Let there be no doubt about it. It hasn't been an illusion.
There have been multiple Dan Connor sightings in Mobile, Alabama this week. It just seems like he's everywhere.
And as a result, coaches are noticing him, scouts are noticing him, and the media has been pursuing him at every turn. The talented Penn State linebacker is hard to miss.
Connor, who led the Big Ten Conference in tackles his senior year with 145 stops, has brought his enthusiastic and focused style of play to Alabama as he rubs elbows with the top players from around the country, preparing for Saturday afternoon's Under Armour Senior Bowl game. And between practices, meetings, studying the playbook and interviewing with NFL clubs, Connor is finding the week to be a rigorous, but enjoyable adventure.
"It's hectic, it's a long week, but it's worth it," he said during an exclusive interview this week at his hotel in downtown Mobile.
Connor's stature as one of the elite players in this year's draft class has been a two-edged sword. He's been whisked away by major media outlets immediately following practices and swarmed by team representatives privately in the evenings. But there's no place he'd rather be right now than in Mobile.
"It's the highest competition in the country right now, and it feels good to be out there playing," he said.
But it's also been a learning experience for Penn State's career tackles leader, who took down 419 ball-carriers while suiting up for the Nittany Lions. Working as a member of the North Team under Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker has quickly noticed the challenges that lie ahead at the professional level.
" They expect a lot out of you," Connor said. "They throw a lot at you early, expect you to study, pick it up and translate it to the field quickly.
"I know there's a lot of pressure on you to do it at the next level, so it's good to get a taste of it right now."
Dan Connor breaks Penn State's career tackles record with this stop against Purdue on November 7, 2007.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Connor has been training in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at Perfect Competition for February's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And he's been glad to take a week off in hopes of demonstrating his overall athletic ability on the national stage that the Under Armour Senior Bowl provides to the country's top senior football players each year.
"It's a great place to showcase how you do in pass coverage and your pass rush during one-on-ones," he said.
Connor's versatility, talent and experience at both outside and inside linebacker is a major selling point for an NFL rookie, especially one who is expected to be a first-round draft pick this April.
" I've heard some teams want me inside, some outside," he said. "I don't have a preference, I'll take either one."
During one of Lane Kiffin's press conferences this week, he talked about where he sees Connor playing as an NFL linebacker.
"To us, he fits more of an inside role," he said. "For someone else that may be different."
Even though the Raiders head coach has only watched Connor up close for a few
days, it was obvious that he's grasped what makes him a special talent in this
year's draft class.
"You can really see his leadership out there," he said. "Dan has really studied the playbook, and I assume he was a great leader for them (Penn State), you can see that carry over.
"The way he prepares, the way he comes out for practice and how hard he practices, he's really a big-time competitor."
Connor will be another step closer to showing just how big-time he can be at the NFL level as he wraps up his Under Armour Senior Bowl week during Saturday's game at 3:00 p.m. (ET). So be sure to keep an eye on No. 40 from the North Team while reminding yourself that what you're seeing is not an illusion.
Because if he plays true to form, Dan Connor will be everywhere.