SEC Defenders Renew Rivalry at NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS - The LSU-Alabama rivalry didn't end in New Orleans. It moved to Indianapolis.

After playing twice for the No. 1 ranking last season, repeatedly being dubbed college football's two best defenses and eventually settling the national championship between them, the top defensive players from those teams are ready to start Round 3 - at the NFL scouting combine.

``Right now, it's just mental, but when we get back on the field, it's going to be just like the way it was,'' Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpartick said Sunday with a smile.

Scouts couldn't ask for a better scenario.

Players from both teams are out to impress team executives, hoping to improve their draft stock.

The stakes couldn't be higher.

The winners will be rewarded with a bigger paycheck and perhaps some big-time endorsement deals, too.

Bragging rights are also in play.

Kirkpatrick and LSU's Morris Claiborne are going head-to-head to become the No. 1 cornerback chosen in April. Alabama safety Mark Barron and outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw are generally regarded as the No. 1 players at their positions, as is LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers. And high school recruits undoubtedly will pay attention to which school produces more NFL players and the highest draft picks, maybe giving the current prospect's alma maters a recruiting bump.

That's not all.

Six of the 59 defensive backs invited to Indy came from these two SEC programs, and that doesn't include LSU Heisman Trophy finalist Tryann Mathieu, a sophomore.

For the Tigers, it's a chance to reaffirm their self-proclaimed reputation as DB University.

``Patrick (Peterson) gave us the name, and we just kept it going,'' Claiborne said, laughing after one of his teammates ruined the secret.

But it's not all going to be jabs and trash-talking around Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Alabama and LSU players who spoke Sunday chuckled when asked about renewing one of college football's most bitter rivalries this week. The reality is most like seeing familiar faces around an unfamiliar environment.

People ask us `Why aren't we fighting?''' LSU cornerback Ron Brooks said Sunday.That was in college, they got us, they beat us fair and square and there's no hating going on out here. We're all here for the same goal.''

Claiborne measured in at 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, slightly shorter and heavier than his listed measurements of 6-feet and 173 pounds. He says he's more of a technician than a physical cornerback.

Kirkpatrick, a second team All-American, will undoubtedly have to answer questions about his off-the-field conduct. He was arrested in January on a misdemeanor drug possession charge, which was dropped three weeks later after the driver, Kirkpatrick said, signed an affidavit admitting the marijuana was his.

``It was me being in the wrong place at the wrong time,'' Kirkpatrick said.

Later he explained he didn't even know the driver of the car.

A couple other talented corners with checkered pasts are also out to prove they've grown up.

North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris both had drug-related arrests in college. Both were kicked off their respective teams. Jenkins left Florida and landed in Division II. Harris decided to say goodbye to school for good.

Montana's Trumaine Johnson, Louisiana-Lafayette's Dwight Bentley and Coastal Carolina's Josh Norman want to show they can successfully make the jump to better competition. Georgia's Brandon Boykin hopes to show he can match up with NFL receivers after measuring in at 5-9, 182 pounds. He's still recovering from a fractured leg sustained at the Senior Bowl.

I'm already walking on it. I'm expected to have a full recovery within the next month,'' Boykin said.I'm still deciding on what day I will do my Pro Day. I'm looking at some time in April.

But the feature attractions are still the defensive guys from LSU and Alabama, who have been trading blows and barbs since last season began.

LSU won Round 1, a 9-6 overtime victory at Alabama.

Alabama returned the favor in January, a 21-0 victory in the first BCS national championship game pitting teams from the same conference.

And this week, some of the same players will participate in what they anticipate will be a friendlier go-around at the combine.

It really is like old times,'' LSU safety Brandon Taylor said.We've got a good chemistry together, us and the Alabama guys, because we know we gave it our all this year and we gave the fans a good show this year. It will be fun.''

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