NFL Combine 2014: Defensive back drills

USA TODAY Sports

The speed turn is the most important drill for defensive backs in the NFL Combine.

The defensive backs are the final position group to work out at the NFL Combine. The position drills aren't all that different from other positions, but there is one important drill that separates defensive backs -- the speed turn.

As explained by Mike Mayock in this interactive NFL.com video, the defensive back begins the drill in a backpedal, going back 5-10 yards. He then takes a few steps forward before pivoting and running in whichever direction the coach signals. Now, running with his back to the quarterback, the defender must turn and locate the ball in the air.

This drill is designed to test several key aspects of defensive back play -- instincts, backpedaling, working with double moves, route timing and ball skills. The drill also tests a players' fluidity. Playing the ball may be one of the more underrated aspects of secondary play with the rise of the passing game. Following the success of Richard Sherman, a converted wide receiver, coaches and scouts could start emphasizing ball skills more going forward.

This incoming cornerback class is looking more diverse than most, with players that fit nearly every style of play teams are looking for these days. Mocking the Draft currently has TCU's Jason Varrett No. 1 on the cornerback board, followed by Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Ohio State's Bradley Roby. The safety class appears to be more top-heavy -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the consensus top player, with Louisville's Calvin Pryor second on the board. Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward, Baylor's Ahmad Dixon and Washington State's Deone Bucannon are other safeties to watch in these drills.

The defensive backs will be the last group to workout, taking part in the final day of the combine on Tuesday.

Players to watch

Darqueze Dennard: Widely regarded as the top cornerback in the draft, Dennard breaks the mold of the size-obsessed NFL. There's little doubt he's a top player, even though at 5'11, he's below the ideal height teams are looking for. He made up for his lack of size numerous times with his play on the field at Michigan State. Speed will be something to watch for Dennard. He's usually believed to be a good but not great runner, which could factor into where he's selected.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: There are few more contentious positions in the 2014 draft than free safety, with two top prospects sharing near-parity. Clinton-Dix will need to excel in the bench press as well as the position drills in order to convince teams he can be a more physical tackler than he showed at Alabama. The physical tools are there for him to be a force, but that wasn't always obvious in his final year of college.

Calvin Pryor: Here's who is up against Clinton-Dix. Flip a coin and these two keep flip-flopping in the pre-draft process. While Pryor isn't quite as gifted at playing the ball in the air, he is seen as an aggressive and physical tackler -- sometimes to his own detriment. He has shown a tendency to lead with his shoulder, which scouts will watch for during position drills.

Justin Gilbert: The second cornerback to watch in this class is the multi-talented Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State. He boasts slightly better size than Dennard, but isn't as polished at the position. A team selecting him will need to work on his technique. While he may be a work in progress at corner, he should be an instant contributor on special teams.

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