2023 NFL Draft

Senior Bowl Interview: South Carolina CB Darius Rush Awestruck Meeting Mike Tomlin: ‘It’s So Surreal’

On Wednesday morning, I had the opportunity to interview South Carolina CB Darius Rush during the media breakfast in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl. I had approached the table wanting to interview Rush’s former college teammate, DL Zacch Pickens, but Rush introduced himself to me with a handshake, asking if I wanted to interview him. Knowing a little bit about his backstory and the season he had this past season with the Gamecocks, it seemed like a great opportunity to talk to a young man who had a sense of charisma and positivity on his face and how he carried himself throughout the interview.

In the first day of practice, Rush had a nice pick in 1-on-1s, but he also gave up a TD on a stutter-and-go route in 1-on-1s as well. I asked how the first day of practices went for him on Tuesday and if there are any aspects of his game that he is really trying to hone in on and showcase to scouts as he prepares for his second day of practice with the American team.

“I get questioned a lot about my speed as one of ’em, so I can showcase that in terms of one-on-ones not getting beat deep,” Rush answered. “Like the stutter-and- go, I mean, it’s a double move.  One-on-one, they going to run another. So, it’s a part of the game…it’s football. You’re going to get beat sometimes. You got guys in the league that get beat. It’s all about what you do on the next play though.”

So yeah, there’s some plays that you can make, or you’re supposed to make, but like I said, it’s football. You’re going to give up some catches here and there, so you’re going to win some, you going to lose some. You’re going to lose a lot more than you win, but it’s all about what you do on the next play.”

Darius Rush looks like a promising prospect at first glance at CB, standing 6015, 196lb with 32 3/4” arms and 91/2” hands. The senior posted 38 total tackles this past season for the Gamecocks and deflected seven passes, intercepted two more, and forced a fumble. He only has three career picks, but the veteran DB has deflected 15 passes over the last two seasons, showing the length to impact passing lanes as well as the demeanor to come up in run support. He has had draft analysts questioning his long speed as a bigger corner, but he silenced his critics Wednesday at practice, recording the fastest time tracked by Zebra Technologies by any player over the course of all three days of practice.”

I then asked Rush what it was like to play with fellow CB Cam Smith on the opposite side of him and how the two would push each other to be better players as teammates with Smith being considered one of the best CBs in the draft class.

“Most definitely,” Rush responded. “It is a competition on that field all the time. We had a be who’s going to make the first pick. Like it’s just little things like that that makes this game great because we see our technique as artwork. Like creating artwork. So, whether it’s going to get extra drills in… little things like that. So, we enjoy it. Like just a little friendly competition that we have and just competing out there every day.”

Cam Smith has shown up frequently in mock drafts as the Steelers’ first round pick at #17 overall, having the coverage skills and physicality that is attractive to NFL teams. Still, Rush views his relationship with Smith as a friendly competition as the two push each other daily to get better regarding their technique and their ability to execute, seeing who can make the first splash play in attempt to impact the game.

I then asked Rush what it was like having Mike Tomlin on the field watching him and the rest of the team up close and personal yesterday at practice, to which Rush responded that it has been such a surreal feeling for him as an NFL hopeful.

“Honestly, it’s still eye-opening because it’s like I see you on TV and now I’m shaking your hand and you’re standing two inches away from me,” Rush said. “So, it is a little eye-opening and it’s just a great experience. Like I said, just being here honestly and having opportunity to speak with these general managers, these coaches, just to know that we work to get to this point and it’s so surreal. It wasn’t too much speaking, but I did notice his presence was there, though. I spoke with him. I shook his hand and talked to him in our formal interviews on Monday. So, it was just like the little things like that… just getting that interaction and it’s always exciting.”

I finished my interview with Rush by asking him what athletic skills he plans to focus on for the next month of training before he arrives in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. Rush had no hesitation with his answer.

“You said it right there it’s speed,” Rush answered. “I get questioned about my speed. One thing about me, I try to showcase my speed even on special teams as well. So, I’ll say speed would be probably the one thing that I will come out here and just improve on. My goal is to run a 4.4.”

Darius Rush came to the Senior Bowl looking to prove doubters wrong about his long speed and he did just that, recording the fastest-tracked GPS time of the week. He also rebounded after an up-and-down start to the practices, showing good recognition in the last day of practice while also displaying the athleticism and recovery speed to get back in-phase with receivers and break up passes. Rush could be considered one of the biggest winners of the week relative to where his draft stock was to where it is now.

Watching Rush throughout the week, he became a guy you want to root for. He brought positive energy to every practice, high fiving every layer in the stretch lines while making a priority to celebrate every time a play was made. He mentioned his willingness and pride his puts in his special teams play, running down kicks and punts to further showcase his speed. Simply put, Darius Rush is a quality locker room guy and showed scouts his play on the field backs up his character off it. Talking to him, he felt like a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I’d be willing to wager the team likely sees the same qualities in Rush as well.

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