Trying to block 330-pound men for hours every day may not sound like much fun, but "fun" — well, that's exactly the word Tyler Larsen would use.
The Utah State alum has spent the last week in Mobile, Ala., trying to gear up for the Senior Bowl. That means taking the best shots from the biggest college football seniors in America. Fun? Why not?
"It's been crazy fun," Larsen said. "It's an awesome experience. I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts. It's probably the most mentally exhausting thing I've ever done."
Even before coming to the Senior Bowl, Larsen has spent his days in a constant physical grinder.
He wakes up at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast, then starts lifting at 8:30. After lifting comes speed training, then position training through noon. He'll have a few hours of rest before repeating the process all over again.
"I'm pretty sore, but I'm not holding back," he said. "I'm trying to get in the best shape possible, and guys gotta get sore to achieve their dreams."
Both Larsen and fellow Aggie Nevin Lawson have moved closer to their mutual goal of playing in the NFL this week. Several scouts and draft experts have been impressed with how the two Utah State standouts have held against some of the top-tier competition in the country.
Larsen entered the week as a known entity: His nomination as a Rimington Award finalist was no accident, and he was a USA Today All-American. While his arms are a bit shorter than desirable and his athleticism isn't quite as good as some of his competition, he's progressed throughout the week against some of the nation's best.
"Tyler Larsen had his best day yesterday battling in one on one drills vs. Aaron Donald who was the top prospect here," said Mike Loyko, editor for NEPatriotsDraft.com. "He did really well in one particular rep where he gets his leverage low and was able to move his feet to stay in front of the quicker defender."
Asked about facing off against Donald from Pittsburgh, Larsen wasn't shy: "He's the best tackle I've ever played in my life."
Dan Hope, a featured columnist at Bleacher Report, echoed some of Loyko's comments. While early in the week, bigger prospects drove Larsen back, he rebounded against the bull rushers later in the week.
"The center position is pretty neat here because you've arguably got the top 4 centers in the draft here, which isn't true for every position," Hope said. "I don't think Larsen has done anything to make a move, but he's definitely showed he belongs."
Larsen said the Cleveland Browns, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions have shown a lot of interest so far.
Tony Pauline, analyst for DraftInsider.net, said he could see Larsen maybe not splashing early into the NFL, but persisting.
"He's a solid working type guy," Pauline said. "He's not going to be as highly rated as some other guys. Often centers fall through the cracks and have a long career in the NFL. I think he's that type of guy. He's not a great athlete, but he's smart and technically sound."
Nevin Lawson has been more of a surprise to the scouting community. Although he was a first-team Mountain West corner, he may not have gotten as many looks had he not earned a last-minute invite to Mobile.
So far, folks have been impressed with what they've seen. Although he's short, Loyko said, he has impressive bulk for his size. And he has some attributes that GMs want in corners.
"What stands out in the drills are his fluid hips and smooth footwork," he said in an e-mail. "He seems to have a balanced back-pedal and has no trouble flipping his hips to turn in run. When in coverage drills he has held his own against most WRs. He has quick, decisive feet and it has helped him stick in tight coverage."
Pauline called Lawson "average" to start the week, but noted that Lawson did improve during the week, "which is always a plus."
Lawson, a shade under 5-foot-10, may not have the ideal size for an outside defensive back, but teams can imagine him filling in as a nickel back.
"By showing up to these events, he's helped himself a lot," Hope said. "He's got the quickness and the ball skills you need for a nickel corner."
Larsen and Lawson have gotten the chance to spend time together on the practice field for the South team, and it's been fun for him having another Utah State guy around.
He'll likely be back in Logan, Larsen said, after the NFL Combine (Lawson and tight end D.J. Tialavea will be at the Combine as well). His wife Samantha Larsen plays softball for Utah State, and he said while they're busy now with their respective sports, it will be nice to reconvene.
"It's going to be nice to be back home in Logan and back with my wife," he said. "We miss each other, but we know we're each trying to accomplish something right now."
You can watch the Senior Bowl on Saturday on NFL Network (Comcast Ch. 180, Dish Network Ch. 154, DirectTV Ch. 212) starting at 2 p.m.
— Kyle Goon
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