You don’t become a blue-chip prospect who lands a scholarship to Ohio State, then become a first-round NFL draft prospect, without drive.
Or do you?
Eli Apple is a highly rated cornerback and potential Dolphins target, but go back to his redshirt freshman days and you’ll find a player who hardly looked the part. The Buckeyes’ Bradley Roby had gone on to join the Denver Broncos, so the door was open and all Apple had to do was step in.
Doing so took energy.
Apple had none.
It showed throughout off-season workouts, the low point being when a 300-pound-plus defensive tackle beat him in a race. Cornerback Doran Grant was so disgusted he shoved Apple to the ground.
“I had a bunch of teammates coming at me and saying I don’t care,” Apple told The Columbus Dispatch in October. “But this is all I live for — the Buckeyes and playing for this team. That was probably the worst part.”
The fact is, Apple did care. His position coach sensed an underlying reason and had team doctors check out Apple. They diagnosed an iron deficiency. All along, Apple obviously felt lethargic but was too quiet to seek help.
Although it would be simplistic to infer Apple flipped a switch and promptly soared to first-round status, he did say “it’s crazy just how far I’ve come since then.” Proof came from co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who told The Dispatch last season, “I love the way he comes to work every single day.”
No longer beaten by 300-pounders in practice, Apple became a two-year starter, finishing second on the team in passes defensed both seasons and earning second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015.
At 6-feet-1 and 199 pounds, Apple has size the Dolphins’ secondary has lacked. He excels in aggressive, press coverage but also has experience in zone coverage.
“My press man cover skills,” Apple said, when asked his primary strength. “That’s something in the NFL that’s really important, to be a physical guy at the line of scrimmage and be able to take receivers off their path. And that’s something I do better than anybody.”
Clearly, confidence won’t be an issue, but over-aggressiveness with hand-checking and jersey-grabbing might be.
“There’s always stuff you need to work on with your footwork, your hand placement … making sure my hands are always in the right place and making sure I don’t get flags unnecessarily,” he said.
Apple’s ascension to the NFL took a bizarre turn at the Combine when Atlanta Falcons assistant coach Marquand Manuel asked if he liked men.
“It was like the first thing he asked me,” Apple said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. “It was weird. I was just like, ‘No.’ He was like, ‘If you’re going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that’s how it is around here. You’re going to have to get used to it.’
“I guess he was joking, but they just ask most of these questions to see how you’re going to react.”
Manuel later apologized and underwent sensitivity training as part of coach Dan Quinn’s efforts to make sure it isn’t repeated.
“I am really disappointed in the question that was asked by one of our coaches,” Quinn said. “I have spoken to the coach that interviewed Eli Apple and explained to him how inappropriate and unprofessional this was.”