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Better Know a Draft Prospect: Defensive End Tommy Blake

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The least you should know about Tommy Blake...

Height

6-3

Weight

272lbs

40 Yard Dash

4.78 (TCU Pro Day)

20 Yard Dash

2.72

Bench Reps

23

3 Cone

7.16

Compares To:

Dwight Freeney-Indianapolis: Yes, that Dwight Freeney. Both are "smaller" speed ends that some scouts projected as "tweener" or 3-4 outside linebackers. Remember though, the comparisons to Freeney came when Blake's playing weight was closer to 255-260 lbs. At TCU's Pro-Day Blake weighed in at 270, with a goal of losing 12 more pounds over the next four weeks. His TCU Pro-Day performance did impress a few people though: ""He did everything, and he worked hard," Green Bay Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith said. "He did what he needed to do and that is prove he wants to play football at the next level, and that he's serious about it." Blake began tipping the scale back in his favor when he weighed in at 272 pounds Thursday. Blake, who was 255 as a junior when he earned comparisons to Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, weighed 287 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game in January and 281 pounds on Feb.24 at the NFL Scouting Combine. His agent, Reggie Rouzan, said the goal is for Blake to lose another 12 pounds in the next four weeks. Blake has been working out with former NFL defensive back Rod Jones in DeSoto, but he might go to Orlando or Houston to finish up his pre-draft training."

Fun Fact Interview

Growing up, who was your favorite NFL player and why? Walter Payton - He was so agile on his feet and quick like me and used to run over defenses like I did in high school when I was an RB.

In college, what player hit you the hardest? Who was the recipient of your best hit? Northern Illinois QB in Poinsettia Bowl.

What TV-show marathon will keep you on the couch all day? Dave Chappelle - I love good comedy and I like to laugh.

What are the five most-played songs in your iPod? What's the one song you hope nobody ever finds out is in your iPod? I don't own an iPod, but I've always wanted one..

What celebrity would play you in the movie version of your life and why? Denzel Washington - Because of his amazing performance in the movie Glory.

What is one thing your teammates don't know about you? That I can sing.

What reality TV show would you like to be on and why? National Geographic Wildlife - Because it's so interesting learning about animals and how they habitate in the wildlife.

What's your proudest moment in football? Proudest moment off the field? Chasing down a running back 60 yards; Playboy All-American..

When you play Madden, what team do you use? Do you put yourself on the team? I don't play Madden. I don't have a Playstation, but I do want one when I get some money.

Who has been the biggest influence on your football career and how? Family; Keeping me motivated, stress free, and grounded.

The eyes of the Jaguars fan community are glued to one position as we approach the NFL draft.  ESPN calls us out day in and day out for not having enough of a pass rush, the NFL Network suggests that our lack of a pass rush doomed us to defeat against the Patriots, and there is a consensus that for the Jaguars to rise to the next level, they'll need to find a way to address the defensive end position, or else...

This drumbeat of defensive ends has us logically looking toward the first round.  Unfortunately, our successes last year have put the Jaguars in a bind as far as first round defensive ends.  The best and brightest could be long gone, as the SB Nation Mock Draft suggests.  If Phillip Merling goes early and the Titans address defensive end, the Jaguars could be looking at either reaching for a DE or taking one that fits poorly into their system (i.e. Quentin Groves).  There is even a bit of "doom and gloom" out there that the Jaguars won't find the player they need and we'll be left high and dry with another season of designated pass rushers and 3-4 outside linebackers where we really need true 4-3 ends.

But maybe, just maybe there's a player out there who's drawn comparisons to the best in the NFL and who's stock has fallen enough where if the Jaguars bite a little early, they'll be getting a diamond in the rough.  A player that could have been a first round draft pick had he declared for the draft last season, but instead remained with his school.  A player with the speed and strength to give our pass rush the burst it needs.  If sources are to be trusted, this player has spoken with the Jaguars on several occasions and could be a second day target.

It's also the third chapter in what hopefully becomes the feel-good story of the year for the Jaguars.

Tommy Blake: Defensive End, Texas Christian University

Chapter One: The rise of Tommy Blake

Tommy Blake was born in the small South Texas town of Aransas Pass, just north of Corpus Christi, on Jan. 15, 1985.     His family was held together by his grandmother, Ernestine Chisholm after his mother died of pneumonia before Blake's first birthday.   This family, according to Tommy, is:

"One big circle of love"

The support of his sister Rochella and brother Juan-Bruce, important as he was growing up, would prove critical when times grew tough.  But that's another chapter.  

Blake's athletic career was at Aransas Pass high school, a school noted for its strong football program.  He received 12 letters as a prep athlete, ranging from the obvious (football and basketball) to the surprising (track and baseball).   On the football field, he carried the ball as a running back, with a senior campaign  with 2,013 yards and 25 touchdowns.  He did that while averaging 9 yards per carry and also playing outside linebacker.  He received all-state first-team honors by the Associated Press for his football strength as well as All-South Texas MVP for basketball.  All this while impressing Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Colorado enough to offer him football scholarships.  Blake would turn the bigger schools down for a chance to stay a little closer to home at Fort Worth's Texas Christian University (TCU), though Blake's devotion to his team would lead him to postpone his campus visit for a district basketball game. Aransas Pass Head Football Coach Guy Grover describes him as:

"He handled it all very well from what I remember," said Guy Grover, Blake's football coach for the athlete's final two years in high school. "He was always a level-headed, mature kid."

His first year with the Horned Frogs spent redshirted as he made the conversion from running back to defensive end.  His second established him as a rising star.  Five sacks, the most for a Horned Frog since 1997 cemented Blake onto the starting roster and a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman team.  He played with fire and fury, using his speed to burst through double teams and disrupt plays in the backfield.  He and teammate Chase Ortiz combined for 17 sacks, the two of them eviscerated quarterbacks, and had the third most tackles for loss in the Mountain West Conference (13.5).  

2006 would be the year everything changed for Blake.  His dominating season, topped off by a huge performance in the Poinsettia Bowl took the small school star into the national spotlight.  He did everything that year,  leading the conference in tackles for loss, tied for first in sacks, scored a touchdown on a fumble return, and ran down a running back  42 yards to prevent a touchdown.  Seriously, watch this and be stunned:

2006 was Blake's junior year.  He was coming off of a huge season.  It made sense that Tommy Blake would make the jump then and there and declare himself draft eligible.  Remember how important family is to Blake?  He made a promise to his grandmother, the woman who raised him and instilled in him a sense of duty and love of family and faith that rather than go into the NFL Draft in that year, he would instead return to TCU and finish his education.  To speculate on where he would have gone in the 2007 draft is difficult, but to suggest that he might have been a first round pick is not too much of a reach.  He left millions on the table because of a sense of responsibility to his grandmother, that says something strong about his character.

Chapter Two: The Fall of Tommy Blake.

Tommy Blake went into the 2007 season under a particularly nasty microscope.  Here he was, a top tier defensive end talent returning for his senior year after an incredible 2006.  The eyes of the NFL draftniks and scouts, as well as every watch list and preseason ranking had Blake on their watch list.

2007 Playboy Preseason All-American
2007 Athlon Preseason All-American
2007 NationalChamps.net Preseason All-American
2007 CBS SportsLine.com Preseason All-American
2007 ESPN.com Preseason All-American 2007 Lombardi Award Watch List
2007 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List
2007 Lott Trophy Watch List
2007 State Defensive Player of the Year by Dave Campbell's Texas Football
2007 Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List
2007 Ted Hendricks Award Watch List

With this attention came the struggles that would sadly come to define Tommy Blake.  Hundreds of phone calls from friends and strangers, well-wishers and potential agents, some calling as late as midnight, just for a chance to talk to Blake about his plans for the future.  As Blake says:

"It started long before camp," he says. "My cell phone rang so much, I couldn't even keep it turned on. I always like to be available to my family, and that was frustrating. I couldn't even get a good night's sleep."

This pressure and constant attention began to effect Blake on the practice field, so much so that after 11 practices during training camp described by TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson as "unbelievable", Blake began snapping at his coaches.  Some speculate that Blake was "embarrassed" by something said by Coach Patterson, but it's clear that something changed.  Driven by his sister, Tommy Blake left TCU in August of 2007 under a medical leave.  He returned home to Aransas Pass with an uncertain future.  

One element of Blake's struggle is his desire to give back through his faith.  P.J. Larson, an assistant coach for Aransas Pass high school, was one of the first to talk with Tommy about football and faith:

"Tommy is a very strong Christian kid," Larsen said. "We talked long and hard about what his purpose in life could be. We talked about a lot of guys who had gone before him that had been examples like he is and his love for his God.

"We talked a little bit about being a shining star and what he could do to exhibit his faith on the football field."

Philadelphia's and Green Bay's Reggie White. The Cowboys' Bob Lilly. Glenn Glass, a wide receiver and cornerback with several teams in the 1960s. Larsen cited them as people of faith who spread the word by playing football instead of giving it up.

Blake would eventually begin treatment for depression and social anxiety disorder.  The specifics of that treatment are not public, but, he would eventually return to the Horned Frogs.  Head Coach Patterson brought Blake back to the team, but after his performance was less than up to par, sent him away for another medical leave.  He would miss a total of five games in 2007, but still finshed 3rd on the team in sacks after only seven games.  A week before the Texas Bowl, Patterson described Blake as

"much happier the past three, four, five weeks."

With the season over, it was now time for Blake to realistically assess whether he was ready and willing to do whatever it takes to not only be drafted, but to even earn the trust of a team to take him as an undrafted free agent.  This is a player that going into 2007 could have been a top ten overall pick.  Going into the Scouting Combine, Blake was overweight at 293 pounds and needed to shave seconds off of his 40-yard dash time and add to his bench reps.  Remember, his best years were when he played in the 250's, no matter how the game film looks, playing 40 pounds heavier is not going to convince any NFL teams.   At the Combine, Blake weighed in at 272 pounds, still 12 more to lose, but a good first step.  He did not participate in any workouts, but spent extensive time interviewing with teams.  Blake is operating under the idea of total openness with teams as to alleviate any concerns that he's holding back.

A month after the Combine, Tommy Blake went back to Texas Christian and began his Pro-Day workout.  He ran well, heavy, but good enough to get noticed.  While a 4.78 time is not the most spectacular time, it shows that Blake is doing whatever it takes to come back.  His 23 bench reps, 7.16 3 cone shuttle and over nine foot broad jump back that up.  The best thing for Blake is that he's showing improvement, this dedication is the key to him getting selected and a realistic shot at playing on Sundays.

Tommy Blake: Future Jaguar?

The next chapter of Tommy's career is still up in the air.  He might not even be drafted, instead having to hope a team takes a shot on an undrafted free agent.  What is clear as far as the Jacksonville Jaguars are concerned is that they have three fifth round picks and none in the sixth or seventh.  If they're going to make a move for Blake as a project  player, they'll have to do so in the fifth round.  It's rare for me to say this, but this is a player that I've spoken with and one that gives me a good feeling.  Blake and his Agent Reggie Rouzan were kind enough to speak with me extensively at the Combine about his situation, his potential, and his desire to play in the NFL.  Remember, were this a year ago, we'd be talking about a potential first round defensive end.  If Tommy Blake can come through his internal struggles, lose thirty pounds, put a good show on at his Pro-Day and continue to show his desire to be in the NFL, I think the Jacksonville Jaguars should take a chance and spend the 5th round pick.  Yes, there is a clear and definite risk with selecting a player with a mental disorder, but it's one that he's being treated for, and one that can be monitored and controlled.  It's not as though he's got a drug problem or off the field character issues, it's a treatable medical condition that with a little consultation with the Jaguars Medical Staff can be controlled.  There's also the fact that while Blake would be under more scrutiny in the NFL, being a second day pick by the Jaguars would probably limit the extent of media madness.  It may be the first time ever that being a small market team is actually a benefit to a player, rather than a problem.  

Normally these sort of write ups are filled with stats and scouting reports.  For Tommy Blake, numbers and reports are a small fraction of the story.  It is obvious that he's a gifted player, what's more difficult to understand is if he's got it in him to be a serious NFL player.  One detail about Tommy's draft plans that should not be forgotten is how he's doing a full 13 hour course-load with all the workouts and measurements.  He's going to graduate this May, fulfilling the promise to his grandmother.  He's got the right attitude, and deserves our consideration:

"I know how to play ball. When I get on the field, that's my place to be. I just know whenever I play, people are going to get the best of me for that day."

"Every day I get up and read the Bible and pray," Blake said. "Then, I go on about my day and try to make that day the best that I can, one step at a time.

"It's a thing I have to go do, and it'll come out all right."

For More Information on the Story of Tommy Blake:

Tommy Blake Scouting Report:

Draft's Mystery Man, by Steve Greenberg of the Sporting News:

Football a piece of Puzzle, by David Moore and the Dallas Morning News:

Better Know a Draft Prospect: The Series: