Cornerbacks must answer tough questions

Ryan Wood
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Marcus Peters was back home — removed from his life as a football star for the University of Washington — when his perspective changed.

His career had spiraled out of control. His immaturity, as he called it, threatened to derail a promising future. It was early November, late in the season, and Peters was stuck without a team — dismissed after butting heads with first-year coach Chris Petersen.

"Just miscommunication," Peters said. "Mostly on my behalf. I didn't take the coaching transition too well."

An report later portrayed a severe incident. Peters was accused of choking an assistant coach at one point, something he directly categorized as "false" last week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Regardless, something happened behind closed doors, so egregious it prevented the most talented player in Washington's secondary from finishing his college career.

Back home, the Oakland, Calif., native addressed his old high school teammates. Some would soon be off to start their own college careers. Peters warned them not to repeat his mistakes.

"I live and I learn from it, you know," Peters said last week. "There are going to be things that isn't going to go right, but I went through one of the worst things that could happen to me in life. I got kicked off my team, I wasn't able to finish out my college career with my teammates, and I own up to that. I man up to that, and I just move forward."

Peters knew a second chance would come. He's too talented — 11 interceptions in just less than three full seasons — to miss the attention of NFL scouts. On game film, Peters looks like a top-20 draft pick.

Yet there's no guarantee he'll go in the first round.

In the next two months before the NFL draft, teams will have to decide whether Peters' past is merely a hiccup or a more severe problem. Peters had several interviews lined up at the combine. He said the Green Bay Packers were one of them.

Cornerback could be one option for Green Bay when it drafts 30th in the first round April 30. Its depth on the perimeter was a major defensive strength in 2014, but free agency may usher in changes next month.

The Packers could lose starting cornerback Tramon Williams and top backup Davon House. Suddenly, one of Green Bay's deepest positions would find itself a bit thin.

If the Packers go with a cornerback near the top of their draft, they'll have to do their due diligence comparing risk and reward.

"They want to know the character. Am I a hothead? Which is false," Peters said. "I made some immature decisions, and I live from them, and I learn from them, and I grow as a man."

With two months until the draft, everything is wide open with this crop of cornerbacks. Behind Michigan State's Trae Waynes — the undisputed top-ranked corner, especially after running a 4.31-second, 40-yard dash Monday — any might be available for the Packers in the first round.

Peters isn't the only cornerback prospect with tough questions to answer. Florida State's P.J. Williams had his own off-field issues in college. In November, Williams reportedly fled the scene of a late-night crash and, according to the New York Times, received tickets for traffic violations.

Miami (Ohio) cornerback Quinten Rollins has to use the upcoming months to compensate for a lack of game film. Rollins, the third-ranked cornerback according to NFL Draft Scout, played on a basketball scholarship for four seasons with the RedHawks before walking on to the football team last year.

He went on to intercept seven passes and earn Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year honors.

"I wouldn't say I surprised myself," Rollins said, "because if anyone knows what I'm capable of, it's me. I just didn't expect it to come that fast. I thought I'd have a solid year, but to have a year like that, it was special. I just can't do nothing but say I was blessed and fortunate, and hopefully just more seasons to come."

The transition wasn't always as easy as he made it look. First day of fall camp, Rollins admitted, he wondered what he'd gotten himself into. Compared to the basketball court, the gridiron felt like another world. From the game's physicality to the need for 11 players to communicate at once, there were no shortage of challenges.

Then he started to find his rhythm. Rollins, a point guard, discovered there were similarities between stealing the basketball and intercepting a quarterback. It's a combination of technique and timing, he said.

"I just have a knack for the ball — a natural knack for the ball," Rollins said. "I've always had that since I was a kid. Love getting steals, love getting interceptions. I was fortunate enough to be an offensive player in high school, so that's where I get my ball skills from. It all translates."

Peters feels the same about his game. He calls himself a "ball hawk." Unlike Rollins, he has plenty of production and game film to show what he can do at the next level. Also unlike Rollins, Peters has to prove he won't be an issue off the field.

He's already started making amends for his past. After the college football season ended, Peters returned to Seattle. He was there to pay off a traffic ticket, he said.

He ended up visiting his old coach's office.

Peters and Petersen worked out their differences. Before leaving, he accepted an invitation to participate in Pro Day at Washington in early April.

"We sat down, and we talked about everything that happened," Peters said. "I sincerely apologized to him again for what I put him and the team through throughout this year. It was a good conversation, and he welcomed me into the Pro Day."

It's just one step toward making good on his promising future. Peters knows he has more work to do. In two months, he'll find out whether teams are convinced his new perspective fits in the NFL.

— and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.

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