CB Dwight Lowery
In Dwight Lowery's own words, he isn't a track guy. It showed at the NFL Scouting Combine when he was clocked at 4.59 in the 40-yard dash, an unimpressive time for a cornerback.
But Lowery, in his own words, does possess game speed. And it showed on his 62-yard punt-return touchdown against the Browns in Thursday's preseason game.
The rookie fielded the ball toward his left sideline, eluded two defenders, cut across the field, zigzagging opponents, and scampered up the right sideline — shaking the punter along the way, too — into the end zone for what proved to be the game-winning score.
At that moment, the Cleveland coverage unit would almost certainly have screamed "Balderdash!" to Lowery's perceived lack of giddyup.
Despite snagging 13 interceptions in his final two seasons at San Jose State and emerging as a star in the WAC, a conference full of pass-heavy offenses, Lowery slipped to the fourth round (113th overall) in April's draft because his speed was deemed subpar.
None of the 16 cornerbacks selected ahead of him were as productive in 2006-07, but 15 of them recorded better 40 times.
"I feel like I've got speed," said Lowery, who at 5'11", 201 pounds is bigger than the average cornerback. "It's one thing to line up in a stance and there's no one chasing you and just run around. When you put the pads on and you're going against people, that's when you really find out what guys can do."
His coach concurs.
"His 40 time wasn't the most impressive coming out," Jets head coach Eric Mangini said, "but there's very few times that you ever see him get run by, so that's another element that you saw on tape: 40 time versus playing speed was very different."
It appears as if Lowery will be brought along slowly and worked into the defensive back packages. But Lowery, at least one play in the preseason game, made a case for speeding up the process. With 4:02 left in the fourth quarter against the Browns, he made his second big play, jumping a route and intercepting a Ken Dorsey pass in the end zone to protect the lead.
"He knows when the receiver enters into the end zone, now you don't want to be even with the receiver, you want to slide underneath him because you have the sideline and you have the back of the end zone as your help," Mangini said, elucidating DB fundamentals. "He did a nice job transitioning, sliding and then playing the ball. That was a lot of the stuff that we saw in college, the instincts."
Though his preseason performance might not boost him ahead on the depth chart, it has his own belief in his abilities.
"It allows me to be more comfortable and confident," he said. "When you make plays, especially as a young guy, you just get more confidence from it."
Even with a raised comfort level, Lowery still knows that he needs to be on point in practice, especially when lining up at cornerback with Brett Favre under center.
"He'll embarrass you," the rookie said to a chorus of reporters' laughs, though his tone connoted seriousness. "He's been a guy who has been around for a long time and he knows little tricks. It's almost a surreal feeling as a young guy going against him in practice. It's going to prepare you for the games."
And he believes that he's ready for the games. Taking an NFL field for the first time in Cleveland, he said, he experienced no jitters in the tunnel, no butterflies. He jogged onto the field composed and aplomb.
"Honestly, it just felt like I belonged," he said. "I would assume that most rookies feel a little nervous and don't want to mess up. If you prepare yourself and know that you belong, everything will take care of itself."
So far so good.