To the consternation of SEC fans, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won the 1997 Heisman Trophy over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning. Woodson has gone on to an NFL career that has included eight Pro Bowl selections. The 15 Heisman winners since then have combined for six Pro Bowl selections. Cam Newton of Auburn and Carson Palmer have two apiece, and Robert Griffin III and Ricky Williams have one each. Two of those Heisman winners – Johnny Manziel and Hueytown’s Jameis Winston – haven’t played in an NFL game yet.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the Heisman carries high expectations.
Mark Ingram became Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 2009. He heads into his fourth pro season as a running back with the New Orleans Saints still looking for his breakout season.
“I think there is a perception outside this building that is sometimes unfair,” New Orleans running back coach Dan Rousher said, “because he’s a first-round selection, he’s a Heisman Trophy winner and, thus, we put him in a category because the expectations are (high). Mark is a team guy. That’s all he has ever been about. Like all the other guys, I’m sure that he would like his 300 carries a year and to rush for 1,600 yards. But does that translate to wins? It’s not our formula right now.”
Ingram has endured boos from Saints fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“It was a blessing to win the Heisman,” Ingram said. “That’s in the past. I’m trying to focus on my NFL career and be the best I can be in the NFL. Just because you win the Heisman, doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great NFL player.”
DONT’A HIGHTOWER HAVING FUN WITH PATRIOTS
When former Tennessee star Jerod Mayo went out of the New England Patriots’ middle linebacker spot with an injury in the sixth game of the 2013 season, much of the responsibility for running the Pats’ defense on the field fell to Dont’a Hightower, who was in his second year out of Alabama. The burden weighed Hightower down so much that he wound up benched for a half late in the season. But he bounced back with a new attitude about pro football. With Mayo back at middle linebacker and Jamie Collins, who developed rapidly in his rookie season out of Southern Miss, on the weak side joining Hightower at strong-side linebacker, the Patriots are optimistic about fielding their best defense in years.
So what was Hightower’s change?
“The thing that I want to work on probably the most is just having a lot more fun,” Hightower said. “Those last couple games of the season, whenever I got a lot more comfortable and relaxed, I was just having fun, and I played a lot better. So going out, playing stress-free and (not) worrying about things, I feel like that will elevate my play a lot more. …
“Being on defense, it’s a lot more fun when you can go out there and have fun instead of worrying about making checks and stuff, when everything comes a lot more fluid because you have that experience, and guys are ready to pick it up a lot faster. It makes it a lot of fun.”
AJ MCCARRON THROWING AGAIN WITH BENGALS
Former St. Paul’s and Alabama standout AJ McCarron got the green light to throw at the Cincinnati Bengals’ minicamp last week, and the rookie got to spend at least a practice at the helm of the second-team offense.
McCarron had been dealing with arm tightness since being selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on May 10 and had not been throwing in the Bengals’ OTAs. On Thursday, McCarron stepped up when veteran quarterback Jason Campbell of Auburn got some time off.
In practice reports, McCarron drew praise for his pocket presence and for a 15-yard comeback route to former Arkansas star Cobi Hamilton, but he also was picked off by former Georgia standout Shawn Williams during two-minute drill practice.
The Bengals have three more OTAs this week before breaking until training camp starts next month.
KEVIN NORWOOD MAKING GOOD IMPRESSION ON SEAHAWKS
Wide receiver Kevin Norwood didn’t earn All-SEC recognition last season at Alabama. He wasn’t even honorable mention. But the D’Iberville native opened some eyes at the Reese’s Senior Bowl of Mobile. After being selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft last month by the Seattle Seahawks, he’s continued to attract attention.
“I think one of the things I liked the best when he was coming out was his contested catches, ability to catch the ball in a crowd,” Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said after an OTA last week. “If you were standing out here today, you saw that a couple of times. He’s doing a really nice job. He’s picked it up. There are some missed assignments every now and then, which you expect from young guys. But he’s really worked hard to pick it up. The stage is not too big for him. He’s jumped right in there with our first group at times, and he’s performed. Their job is to catch the ball, and he’s really catching the ball well.”
BRAD SMELLEY IN BATTLE FOR TEXANS’ FULLBACK SPOT
The spot as the Houston Texans’ fullback will be an Iron Bowl battle between Auburn’s Jay Prosch and Alabama’s Brad Smelley. Last year, the Texans used veteran Greg Jones at fullback, but he was not re-signed after the season and remains a free agent.
The Texans drafted Prosch, a former UMS-Wright standout, in the sixth round in May, and he’s been getting plenty of reps during Houston’s OTAs. Smelley, who starred at American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa, was a seventh-round selection by the Cleveland Browns in 2012. The former Crimson Tide tight end was on the Texans’ practice squad when he was activated in December. After playing in two games, Smelley suffered a torn calf muscle in the next-to-last game of the season.
New Houston coach Bill O’Brien said OTAs, which have no contact drills, isn’t the place to evaluate a fullback.
“Training camp will be the true test for a fullback,” O’Brien said. “It will help the toughness of your football team. It helps on special teams. A two-back running game is always a good thing. I think anytime you can line up in 21 personnel and run the football and play action, it is a good thing.”