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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Notre Dame defensive back Julian Love runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL scouting combine Monday. His 4.54-second 40 is considered slow for a cornerback.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019 1:00 am

A slow 40, but Love's football IQ makes case

KYLE ROWLAND | For The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Overanalysis is a hallmark of the NFL scouting combine.

Heights, weights and 40-yard dash times are inspected more closely than local restaurants.

Scouts and general managers would be wise to avoid falling into that trap with Julian Love, a former Notre Dame cornerback, who ran a slightly slow 4.54 40 on Monday. Speed is a principal trait for cover corners, but the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Love has proven enough on the field.

“I wouldn't say I'm overlooked,” the All-American said. “Every phase of football I have something to prove, and right now is the ultimate phase. I, of course, have something to prove, which I'm excited for. That's what motivates me, that's what I do this for. I'm excited to be here to show what I have.”

For three seasons in South Bend, Love terrorized opposing quarterbacks, setting a school record for career pass breakups (39). In 2017, he set the Notre Dame record by breaking up 20 passes in a single season, the same year he intercepted three passes and returned two for touchdowns.

Love, a Thorpe Award finalist last season, doesn't regret leaving the Irish with one year of eligibility remaining. He spent the month of February at Bommarito Performance Systems in Florida preparing for the combine and solidifying his position as a second- or third-round pick, with the understanding that it only takes one team in the first round to take a chance.

“He can be a great player without one interception,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “What he was was a technician. He was smart, he knew the time and place in the game and he got back to those fundamental and basics. And it really paid off.”

The more you can do in the NFL the better. And Love can pitch his versatility as a nickelback. Each time he stepped on the field, Love possessed one of the highest football IQs. His sure-tackling instincts run the gamut.

Quarterback is universally considered the toughest position in football and possibly all of sports.

Love acknowledged that, adding that cornerback is second on the list. You play the position backward and have no idea where the wide receiver is going or what the offense is planning.

“Every corner now coming out should be versatile,” Love said. “You should be able to play not just one position. On a lot of teams, they're rotating guys or scheming to have three solid outside and inside corners on the field at one time.”

Love will walk into training camp this summer and be expected to start from Day 1. It's trial by fire when you're a high draft pick. He'll quickly have to prove he isn't a finesse guy, that he can blanket tall receivers and that speed isn't a concern.

A director of personnel for an AFC franchise said prior to his 40 time that a number in the 4.5 range would raise questions because Love isn't considered a physical corner.

“The only thing you are going to worry about with him is that speed,” the director of personnel said.

NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein sounded similar alarms while espousing that no team can go wrong by drafting Love and installing him as a cornerback.

“Pure and simple, Love is a cover guy who possesses the feet, hips, instincts and competitiveness you want in a corner,” Zierlein said. “He operates with outstanding technique from both man and zone, and his ability to anticipate and recognize routes allows for stickier coverage.”

Love assures any team that drafts him that he won't be outworked. Since he was playing youth football, film study has been a weekly task. Evaluating the good and the bad, charting adjustments and putting them to use on the football field.

“As soon as the film's up,” Love said, “I need to watch it just to see what happened.”