When you watch the Senior Bowl this Saturday night, you may think that the television announcers are confused. Or maybe you'll think your eyes are playing tricks on you. Because when the North Team has the football, it's likely that tight end Connor Barwin will make a catch that will grab your attention. And then a few minutes later, when the defense is on the field, you may see him harassing the opposing quarterback from the defensive end position.
Oh, and he'll probably see some special teams action as well since he blocked three punts during his senior year.
The multi-talented big man out of the University of Cincinnati has had NFL scouts buzzing and debating during practice sessions in Mobile this week. Barwin played tight end up until his senior year, working behind current Eagles tight end Brett Celek for his first two years before notching 31 catches, including a pair of touchdowns, during his junior year.
But then his coach switched him to defensive end for his senior year, a brilliant move that allowed him to exploit his speed and athleticism even more. He finished the season with 11 sacks, 53 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and eight passes defensed in 14 games. His ability to consistently pressure the quarterback transformed him from a solid contributor at tight end into one of the most feared defensive ends in the Big East Conference.
Connor Barwin deflects a pass against South Florida that resulted in an interception for his team on Oct. 30, 2008.
AP Photo/David Kohl
While he's listed on the North Team's roster as a tight end for Saturday's game, Barwin will likely get the opportunity to showcase his pass-rushing skills in specific situations as the game progresses. And with a strong showing at both positions, it will further improve the stock of a player who should be off the board at some point during the first two rounds of the draft this April.
It's easy to see why the 6-foot-3, 253-pound player would succeed at defensive end in the NFL. He's a tenacious attacker with enough strength to bully his way inside to the quarterback, or he can use his quickness and spin move effectively as well to get around the edge.
"I really love the competition that comes with playing defensive end, because in a small way it's just you against the guy who's trying to block you. And I don't ever want to get blocked," he said during an exclusive interview with Scout.com.
That said, Barwin is also an effective route-runner and pass-catcher as a tight end. He credits his coaches and former teammate Celek for much of his progress on the offensive side of the ball.
"I can honestly say when I came to U.C., it had a lot to do with the coaches. Brent was just finishing his sophomore year at U.C. and probably had his best year as far as numbers go. And that was one of the reasons I came, because I thought I could play behind him, learn and get ready to play my junior and senior year," he said. "I think I learned a lot from him about work ethic and doing things right all the time."
As you watch Barwin in games and even during practices, you can't help but notice that work ethic. And he's glad that pro scouts are getting an opportunity to see that attribute first-hand in Mobile this week.
"I think they'll notice my athleticism. I think they'll notice that I'm a natural motor player," he said. "By the end of the week they may say 'he needs to work on this, or he needs to work on that, but you can tell he's a true athlete who has a natural motor and endurance about him.'"
Something else that team officials undoubtedly noticed about the Detroit native this week during one-on-one interviews is that he's incredibly well-grounded, good-natured and candid.
"I've got great parents. I come from a regular, middle-class family. I grew up with three brothers—my parents had four boys in five years—so we were all close in age," Barwin explained. "So it was fun—it was hard sometimes—but it was a lot of fun. And I think that's why I am who I am today."
The youngest of the four brothers, Barwin is now the biggest and strongest of the crew.
"It's not even close," he said with a grin.
Connor Barwin may not know whether he's going to be playing defensive end, tight end, special teams or all three for an NFL team this September, but he does know that the team that selects him is going to get a player that they can trust on and off the field.
"They'll know that they can count on me to do my best to get the job done," he said.
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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.