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NFL Combine interviews: Notable quotes from draft prospects

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- A record of more than 1,200 media met with the first wave of college stars Wednesday as the 2016 NFL Combine began this week's series of activities designed to evaluate the prospects for the April draft.

The interview session focused on offensive linemen and tackles. Here is a sampling of notable quotes from Lucas Oil Stadium:

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--Max Tuerk, center/offensive line, Southern Cal

Rated No. 4 center; 147th overall; Rd. 4-5 by NFLDraftScout.com

(Knee surgery, October 2015)

What do you think of the whole atmosphere here?

"I'm loving it. I'm enjoying it. I've been dreaming about this since I was a kid. It's awesome to be here."

Are you just going to do the bench press here?

"Just the bench press, yeah."

Are you going to be ready for pro day?

"That's the plan."

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What's the recovery been like, both emotionally and physically?

"Emotionally, I just tried not to think of it. It happened. It is what it is. I've just got to get better. It was injury. The ACL, it's a long process, but I've been working extremely hard. I've been doing rehab four or five times a week. It's feeling strong. My legs feel strong. My glutes, hamstrings and quads, I've been working on that almost every day, and it feels good."

When healthy, what is your biggest strength?

"I think my biggest strength is that I'm good in space. I pull around well. I'm a smart football player. I can make the line calls and point out the direction of where the offensive line is going, call out the runs and call out where the defense is, where the Mike is, things like that."

What could (USC quarterback) Cody Kessler bring to a team?

"He's a tremendous leader. He's an extremely hard worker. He's one of my good buddies. I lived with him for the last three years. He's a great player. He's a great quarterback. He's great in the clutch. He's a gamer. He's a solid player."

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--Brandon Shell, tackle, South Carolina

Rated 20th tackle; 249th overall; Rd. 7 by NFLDraftscout.com

(Shoulder surgery last season)

What's it like being Art Shell's nephew (Hall of Fame tackle, former Raiders coach)?

"It's big shoes to fill, but I try to do what I can do. I don't try to fill his shoes or do the things he does. I'm just focusing on Brandon Shell, and I have to do what I can do. He did what he can, but he didn't want to overstep the boundaries of what I had in college because it was a different scheme. He was a monster. He's a beast."

Has he advised you at all in this process?

"He is helping me with stuff along the way. He's not all the way into it, but he is helping me with stuff behind the scenes."

How often do you get asked about him?

"All the time."

Do teams ask about him?

"They ask if he's really my uncle, and they tell me stories about how they know him or how they met him."

You started 47 games. Is having that much tape out there a blessing or a curse?

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"I feel like it's a blessing. You can see my flaws and see what I do good. You can see it all from all the tape I have. I need to work on a lot of things. I need to work on finishing. I need to work on pass blocking. Just need to work on everything. You can never not work on anything because everything needs improving."

--Kaimi Fairbairn, kicker, UCLA

Rated 2nd kicker, 222 overall, Rd. 6-7 by NFLDraftScout.com

What's the difference between game pressure and kicking here?

"You practice this every day. You train for the important kick, the game-winner. Putting that importance in practice makes this seem easy. I try to put myself in that environment as often as possible."

What are coaches putting more emphasis on -- clutch kicking, leg strength, kickoffs?

"It's all important. Kickoffs have grown to be that much more important over the years, getting touchbacks, but you have to make the important kicks. You have practice every day, take mental reps and carry it out."

Tell us about your 60-yard field goal against Cal

"That was the longest I ever made ... I'll never forget it. Just being able to run off the field with my team at halftime was the best and we got to win that game too, so it was all good."

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Is former UCLA kicker Kai Forbath a mentor?

"Kai is a great guy. We have been in contact since I have been at UCLA. Even a guy like Jeff Locke, who's with the Vikings and was there my freshman year. They have both been extremely helpful and they are pros. I try to pick their brains."

Fairbairn discussed origin of his name -- He is Hawaiian

"First name is "John Christian." Middle name is Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a." He explains he was born and raised on the Hawaiian Islands and it took him until the seventh grade to spell his middle name.

--Le'Raven Clark, offensive tackle, Texas Tech

Rated 2nd tackle; 8th overall; Rd 2 by NFLDraftScout.com

Discuss the tougher pass rushers at the Senior Bowl.

"Noah Spence is definitely a good player and a good athlete. I really liked going against him." (Note: Spence is ranked 4th defensive end, 22nd overall, Round 1 by NFLDraftScout.com).

What did Spence do well in one-on-one matchups?

"It was really more so myself just over-setting him a few times. That was pretty much it."

Discuss the wide splits at Texas Tech and how they impact an offensive lineman going into the NFL.

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"We don't really get too much wide splits like before. We have more of a three-foot split now, which is kind of a basic split. It's not as wide as people actually think it is. ... It just depends on the play and things like that with how wide our split is."

Is there a misperception about Texas Tech's offense and how it can prepare players for the NFL?

"There's definitely a misconception there. People really don't think that we have combo blocks or power up or any of those plays. Everything is kind of just inside zone and outside zone, just work the zone read and all of that. But we actually have a few running plays. We run them more than people think. Our running back ran for 1,400 yards this year."

Who are the toughest pass rushers you faced in college?

"Last season probably (Emmanuel) Ogbah from Oklahoma State, Eric Striker from OU. Both of those guys."

--Josh Garnett, guard, Stanford

Rated 4th guard; 73rd overall; Rd. 2-3 by NFLDraftScout.com

Do you have to be able to pull at Stanford?

"Yeah. All the guards at Stanford, they want big, fast, physical guys that move in space. That was the big thing with any of the guards at Stanford. You've got to be able to pull. You've got to be able to move in space and kind of dance and play basketball with those corners and safeties and fast linebackers."

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What do you think will be the biggest transition to the pros?

"I think just the speed. When you go from high school to college, the speed is huge. Going from college to the pros, the speed is an even bigger transition."

Do you consider the possibility of blocking for (Stanford alum) Andrew Luck?

"That would be awesome. Andrew Luck was one of those guys that you grew up and watched at Stanford. I was in the ninth grade when he was a senior at Stanford. Every day at Stanford, you would see Andrew Luck outside the offensive line room. If I had the chance to block for him, he's one of the greats, he's one of the Stanford greats in the NFL. I would relish that opportunity.

What are your strengths and weaknesses coming into this?

*My strengths are my ability to finish blocks and my ability to get into blocks. That was something I really prided myself in, my ability to down block, my pulling ability, my ability to get on blocks and really finish people. That's something that teams are really interested in, my aggressiveness. Something I need to work on, conversely, is not being too aggressive in pass pro situations. I want to just lock on somebody and finish them. Maybe I can just grab them and then finish them."

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How did you do academically?

"I feel like I do well academically. I went to Stanford. I'm a human biology major. I want to be a trauma surgeon after football is all over. I worked in a cell biology lab this past summer, did a stint in an ER for some shadowing. I just love being able to see the high-intensity environment. Everyone's working together. The quarterback is the head doctor. You have the nurses, kind of the offensive linemen of the thing, doing the dirty work but not getting the credit for it. But everyone is real locked in and working as a team. That is something I saw myself doing everyday with my teammates on the football field.

"The transition from football field to trauma surgeon would be a thing where I wouldn't have to give up my competitive nature and I'd be able to work as a member of the team and be able to help people out. I feel that's something I can truly transition to."

--Germain Ifedi, offensive tackle, Texas A&M.

Rated 4th offensive tackle, 73rd overall, Round 2-3 by NFLDraftScout.com

Discuss pass blocking.

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"I definitely think I'm prepared. We threw the ball a lot and had two really good defensive ends at our school right now that will probably be coming out next year. They prepared me and they prepared me for the season. We have some good pass rushers, so I think I'm pretty ready pass-rushing wise."

Is there a sense of tradition on the Texas A&M offensive line?

"I take tremendous pride in it because I watched those guys since I was 16 years old. To be able to learn from them and potentially be the next guy in line to be a high NFL draft pick, it's a lot of prestige that comes with and also a lot of work that led to it."

Talk about Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews (A&M tackles who preceded Ifedi).

"I talk to Luke and Jake as often as I can whatever chance I get. They tell me take one day at a time and keep working hard and do what you can do."

It was a disappointing season for A&M, but how did you do?

"I thought I played well. The team struggled, but I thought I played well. Every offensive lineman has some plays where they struggled, but overall I thought I played very well and had my best season in my short college career."

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--Cody Whitehair, guard, Kansas State

Rated 1st guard; 37th overall; Rd. 1-2 by NFLDrdaftScout.com

What position do you feel you might be best suited to play?

"Probably guard. I would say guard, but at the end of the day, I think I can play both guard and tackle. If somebody needed me to play center as well, I feel like I can master that as well."

How much have you played center?

"I haven't played much. Just been really starting to do it through training and stuff, been snapping a little bit, but I haven't done much."

What have you heard about being the No. 1 rated guard?

"I really haven't got caught up in that too much. I've just been trying to focus on the Senior Bowl and getting ready for this. We'll see where that takes us after this week."

What are some of the issues that come with going from guard to tackle?

"It's just a little different, a little different set, getting in a three-point (stance), more than likely, but I felt like it's been a smooth transition."

Do you feel like when you go into the NFL you'll be ready to step in as a rookie?

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"Yeah, I do. I feel like I can use what I learned at Kansas State to really be successful there in the league. I feel like I'm a tough player, I'm a consistent player and I can help a team out."

Where have you played along the offensive line?

"I started out as a redshirt freshman at right tackle. I played the first game there. Our left guard got hurt halfway through that game, moved inside and played left guard up until the last two games of the season, and then I bumped back out to right tackle, finished that season at right tackle. My sophomore year, I played all 13 games at left guard. My junior and senior year, I played all 13 games at left tackle."

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