December 21, 2014

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NFL combine: Peterson born to play football

INDIANAPOLIS — LSU’s Patrick Peterson is considered the top cornerback in the NFL Draft. He’s likely to be a top-five pick in April. (If he isn’t, the Browns could very well snatch him at No. 6.) He won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards as the nation’s top defensive back and overall defensive player.

Peterson was born to be in this position.

His family includes a quartet of NFL cousins: Pittsburgh cornerback Bryant McFadden, Oakland defensive back Walter McFadden and receivers Santana Moss (Washington) and Sinorice Moss (Giants).

Just in case nature hadn’t taken care of enough, Peterson’s dad, also named Patrick, sealed the deal with some nurturing. He began by taking Peterson to the gym, then coached him from Little League through high school.

“Since I came out of the womb,” Peterson said Sunday at the NFL scouting combine. “My dad, he’s always been teaching me all the little things to help me be the best player I can be.”

The coaching hasn’t stopped. The elder Peterson has had a training facility in Boca Raton, Fla., for the last 2½ years that focuses on speed. Dad knows what the NFL covets.

“He saw me getting ready to take that next step,” Peterson said. “He’s been training me my whole life and he came up with the idea of training me for this moment.

“My dad knows my body best, he knows what I like to do, knows what I’m lacking in and knows where I need improvement as well.”

Peterson’s 6-foot, 219-pound frame makes him a physical specimen at the position. Elite speed could make him the rare cornerback to go in the top five — Terence Newman was the most recent in 2003.

Peterson will run the 40-yard dash for general managers and coaches Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium. If he matches his latest effort in Florida, fresh towels will be needed to collect the drool in the stands.

“A week ago I ran a 4.29,” he said, referring to the seconds needed to complete the sprint. “I’m really looking forward to the 40. Can’t wait. Definitely want to run a 4.2, if not in the low 4.3s.”

If Peterson runs what he wants, all the scouts and analysts can quit talking about a possible switch to safety. His size and physical style are ideal for safety, but elite speed is more valuable at cornerback.

“He’s big and fast and those guys don’t come around,” Browns general manager Tom Heckert said, dismissing the notion of a move to safety. “This guy can fly.”

“I feel my best game is at cornerback,” Peterson said.

LSU running back Stevan Ridley has been training with Peterson in Florida and predicted a show Tuesday.

“Pat’s got a chance to set the bar in a lot of records around here,” Ridley said. “He’s been working hard and Pat’s got another gear that I’ve never seen.”

Heckert, in his first season with the Browns, drafted cornerback Joe Haden with the seventh pick last year. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to take another corner in the first round this year.

“If there’s a really good one, you’re not gonna pass on him,” Heckert said. “So I think corner is just as good a possibility as anything.”

Heckert has experience stockpiling corners. When he was in the Philadelphia front office in 2002, the Eagles drafted Lito Sheppard at No. 26 and Sheldon Brown at 59 despite having Pro Bowlers Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor.

The Browns have Haden and Brown, the former Eagle, penciled in as the starters, with Eric Wright likely to become a restricted free agent. Heckert said he didn’t know why Wright, a former second-round pick, struggled last season.

“I think we’ve got two really good (corners), and the third one, we’ll see,” Heckert said. “I think Eric’s a good football player.”

Peterson could be a great one. He said he allowed one touchdown this year as a junior, to Alabama’s Julio Jones, who’s expected to go in the top 15. Peterson isn’t afraid to say he’s the best corner available in a class with Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara, Miami’s Brandon Harris and Colorado’s Jimmy Smith.

“My ball skills, toughness, I can support the run,” said Peterson, who met with the Browns at the combine. “I’m an all-around cornerback.”

And a candidate for the Panthers to take with the No. 1 pick.

“I hope I can be in play for the first pick,” he said. “It’s truly an honor and a blessing to be in this position, anyway.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.