by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
Talk about big man on campus. At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, Austen Lane must have gotten some second looks at Murray State. Now the Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year is doing all he can to get noticed on a national level.
Lane manned just about every position along the line in his career and stood up as a linebacker on occasion. Though he played in the Football College Subdivision (FCS), his All-American status earned him invites to the Senior Bowl and the combine.
The versatile defender talked about his experience with different fronts, how to rush the passer, and the whirlwind of the pre-draft process.
Let’s start out by finding out a little more about Murray State. What can you tell us about it that you think people should know?
All right, yeah. Murray State is found in Kentucky. It’s got an enrollment of around 10,000. One thing that sets it apart from every other university is that, whenever we score our touchdowns, since we’re called the Racers, we actually have a horse with a jockey on it that runs around the track every single time we score a touchdown. So, that’s kind of a cool sight. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the horse actually buck the person… one time, the horse actually bucked the guy off. (Laughs.) So, that was kind of funny to see. That was during my senior year. But I think that’s something that actually sets us apart from everybody else, is that whole thing where we have that horse ride around the track.
That’s pretty hardcore.
Yeah, for sure.
(Laughs.) Was the horse – were you guys scoring too much and the horse just got sick of it?
You know what? I think that might have been the problem. It was kind of icy, I think. It was really cold; it was raining. So us scoring a lot and the icy conditions didn’t really make for a good horse-riding experience, I guess you could say.
Well, speaking of the football team itself, one thing that might intrigue coaches is that you guys went from a 3-4 defense your junior year to a 4-3 this past year. What was that like?
Yeah, my first year we kind of played a 4-3 base (defense), but my junior year we played a majority of 3-4. So that meant I was standing up a lot, trying to play that outside linebacker role, which I really liked. I mean, I think I’m athletic enough to drop back into coverage and make plays in open spaces, and that’s something I really like to do. As far as my senior year, we actually played a 4-2-5. Seeing how we didn’t really have a lot of size for outside linebackers, we’d bring a safety up. Basically, what we’d do is stack the box to stop the run, so we actually had a 4-2-5 the majority of the season. But you know, I mean, I guess you could say I kind of played everything. I’ve stood up, I’ve got my hand in the dirt, I’ve dropped back into coverage. I’ve also played man in coverage; I’ve played zone coverage. Obviously, I’ve rushed the quarterback and stuff like that. So I think I can do it all.
When you’ve talked to NFL teams, do they seem to put you in a particular spot on defense?
You know what, they really didn’t. After they saw a tape and after they saw me doing all my drills – like the linebacker drills and the defensive end drills – they didn’t really put me in a spot. You know, I think they said I can obviously play a 4-3 defensive end, maybe get to 285 (pounds), maybe 290. And also, if I get up that high, I can play a 3-4 defensive end position – you know, a smaller defensive end in a 3-4, probably at 290 pounds or 300 as a 3-4 defensive end. And the 3-4 teams have talked about playing outside linebacker. They’re kind of intrigued about how much I weigh – I’m around 275 right now – and the way I can move my feet and drop back in coverage.
So do you think, even at 275, you’d be comfortable playing as a linebacker?
Absolutely. I mean, I’m sure teams would probably want me to cut a little weight, which is something I’ve never really done before, but I shouldn’t have any problem doing that. Basically, what it comes down to is that if I can drop back in coverage and slide and move in space, I don’t think it really matters what my weight is.
How much weight have you gained in college? You played basketball in high school, is that right?
Yeah, I played basketball in high school. I was actually getting a lot of offers for basketball, recruiting and stuff. But at the end of the day, basketball, it wasn’t my sport. You know, I’m the type of guy that wants to go out there and, oh, hit somebody, I guess you could say. And in basketball you couldn’t really do a lot of that without getting a foul, so I ended up playing football. Coming out of high school, I was 215 pounds, and I pretty much played my entire freshman year at 215. Ever since then, I’ve been at 275, and I guess during the weight gain I’ve basically just eaten non-stop, snacking, and then getting in that weight room and putting work in.
Has there been a big difference in your diet and workouts between the end of the season and now?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Once I went to Pensacola, Florida to train for the combine. They’re all about eating healthy and laying off the fast food and stuff like that. What I’ve noticed when I’ve started to eat healthy and started to eat right – well, what happened was Monday through Saturdays, we got to eat their food, and on Sundays, we got to eat whatever we want. So when that day came around, I’d be going to Taco Bell or McDonald’s, and I found that once I could eat (there), I’d gain weight so fast. And, you know, it’s not good weight. So, I guess you could say my whole way of eating is just changed. I really can’t eat all the stuff I used to eat before, just because I’m going to put so much weight on, so I have to eat healthy and try to maintain the weight.
How do you feel about your combine performance and your pro day? I know there’s been some talk about your 40. Are you okay with that?
Yeah. You know, I wanted to run faster at the combine, but overall I thought I did really well. Then at the pro day, I’ve seen numbers from 4.75 from one source to a 4.9 or so from another source. I mean, I felt like I ran faster at my pro day than I did at my combine, but I guess I really can’t change what people read on their stopwatches.
As a taller guy… what do you think are some of the better moves for someone who’s 6-6 like you?
Oh, obviously, since I have a pretty long wingspan, I want to use that wingspan to my advantage and get the offensive tackle off me. But, you know, I’m really a fan of the bob-and-counter, where I take him going one way and use my off hand, and basically push my off hand into his shoulder. And I’m trying to get skinny – that’s going to create space – and basically I just finish up with my speed. Don’t let him get to me; don’t let him touch me. But also, even though I’m really big, I really like to use my speed rush a lot, too. I feel like I have a really fast snap off the ball, where I can get off the ball and try to beat the guy on the play I want to beat. You know, I think pass rushing has got to be a little bit of everything. You have to incorporate a bull rush in there sometimes, a little speed rush. You really can’t just rely on one move, because they’re going to find that out eventually, so you have to have a good move to fall back on, I guess.
What teams have you spoken to?
Since the combine, I’ve spoken to a lot of them. I’ve taken a visit, I can’t really say where it was, but basically I think I’ve spoken to 29 of the (32) teams, or something like that.
What (were) some of the surprising or strangest things that they’ve asked of you?
Oh, on the questions?
(Laughs.) Probably the biggest thing that I got – and this was about, I want to say, at least three or four teams at the combine – was, like, “Tell us about your dreads and why you have them.” Because they were like, “Well, seeing how you have dreads, are you trying to come off as – do you do drugs? Are you from Jamaica?” And I was like, no, I just have dreads because that’s something I’ve always had. I mean, I like Bob Marley and stuff like that. I just think they look cool. And, you know, I don’t do drugs or anything like that. I’m not from Jamaica, I’m from Wisconsin, so I kind of had to explain that to them, too. I also had to explain to them, when I’m 75 years old, hopefully I’m not going to be bald because (my dreads fell out), so I’m not trying to go bald at an early age. (Laughs.)
(Laughs.) It sounds like you were interviewed by a 1950s police officer or something.
Yeah. You know what, surprisingly, I got the question more than once, too. I’m not sure what that was all about, but I think the last time I checked the majority of the guys in the NFL have dreads, so I guess they’re all pot-smoking guys or whatever. (Laughs.) But I don’t know.
So, when you first went to the Senior Bowl, what was that like to be playing with and competing against some of the top guys, coming from a smaller school like Murray State?
Well, you know, I kind of got that phone call late. I actually got that call Sunday night to come play the Senior Bowl, around 9:30. So it was really kind of last-second, get all my stuff together and go. I think that, the very first day I got there I was just like, oh man, I’ve got to get all my stuff ready, and everyone else is getting ready for meetings and I’m falling behind, stuff like that. But after that first practice, I felt like I can hang with these guys, basically. I think the very first play was one-on-ones, I forgot who it was against, but I ended up beating him with a bull rip or something like that, and I actually got him to the ground. Basically, after that – it was the very first thing we did in practice – after that, I’m like, yeah. They might have really cool stuff on their helmets, they might say Oklahoma, they might say USC, but at the same time, we’ve got the same color jersey.
Because a lot of NFL teams haven’t had a lot of film on you until this year, what do you think they should know about you – besides the fact that you don’t smoke pot?
(Laughs.) Basically, that this game is my life. It’s my passion. I’m a hard worker. You know, I’m a team-first guy, most importantly, too. But the thing is, actually what I bring to the game: I’m not trying to sack the quarterback out there, I’m trying to hurt the quarterback. I’m trying to put the quarterback in the hospital. That’s just my (mindset); that just the way I think. Once I cross the white line and someone’s in front of me, I’m going to try to hurt him. You know, I’m not saying I’m going to cheap-shot him or anything like that, but it’s going to be my goal to take a quarterback out, or even a wide receiver, or any player that’s got the ball.
All right. Well, what are you going to be up to until the draft?
Right now I’m just back at home, training. Staying in shape, obviously. Eating healthy, which is kind of hard because my stepdad, he’s into all the steaks and he’s on his grill and stuff like that. So it’s kind of (tough) right now, but I’m standing strong by the eating healthy thing. For the draft, I’m probably going to have just a low-key event, maybe seven, eight friends over. Even though, like, the whole town wants to throw a big shindig, that’s not really my style. So I’m just going to be chilling.
All right. Well, good luck, Austen. Thanks a lot for talking to us today.
All right, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Email Chris Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org