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NFL draft prospect Terrion Arnold takes blue-collar lessons and puts them to use on the job

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Cornerback Terrion Arnold grew up in a blue-collar world. Now he's taking that down-to-earth approach straight to the NFL.

The soon-to-be rookie spent part of his time Thursday reflecting on how he made it to Indianapolis — by replicating the confidence he witnessed from his grandfather on the field.

“My granddad was a roofer, so I like to correlate roofing with football,” Arnold said. “My granddad always told me on that roof no one is coming to save you, so when I'm on that roof and its high-pitch walking up there, you're slipping on the fiberglass, you kind of get a little rocky, a little shaky, you know that if you lose confidence in yourself you're going to slip and fall.

"It's the same way with cornerback.”

Slippage certainly wasn't a problem in the two seasons Arnold started at Alabama.

He earned Freshman All-SEC honors and was a finalist for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award in 2022. Arnold's encore included sharing the SEC interceptions title with five, sharing the SEC title for passes defensed with 17 and earning first team Associated Press All-American honors.

Now, at age 20, the 6-foot, 196-pound Arnold finds himself projected to be a first-round draft pick in April. He could even be selected ahead of Kool-Aid McKinstry, his college teammate.

Whatever happens, Arnold knows this: His grandfather's lessons are as valuable today as they were all those years ago.

“Being a human being, if you don’t have that confidence to come in and take over a room and have that presence, nobody is going to have that confidence in you,” Arnold said.

ONLY THE BEST?

Most draft analysts believe cornerback Nate Wiggins will be a first-round draft pick. Where he fits exactly, varies.

But even before working out Friday in front of scouts, coaches and decision-makers at Lucas Oil Stadium, Wiggins made a bold claim: He said he's the best cornerback in this year's draft.

“I pride myself in I’m a lockdown corner, I’m very fast and I’m a technician, that’s why I think I’m the best corner in the draft,” he said. “I lock down one side of the field completely, take the receiver out of the game.”

Over the past two seasons at Clemson, Wiggins had three interceptions and 17 passes. The former Clemson player had two interceptions and six passes defensed. But at 6-2 and 185 pounds, he possesses the length NFL executives crave.

And if he delivers a strong 40-yard dash time before the draft, his stock could improve.

BELIEF IN PICKETT

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan insists he has “full faith” in quarterback Kenny Pickett, but wants to create “strong competition” for the starting job next season.

While Pickett is 14-10 as a starter, he has struggled to be a playmaker. He finished with just six touchdown passes in 12 games last season and spent the final weeks watching backup Mason Rudolph lead Pittsburgh to the playoffs.

Coach Mike Tomlin has already acknowledged 2024 will be a “huge” season for Pickett, who's the only quarterback currently on the Steelers' roster. Rudolph can become a free agent March 13 and Mitch Trubisky already was cut. Khan said he will explore every avenue -- from the draft to free agency -- to add depth qt quarterback.

The team already told Rudolph’s representatives they’d like to re-sign him, and there’s a chance the Steelers could add a veteran free agent such as Ryan Tannehill, who flourished under new Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith when he was calling plays with Tennessee in 2019-20.

Still, Khan doesn’t sound as though he’s searching for Pickett’s replacement.

“I’m excited about the impact Arthur Smith is going to have on (Pickett),” Khan said, referring to the team’s new offensive coordinator. “Arthur is very optimistic about Kenny. I know they’ve communicated. We’ll have some strong competition there, and we’ll see where it goes.”

COOPER CONFIRMS

Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean confirmed Thursday he missed the final four games of the Hawkeyes' season because of a broken leg.

DeJean said he fractured his fibula in practice in mid-November and underwent surgery.

”I just started running full speed last week. I plan on working out at some point before the draft," he said. “I am (medically) cleared.”

WEIGHING IN

Former Texas defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat was talking big Wednesday. He measured in big, too, officially at 6-4 1/2 and 366 pounds.

But he did not deliver on his promised 40 time, finishing the first of four days of workouts in 5.27 seconds, the slowest time of any defensive tackle that ran Thursday. Sweat drew laughter when he predicted a speed between 4.4 and 4.5 seconds.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Michael Marot, The Associated Press