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Notre Dame linebacker Darius Fleming makes big statement with strong pro day

Notre Dame linebacker Darius Fleming improved his showing NFL Scouting Combine last month Indianapolis (above) with strong performance his pro

Notre Dame linebacker Darius Fleming improved on his showing at the NFL Scouting Combine last month in Indianapolis (above) with a strong performance at his pro day last week in South Bend, Ind. | Michael Conroy~AP

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Updated: May 10, 2012 8:13AM

Darius Fleming couldn’t have been more primed for Notre Dame’s pro day last week in South Bend, Ind.

After he had cramped up and run unimpressive times in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine last month in Indianapolis, it was his last chance to convince NFL scouts he’s better than they think. It was only the most important day of his adult life.

And he was ready for the oppor-
tunity. Besides being in the best shape of his life and as fast as ever in recent workouts, he seemingly had every base covered. He even had added a supplement of magnesium glyconate to his diet to prevent cramping.

So with scouts from more than 20 NFL teams watching, the former St. Rita and Notre Dame linebacker exploded out of the blocks — only to stumble and pull up.

There’s always something. With that much on the line, the false start literally left Fleming talking to himself. After running a
4.77-second 40 at the combine, he was hoping to run in the mid-4.6s. Now he couldn’t even get out of the blocks cleanly.

‘‘I was too excited, trying to be perfect; that’s all it was,’’ Fleming said. ‘‘When I was walking back after tripping out, I just said: ‘Darius, stop. Relax. Don’t get too excited. Just do exactly what you’ve been training to do for the last couple of months. Do your thing and have fun.’ ’’

There’s little doubt the scouts and coaches in attendance noted that Fleming responded like you’re supposed to in the NFL. After falling down, he got right back up and ran the best 40 times of his life — 4.57 and 4.52.

At 6-2 and 247 pounds, he was two pounds heavier than he was at the combine, but he was two-tenths of a second faster in the 40, too.

‘‘That makes him the third-fastest linebacker in the country,’’ said Elias Karras, Fleming’s trainer at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park. ‘‘The scouts couldn’t believe it. A couple of them said, ‘We were hoping he would run in the 4.6s, and he hit 4.5s.’ They were flabbergasted.’’

So was Fleming.

‘‘I kind of shocked myself a little bit,’’ Fleming said. ‘‘I was aiming for a good time, and Elias kept telling me, ‘I believe you can get in the 4.5s.’ And I was getting closer, but I never actually reached it.

‘‘But at Notre Dame I was comfortable. My nerves settled down being at home. I was with [teammates] I’ve been with the last couple of years, so I was able to really showcase what I could do.’’

There are still 17 days until the draft, but it might turn out that Fleming made himself some money and gave himself a better opportunity to establish himself in the NFL with his pro-day effort. He was projected as a late-round pick or possible undrafted free agent before the combine. Now, ‘‘I have no doubt he will get drafted,’’ said Karras, who has been training players for the draft for 10 years.

Fleming’s performance has
increased interest from NFL scouts. At least 12 teams have called Fleming since the pro day to express interest and to find out who else is expressing interest. That the Bears are one of the teams is significant because they play a 4-3 defense, an indication that Fleming is being seen as more than just a situational pass rusher in a 3-4 scheme.

‘‘Teams don’t think I’d be a
liability in a 4-3 as a Sam ’backer [strong-side] or a Mike [middle],’’ Fleming said. ‘‘‘They think I have the versatility to play any of those positions, and I do, too.’’

Fleming will work out for the Bears on April 13 and for at least one other team before the draft. Things can change by then, but Fleming at least has convinced teams to take a second look.

‘‘It’s a big weight off my shoulders,’’ Fleming said.

As for the draft?

‘‘I have no clue,’’ he said. ‘‘I think I’ve done well enough that one team out there wants to draft me. Where that will be, no one knows. That’ll play itself out, and it’s out of my control. So there’s no reason for me to think about it too much because I’ll just drive myself crazy. But I think I’ve proved that I can be a great player in the National Football League.’’

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