Lester out to prove he's more than smart

MOBILE, Ala. -- Robert Lester wants to be known for more than his brain. In a sport that often values brute force and brawn over all else, the former Alabama safety stands apart. He's the right size at 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds, but it's his football intelligence that's on the forefront of many talent evaluators' minds. They see a fifth-year player who started three seasons under the demanding, defensive-minded coach Nick Saban. They see a mind that's ready for the National Football League and question whether the body is equal to the task.

"These guys are smart as well," Lester said, surrounded by dozens of future pros at the Senior Bowl in South Alabama on Monday night. "I'm going to have to bring more to the table than just my knowledge."

While Lester acknowledged that his best attribute is his ability to "learn a new system" and "provide leadership," he also recognized the need to do the little things right, too. Game film and one-on-one interviews are one thing, but, for better or worse, minute measurements like 40-yard dash times and bench press numbers play a big part as well.

"I think the faster you play, the better shape you're in," Lester said. "If I can get my speed better, there's no telling how good I can do out here."

"My goal is to run a 4.4 (40-yard dash). I've been dreaming about running a 4.4."

Tim Walton's first words to describe Lester were, "Smart kid." The Detroit Lions secondary coach raved about Lester's knowledge and background.

"He's obviously well-coached coming from Nick [Saban] so he understands the game well," he said. "I'm very interested in seeing him the next couple of days to move around and put pads on."

Walton added that he likes what he's seen from Lester thus far, noting good side-to-side speed and a good frame that will serve him well at the next level when he has to cover larger receivers in space and come down into the box to cover tight ends and help in run support.

"He's a big safety and he can do a lot of things," Walton said. "We look forward to trying to catch up with him and see what he can do."

Scouts Inc. ranks Lester as the 11th-best player in the upcoming NFL Draft. What's holding him back? According to his scouting evaluation, it's average range, below-average burst and stiff hips.

But former Alabama tight end Michael Williams had an answer for that. He went up against Lester for five years and knows first-hand what he's capable of.

"You don't play under Coach Saban if you're not talented," he said. "Robert proved that he can do it his sophomore year with nine or 10 interceptions. As a safety, that's crazy. Then his junior year people threw away from him. And this year I think he put it all together. He was the total package.

Said Saban: "Robert is a very good athlete. He has good ball skills, he's a good tackler."