BRADENTON, Fla. -- Montee Ball has heard the talk and, contrary to what you might expect, he likes it.
“They say I’m not special," the University of Wisconsin running back said Monday after a pre-combine workout at IMG Academy. “They say I’m not especially fast. They say I’m not especially big. Well, fine, I’ll take that as a compliment. They’re not tearing me apart. They’re just saying that I don’t do one thing special. So what? If you’re pretty good all the way around, then you can be a very good running back."
Ball is talking about the draft gurus and scouts that say he’s not a first-round pick. Most say he’ll go in the second or third round, which is a little surprising for a guy who scored more touchdowns (83) than anyone in the history of college football (FBS).
At 5-11 and 212 pounds, Ball is too small to be the traditional power back and too big to be a pure speed back. But, if you want to stereotype him, Ball has a couple of suggestions.
“Curtis Martin and Terrell Davis,’’ Ball said. “People said the same thing about them. They didn’t do anything special. Well, they both ended up having pretty good careers.’’
Ball has a point. He ran for more than 1,800 yards in each of his final two college seasons while scoring 55 rushing touchdowns. As a junior he caught 24 passes and scored six touchdowns.
“The thing that surprise me most about him is the way he catches the ball,’’ IMG director of football operations Chris Weinke, a former NFL quarterback, said. “Coming from Wisconsin, I wasn’t expecting him to be very polished at catching the ball. But he caught the ball effortlessly. He just looks really natural doing it.’’
Wisconsin veered off its normal offense in 2011 when Russell Wilson was the quarterback. The Badgers got Ball involved as a receiver out of the backfield. But Wisconsin went back to its old ways last season and Ball caught only 10 passes.
“I’ve always been able to catch the ball,’’ Ball said. “I did it in high school and I caught it when it came my way in college, but it’s something I feel I can do a lot more of on the next level.’’
Let’s play a little game of connect the dots here. There is one NFC South team that seems to be crying out for a running back like Ball this offseason.
That’s the Atlanta Falcons. Michael Turner is getting older and could be a salary-cap casualty. The Falcons are high on the potential of Jacquizz Rodgers, but he may not be big enough to handle the rushing load all by himself.
Put someone like Ball in the same backfield as Rodgers and the Falcons suddenly could spice up a running game that wasn’t very good last season.
“I don’t have any dream scenario of what team I want to go to or what kind of offense I want to be a part of,’’ Ball said. “I just want to go somewhere and get a chance to be a three-down back and show what I can do.’’
What can Ball do on the next level?
“I think he can be a very good NFL running back,’’ Weinke said. “I think he’s going to show people at the combine he’s a little faster than they thought. We already know he can run between the tackles and change directions. And he can catch the ball and block. Consistent is the first word I think of when I think of him.’’
Maybe that consistency will be what makes Ball special in the NFL.