U defensive backs Howden, Smith trying to stand out at NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS — When Gophers defensive back Jordan Howden runs drills at Lucas Oil Stadium in front of evaluators on Friday, he'll carry a piece of advice from a decent football mind.

From a table inside the Indiana Convention Center on Thursday, Howden recalled a speech by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose coaching staff led Howden's West team in the East-West Shrine Bowl — a college all-star game — earlier this offseason. Howden heard there's more to being an NFL player than posting the fastest run in shorts.

"He don't really care about the 40[-yard dash] or about how far you jump, it's about how you condition," Howden said. "Are you explosive and strong enough? Are you able to take all the coaching and apply it on the field?"

Howden, the former preferred walk-on who became a five-year Gophers contributor and team captain, will be joined Friday by Gophers cornerback Terell Smith, who was not available to reporters Thursday due to a delay in player physicals.

Evaluators may be looking closely at Howden's athletic testing, in which his NFL.com draft profile says he needs to "prove himself" as a pro-level athlete. Whether the sure-tackling, savvy cover man will run all drills Friday is unclear; Howden said he was looking forward to the position-specific drills and bench press. He could also run in the Gophers pro day on March 15.

Howden will have a cheering section that includes his father, Ramsese, a former cornerback at Grambling State, and his cousin, Saladin Martin, who played three years in the NFL.

"[My father] says I get it from him, but I don't know," Howden said. "I think I'm better than him in college. But yeah, they gave me pointers and they'll be here watching me [Friday], so I'm just very blessed to have them in my life."

On Sunday, Gophers center John Michael Schmitz and running back Mohamed Ibrahim are scheduled for on-field drills.

Evaluating the draft's QBs

The Vikings' draft research includes evaluating this year's crop of quarterbacks amid contract negotiations with 34-year-old starter Kirk Cousins. When asked about the future of the position, head coach Kevin O'Connell said he annually assesses the young passers; last year, team brass sat down with quarterbacks Desmond Ridder and Malik Willis, among others.

"Just out of habit, I do that every single year," O'Connell said. "The guys in the draft, free agency, just looking at the landscape of the league, and then all of the quarterbacks on our roster and how we feel about our position. There's a reason I feel so strongly about Kirk."

Cine 'well ahead' in rehab

Safety Lewis Cine is in "a great spot," according to O'Connell, with rehab from compound fractures to his tibia and fibula that ended his rookie season on Oct. 2. Cine has remained in the Twin Cities this offseason, continuing his recovery at TCO Performance Center and posting videos of running in the indoor fieldhouse on social media. The Vikings expect Cine to play next season.

"He's well ahead of his rehab process," O'Connell said. "Really excited about Lewis and his mental growth through how he handled the adversity."

Bateman speaks out

Ravens receiver Rashod Bateman, a former Gophers star, took umbrage to Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta's comments on Wednesday about the team's struggles in drafting receivers. "If I had an answer," DeCosta said, "that means I would probably have some better receivers."

"How bout you play to your player's strength and stop pointing the finger at us and #8," Bateman wrote Thursday, referring to quarterback Lamar Jackson in a since-deleted social media post. "Blame the one you let do this ... we take heat 24/7 & keep us healthy … care about US & see what happen ... ain't no promises tho … tired of y'all lyin and capn on players for no reason."