NFL Combine: DT Bresee out to show his worth

INDIANAPOLIS – This is a big week for Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee.

The former top-rated recruit in the country is here at the NFL Scouting Combine looking to not only show he is a good football player, he also wants to show NFL teams the injury issues he's had the past three seasons are behind him.

How will he do that?

"Just going out to this combine, competing, doing everything," Bresee said Wednesday. "You know, I think just showing everybody a healthy me out here and you know just showing them how I move, how I work, I think that'll help me a lot."

After a stellar freshman season at Clemson, when the 6-foot-5, 305-pound defensive tackle had 23 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss, and four sacks, an ACL limited him to just four games in 2021. He also dealt with a shoulder injury while coming back.

Then, after getting healthy for the 2022 season, Bresee had to deal with the death of his 15-year-old sister in September from brain cancer. Bresee also had a kidney infection that sidelined him for a part of the 2022 season.

All told, over his final 14 games over two seasons for the Tigers, he had 28 tackles and five sacks.

The injury issues were one thing, but dealing with the death of his younger sister was another.

"It was definitely a tough situation losing her," Bresee said. "You know, just seeing her battle through cancer, it was tough. You know, but just knowing what she went through motivates me every day, the fight that she put up and how much she loved watching me play and you know, that's something that definitely just motivates me to continue to work and do right by her."

He can continue on that path this week by showing NFL teams he can be a force.

Many draft analysts have Bresee as the No. 2-rated defensive tackle in this draft class or no worse than third along with Georgia's Jalen Carter and Calijah Kancey of Pitt.

But Carter ran into issues Wednesday morning when an arrest warrant was issued for him in Athens, Ga., for reckless driving and racing for his involvement in a car crash that killed one of his Georgia teammates and a recruiting assistant.

Kancey, meanwhile, might not fit into the defensive plans of some teams due to his overall lack of size. He's listed at 6-foot, 280 pounds.

That could leave an opening for Bresee to make a big move this week when the defensive lineman start testing. He also has the capability to play anywhere along the defensive line, something he showed during his time at Clemson.

"I played from zero all the way out to a five technique so really, you know, there's no preference for me," Bresee said. "Honestly, I feel comfortable pretty much everywhere.

"I lean on my athletic ability and, you know, playing out on the edge as a 300-pound guy. That definitely helps, but then also playing inside, I'm 6-5, 300 pounds, so I'm able to kind of play the run game inside but also rush the pass from the outside."

For a team such as the Steelers, that might be attractive. Bresee is built like Cam Heyward, who also aligns at different spots along the defensive front.

Oh, and Bresee has a good relationship with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, a frequent visitor to the Clemson pro days over the years. Bresee said he had already met with the Steelers, including Tomlin, here in Indianapolis.

"I've known Coach Tomlin since my freshman year at Clemson," Bresee said. "He's there all the time. So, it was just like catching up with an old friend with him. He's a great guy, super easy to talk to and just a phenomenal coach."

• Last year at this time, NFL Films' analyst Greg Cosell had Kenny Pickett as his No. 1 quarterback in the 2022 draft, while wide receiver George Pickens was his No. 1 wide receiver.

After watching those two play for the Steelers last season, Cosell is even more bullish on that duo, whom the Steelers selected with their top two picks in last year's draft.

"He's not as gifted, but Pickett is like Joe Burrow," Cosell said, referencing the Bengals' quarterback who went first-overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. "That's the way Pickett plays. That's the style he plays. I actually talked to an offensive coach, who's not in the league right now, but he thought (Ohio State's) C.J. Stroud and Kenny Pickett were very similar. Pickett is a pretty good traits quarterback. He just doesn't have a big arm. He's just no a power thrower. He's not an explosive thrower. That was the one knock on Burrow when he came out. He just didn't have that kind of arm. That kind of quarterback needs to be a subtle, nuanced thrower, and I think Pickett can be that guy."

Stroud is one of the top prospects in this year's draft and is expected to be a certain top-10 pick. The Steelers selected Pickett with the 20th pick in the draft last year when he was the first quarterback taken.

Pickett had a solid rookie season, leading the Steelers to a 7-5 record in the games he started. Cosell is interested to see what year two looks like moving forward.

"I think they have a pretty good receiving core. I think they can have a pretty explosive passing game," Cosell said. "Pickens, to me, is complete. Pickens can be a great receiver. Diontae Johnson, I think he's a pretty good receiver. (Pat) Freiermuth is a pretty good tight end. I really liked Calvin Austin coming out of Memphis. I know it was kind of a lost season for him. He's an explosive kid."

Austin, a fourth-round pick of the Steelers last season, missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury. But general manager Omar Khan said here Tuesday that Austin is expected to be ready to practice when the Steelers start their offseason program.

• Linebackers are asked to do a lot of different things. 

But swim? Well, that might be a stretch, though not if you talk to Iowa inside linebacker Jack Campbell.

"Linebackers you've got to be amphibious and do a lot of different things," the 6-foot-5, 246-pound Campebll said. "You've got to know the front, but you've got to know how to play it with the back end of the coverage. I feel like for me I definitely need to improve on rushing the passer. That's a huge area I see I can continue to grow in."


"When I think of amphibious, I think of a frog," Campbell explained. "You can go in the water, you can go on the land. At linebacker you've got to play the run, take on blocks, you've got to be able to use your hands. You've got to be violent back there. But also you've got to drop back into coverage. I'm going to use this guy as an example: Tyreek Hill. I'm going to have Tyreek Hill in the slot, so I have to be able to take on 330-pound guys and defeat them, and then go tackle a Nick Chubb. The next play I'm going to have to cover Tyreek Hill. That's the context I'm talking about."

OK. That makes a little more sense.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

Campbell is adept at those things. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the top coverage linebacker in college football last season when he won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. Campbell had five interceptions over the past three seasons at Iowa and also recorded more than 100 tackles in each of the past two seasons.

"Film study is going to be the most important thing," Campbell said of his coverage ability. "But then also understanding general concepts. Once you start understanding concepts, offensive coordinators are super creative nowadays but at the same time they can only do so much. Usually a good rule of thumb in zone coverage is if something is going out, something is going to come back in. As a linebacker, for me I'm always playing top down. 

"We'll give an offense a 5-yard little out route but I'm going to take away that 12-yard dig. A lot of offenses like to get greedy and take shots, and that's how we get off the field."