. I mean, we’ve got some teams out there that are not as good as you (other conferences) are, but for the most part, though, most of our teams are as good as you are, or sometimes even better. You’ve got to go into the game prepared for the unexpected, because a lot of teams out there will shock you, trying to beat you.
How would you describe the offense at Memphis? What do you think was your strength?
Oh, I mean, it was more of a spread team. That’s what they were known for, was spread – well, until DeAngelo (Williams) was there. After he left, they switched over to a spread team and wanted to pass the ball more. They really tried to use the passing game to open up the run… They tried to keep me involved with some screens, some flare passes, but really I was getting a lot of yardage on power plays and inside zone, inside-outside zone plays.
How did you end up at Memphis? Why don’t you talk a little bit about your ride from high school to (Northwest Mississippi Community College) and ending up down there?
All right. Well, first up, my obstacle: I was a point short on my ACT. I was getting recruited by all Division I schools, such as the SEC – Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia. ACC was Georgia Tech and Clemson. But they wanted me for a DB (defensive back) so once they found out about my ACT scores, they started kind of pulling away from me. (Tennessee)-Martin offered me a full scholarship, and I was thinking I’d still be all right, but that summer, right before I was about to report, UT-Martin was trying to prop me.
I’m sorry. Say that again?
They were trying to prop me? It’s like when you’ve got to sit out a year and you also lose a year. And once you get them up to par, your GPA, if you graduate on time, you can get that year back for a fourth year…
They tried to prop me, so I ended up going to junior college, that’s probably 45 minutes away from Memphis, and I just walked on there. Earned the last out-of-state spot. I did my freshman and sophomore year (in junior college), and then the recruiting process started all over again. Ole Miss tried to offer (recruit) me as a DB, Oklahoma State was trying to offer me as a DB, and I want to say Houston wanted me as a DB, but UAB and Memphis were the only two schools that offered me as a running back.
And what tilted you toward Memphis?
Really, because of DeAngelo Williams. I think he kind of put Memphis on the map because of his performance. I liked it there. And also, playing running back. I knew that a lot of teams would be looking for another DeAngelo-Williams-like back, another kid that had moves like him or whatever. Right before I committed to UAB, Memphis called me and told me they were going to offer me … so I stuck with them because I did those two years of community (college).
How do you think you’ve developed as a player? What are some of the things you think you’ve improved on, and what are some things you might still need to improve?
As a player, just knowing the game, knowledge of the game, field studying. Also, one of the (biggest) improvements from my junior to senior year was patience. To really have the patience to let my blocks set up and develop. That was my key thing, because my junior year, I was impatient, I was just running. And my senior year, I was more patient. And the thing that I think I really need to improve on – I’ve always felt, playing football – was my pass protection.
Anything in particular on that, or just in general?
Oh, it’s not the basics, I understand. It’s physical: just to make contact, just to stay in and block, and block longer.
All right. So what are you going to be up to over the next few weeks?
I’m going to continue to work out and wait for some teams to call me. And I’m going to take my visits, and when draft day comes, we’ll see where I end up.
What do you think teams should know about you that maybe they haven’t learned yet?
I just want them to know that I love the sport of football. I just love playing it. I’ll do whatever it takes for the opportunity.
I hope you get it, Curtis. Thanks a lot for talking to us today.
All right. Thanks a lot, Chris.
All right. Good luck.
Email Chris Warner at email@example.com