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NFL Draft 2014: USF DE Ryne Giddins sheds pounds, gains confidence

Once a highly-touted high school recruit, Giddins finds himself heading into the draft with little to no fanfare. He thinks a return to his true playing weight will help him break through at the next level.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ryne Giddins's career at USF didn't go the way he had envisioned it when he arrived on campus as a four-star defensive end prospect four years ago. Hampered by injuries, coaching changes and weight gain, the former high school All American leaves college with just 70 tackles and 19.5 sacks. But while he's not getting the attention as an NFL Draft prospect that he got as prep recruit, Giddins says a return to his roots -- and his ideal playing weight -- has him poised to succeed at the next level.

After recording 5.5 sacks as a sophomore, it looked as though Giddins was poised to live up to the lofty expectations as a junior, but he had just 3.5 sacks and drew heavy criticism about his effort and ability. What those critics didn't know was that Giddins played nearly the entire year with a torn labrum in his shoulder, a significant injury that wasn't revealed until the offseason.

Though he was healthy as a senior, Giddins says a 45-pound weight gain mandated by his coaching staff kept him from playing at full speed in his final season. Having dropped back down to what he calls his true playing weight, Giddins believes he's finally ready to live up to his immense talent.

The question is, do NFL teams think the same?

Giddins sat down with SB Nation to discuss the upcoming draft, being asked to pile on weight and proposing to his girlfriend on Senior Day.

Where are you training these days?

I'm down in Tampa getting it in. I'm working out at USF at the facilities, training with one of my coaches. I'm working on my overall improvement, basically. My speed, my 10-yard split, my 5-10-5 (shuttle), all that.

Do you have any expectations about if and when you'll be drafted?

I don't. I'm looking forward to getting drafted. If that doesn't work out hopefully I can sign a free agent contract. I'm just putting it all in God's hands.

You're projected by most experts to go undrafted. How big a mistake would teams be making if that happens?

Oh yeah, I think it would be a missed opportunity. But it's however I can get my foot in the door, I'll move on from there.

Have you been paying much attention to free agency and team needs?

You know I've been on it. I haven't been watching it recently, but before that I'd watch it every day on NFL Network. Now that I'm involved in it, it's harder for me to watch. My phone and my iPad get updates on NFL. Like every type of movement: a team picking up somebody or releasing somebody or what they need. I'm trying to stay away from that right now, though. I don't want to get too involved and start doubting myself. I have that grind to stay on, so I try to stay away from it and come back to it every now and again.

You came in as one of the most highly-ranked prospects in school history. How difficult a transition was it going from high school to college?

It was a big transition. The game was faster. It's something you have to get adjusted to. Coming in as a blue chip All American. Going from 240 pounds to 285. Changing up coaching staffs, getting hurt, getting surgery. All of these things kind of piled up on each other. I felt like the last couple years I've had to get back to myself and who I really am as a football player.

So do you think coming in that highly touted got you away from who you are as a football player?

Nah, I wouldn't say that. More so the change in coaching staff and defensive coordinators and putting on 45 pounds. That changed what type of player I was.

Was putting on that weight something the coaches asked you to do?

Yea my d-line coach, he wanted me to be a certain weight. I was like "I'll do whatever you need me to do for the team. Whatever you want me to be, I'll be that for the team." It wasn't about me, and that's why I was able to put on all that weight and not question his authority.

How did that extra weight affect your game?

Coming out of surgery and putting on 45 pounds slows you up. Coming out of surgery slows you up anyway, then you put that extra weight on. It slowed my game up a lot. It altered how I play. It is what it is.

What do you weigh now?

I weighed in at 245 at the pro day. I'm a lot more explosive. I can tell by the way I'm walking around. You know how you can tell if someone carries their weight confidently? All that plays a factor. Look good, feel good, play good, you know?

You suffered a rather serious shoulder injury as a junior that wasn't revealed until after that season. How much did that limit you?

Yea it happened the second game of the season and I just played throughout with it. I waited until the end of the season to get it X-rayed. It hampered me a lot. Having a shoulder injury and playing d-line is a problem. That plays a big part in separating and getting rid of blocks.

Since it went undisclosed until after the season, some experts began to attribute your lack of production to a lack of effort. Talk about character scouting and whether you think it's fair that scouts and media personalities are rushing to judgements often based on incomplete information.

It's a process. It's something they have to do to dot the i's and cross the t's. Looking into character is a big part of it. If you're putting all of this money in, you have to know who you're investing in. You can't just be putting your money into some Joe-blow off the street who can play but doesn't have his head on his shoulders. There's nothing wrong about it and that's the right way to go about things.

What role or position do you see yourself playing in the NFL?

I think pass rushing outside linebacker. I'll be that guy lined up at outside linebacker that can pass rush the tackle or drop back in coverage, whatever you need me to do.

I played 4-3 end last season, but in previous years I would line up at outside backer. In high school I played a little outside backer. All of the schematics are basically the same.

How tough do you think learning an NFL playbook will be?

I think it will be challenging, but it's doable. I'm the type of guy that picks up defensive schemes really well. Just give me the playbook and the script for practice and I'll know what I'll need to know.

I also have a major in sign language interpretation. I can pick up signs and gestures pretty quickly.

Does knowing sign language really help you pick up hand signals?

Oh yeah, I think it plays a role. Once you get into calling defenses on the sideline and seeing the hand gestures it makes it easier to pick up. It's somewhat similar to sign language.

You proposed to your girlfriend on the field at your Senior Day. That must have been special.

Yeah it was. The ring came in on Tuesday and I had to hold it until Saturday and not tell her I was about to propose to her. I wanted to tell her what was going on but you can't. I told her mom what was going on and talked to my dad. Her sister didn't know -- I knew if I told her sister she'd probably tell her.

That night, coming out of the tunnel, I knew it was going to be a great night for me.

Why'd you chose that night to pop the question?

I was supposed to be honored because it was my last game. But I wanted to take the attention off me and put it on her. I really appreciate everything she does for me.