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NFL Draft 2014: Canadian Brent Urban banking on versatility

A 6'7 hockey-player-turned-NFL-draft-prospect, the former Virginia defensive end is used to change.


Brent Urban grew up in Canada playing hockey. He didn't play a down of organized football until the ninth grade. Now he's preparing to be selected in the NFL Draft.

A rangy defensive line prospect who moved to the U.S. after high school to play football at Virginia, Urban has been making adjustments on the fly ever since. He came in behind his peers in Charlottesville, who had grown up playing the sport. Once there, frequent coaching turnover forced him to adjust to new schemes and new positions. Even as he readies himself for the next level, an ankle injury is hampering his draft preparation.

Despite all of that adversity, Urban projects as a mid-round pick on draft weekend and says all of that turmoil has taught him to be versatile. It's that versatility that he believes will make him successful at the next level.

You suffered through an ankle injury last season. How's it feeling now?

It was from [healthy] earlier in the season. I just needed to get it repaired. Now I'm just kind of rehabbing it and trying to get it 100 percent.

The injury cost you a performance at the NFL Combine. Do you think that's hurt your draft status?

Yeah, I also left early from the Senior Bowl and only got to do two practices because something needed to be done about it. But I got it repaired so it will be 100 percent by rookie camp.

At the end of the day I think the main thing that teams are evaluating is the tape and I have good tape. I had two great days at the Senior Bowl and showed I can play against the best. I'm not too concerned about it and I don't think it's going to drop me too much.

You played both 3-4 defensive end and 4-3 defensive tackle at Virginia. Where do you think you fit in the NFL?

I'm the prototypical size [for a 3-4 end]: 6'7" and around 300 pounds and you want that length and athleticism I have. I can tell just from interviews that the 3-4 teams are interested in me.

That was my fourth and fifth year that they moved me inside. We played the 3-4 my redshirt year and then I played 4-3 end for two years then they moved me inside for the last two. So I've played pretty much everywhere, I think I can play pretty much every position. I have a lean frame and I can gain or lose weight depending on what a team needs. So I think I bring a lot to the table in terms of versatility.

Talk about making that switch from 3-4 outside to 4-3 inside. How difficult of a process was that?

One of the things that hurt me was that we had so many different coaches. I had three defensive coordinators at UVA. So I had to get adjusted to the defenses and build my body up. My senior year I was finally able to really get the position. My senior year offseason was the first offseason in two or three years that I was fully healthy. That really helped me, being able to build up my base and get a lot stronger.

Which position do you prefer?

To be honest, I like both. I may think I'm more prototypical as a 3-4 end but I've shown I can play either position. Just based off my measurements I think the 3-4 end is where they'll slot me. You don't see many 6'7" d-tackles. But I feel as though I can play both.

That height and length gives you a lot of advantages as far as getting separation and getting into passing lanes, but are there any disadvantages to that size?

Yeah sure. Especially inside, being a taller guy, the pad level is a concern. They're naturally lower than you. Being flexible is something I've been working on, being able to bend my hips and ankles to get under these guys.

You're Canadian and you were actually selected in the second round of the Canadian Football League Draft last year. Did you expect that?

Yeah, I expected that. The CFL will draft the top Canadian players in the NCAA so I expected to be picked up. They actually called me while I was studying for an exam. They understand my ultimate goal and that I probably won't be there anytime soon but they're definitely supportive.

They just told me best of luck in the NFL and we'll always be here if you want to play in the CFL.

Is it odd that you went so high despite them knowing that you probably would never play for them? Does that usually drop guys?

I thought I would be a second or third rounder instead of a first rounder. That's the problem with the CFL is that even some of the first-round picks will go down to the States and make it onto an NFL practice squad. So it's pretty tough for the CFL to gauge a player's true interest. It's a real shot in the dark. I think one year Tim Tebow was drafted in like the sixth round.

As a Canadian, how did you get into football. How popular is the sport up there?

It's big. Not many people watch CFL to be honest, but NFL I followed growing up. My dad liked NFL as well so it was definitely something I followed. As I got closer to high school -- that's typically when guys start playing football up in Canada -- I knew I was going to play in ninth grade. From there, my dad and I started going around to camps in the States because I thought I had a pretty good chance to get a scholarship.

Were you at a disadvantage coming into college since you hadn't been playing the sport as long as some other guys?

I think so, in terms of the competition I'd gone against. And it's a different game in the States, it's a lot more serious.

What sport did you grow up playing if it wasn't football?

I played really serious hockey until about 11th grade. That was kind of my main focus just because I'm going against the best competition. That's where the best hockey is played in the world. I put a lot of focus on that but once I started getting [football] offers I knew it was the right decision to quit hockey.

So you were a pretty good hockey player, huh?

Yeah,  definitely. I think we had four guys drafted by the NHL on that team so we were one of the best teams at that age group.

Were you by far the biggest player on the team? Six-foot-seven coming at me on ice sounds pretty terrifying.

I wasn't the tallest actually but I was definitely the biggest.

You faced mostly spread offenses while you were at UVA. Will it be difficult to adjust to facing pro-style offenses in the NFL?

I don't think so. I would 100 percent rather play a pro-style than a spread or a hurry-up. I kind of liked when we faced a pro-style team and you could set up and be able to make all the calls.

So what was your take on the Saban Rule that would have slowed down the hurry-up offenses in college?

Well as a defensive player, I like it [laughs]. But as a fan I'm not so sure I'd like to see it. Those offenses are exciting so I don't know if I can really support it.

Do you think there's any credence to the argument that the rule would improve player safety?

I don't think so. In practice you're getting ready for up-tempo stuff. So if you have proper preparation like we had at UVA I don't think it affects safety at all.