Christian Ballard played a lot of defensive tackle in 2009 for the Iowa Hawkeyes. As a sophomore and last season, he played a ton of defensive end.
So, the 6-foot-4, 283-pounder walked into the NFL combine Saturday as a man with some options.
"I think right now, a lot of people are looking at me as a defensive end because I only played one full season at defensive tackle," said Ballard, who signed with agent Neil Cornrich, who also represents Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. "I do have a lot of game tape at tackle, but right now I think most teams are looking at defensive end."
Ballard also walked into the combine with the first round of the draft very much a possibility.
Matt Bowen, a former Iowa defensive back, covers the league for the website, the National Football Post. He said this week that if Ballard ran well, he would likely be picked late in the first round. The qualifier was how Ballard performs in the 40-yard dash.
Saturday, Ballard said he hoped for a time in the 4.6 or low-4.7 range.
"I'm a little bit lighter right now, so I'm going to try to open some eyes," said Ballard, who had five tackles for loss and three sacks last season. "I played outside linebacker in high school, so I'm not terrible at it [pass coverage]. I can hold my own. I think once people see me run on Monday, they'll know I can probably cover any kind of tight end they need me to."
After four seasons of playing with his hand on the ground, Ballard is eager to show what he can do in space. So, yes, a good 40 and cone drill -- the short-area quickness test -- mean money for Ballard.
"I think it is, just to show how athletic I am," he said. "I don't think teams have seen how fast I truly am. I ran track in high school. I want to show that I'm a 283-pounder who can run with linebackers, tight ends and keep my speed up in the NFL."
The Hawkeyes have three D-linemen here at the combine, with Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug joining Ballard. Offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde is here. Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga was here last year before he went in the first round to the Green Bay Packers.
Iowa is doing something right.
"Playing with guys like Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug, you have to come into work every single day," he said. "They're top talent. It's going to make you work even harder. You don't want to be left in the dust with those guys."
The big knock against Ballard is that he plays too high.
NFL.com offered a frank assessment: "Displays good range against the run but doesn't shed quick enough. Motor and awareness are below average. Ballard's a Day 2 prospect."
In that regard, Ballard said his experience at the Senior Bowl was a wakeup call.
"You hear the good things, but you have to take into consideration what you need to work on," Ballard said. "I didn't win every one [of his drills at the Senior Bowl]. Those guys are good, but there are even better guys in the NFL, so you have to take in the coaching people have for you, you need to know what you need to do better and that's absolutely what I'm going for."
Tackles:9 vs. Minnesota, 11/21/09
Solos: 4, twice, last at Northwester, 11/13/10
Assists:8 vs. Minnesota, 11/21/09
TFL: 2.5, twice, last vs. Minnesota, 11/21/09
Sacks: 2.5 at Northwestern, 11/3/07
PBU: 1, three times, last vs. IA State, 9/11/10
BLK FG: 1 vs. Northwestern, 9/27/08
FF: 1 vs. South Carolina, 1/01/09
Defense Solo Ast. Total T/Loss Sacks Int-Yds.PBU QBH FF Blk
Freshman 5 10 15 4/25 2.5/23 0-0 0 0 0 0
Sophomore 14 26 40 3.5/18 1.5/13 0-0 1 5 1 1
Junior 18 36 54 9/35 5.5/27 0-0 0 5 0 0
Senior 23 20 43 5/23 3/19 0-0 2 0 1 0
Career 60 92 152 21.5/101 12.5/82 0-0 3 10 2 1