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Nate Orchard excelling at Senior Bowl in unfamiliar position

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MOBILE, Ala. -- One of the great things about the Senior Bowl practices is they always allow a handful of players to go from intriguing prospects to pleasant surprises in a matter of three days.

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Count Utah's Nate Orchard among that type of prospect this year. Previously thought by some to be a late Day 3 selection in the 2015 NFL Draft based on concerns over his size at defensive end and question marks about him playing in space as an outside linebacker, the Utes star -- who finished second in the country in sacks last season -- answered just about everything he could by getting to the quarterback no matter where he lined up.

While he succeeded in the North team's practices best when he had his hand in the ground during one-on-one drills, Orchard was also able to flash traits as an outside linebacker that NFL scouts were looking for.

"Definitely it's big," said Orchard of his transition. "I had a chance this week to get some reps with that at SAM 'backer. It was good and I had a very productive week and couple of days doing it."

Orchard checked in at 6-foot-3, 251 pounds during the official weigh-ins and mixed things up with fast-rising prospects at offensive tackle like T.J. Clemmings and Rob Havenstein in both run-blocking and pass-rush drills. At defensive end, Orchard was surprisingly stout despite giving up nearly 100 pounds to his opponents, but really shined trying to turn the corner while using his speed to create an advantage while standing up as a linebacker.

You can still tell Orchard is a bit raw at times, but he seemed to be doing everything he needed to this week to firmly point his draft stock arrow up.

"I've been playing with my hand down the last 10 years," he noted. "I did have some chances in college to drop back into coverage though, so I think it will be a good transition."

The former All-American in college flashed during Wednesday and Thursday's practices in particular, and memorably snagged a screen pass for an interception during team drills one day that drew plenty of "oohs" from NFL coaches and fellow players alike. Plays like that are one reason scouts are buzzing, and the hybrid player is earning plenty of praise from those with a close eye on him.

"I love Nate Orchard and what he did this week," NFL Media Analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "The question of his size wasn't an issue at all. You saw his ability to get off blocks and get off the ball."

Safe to say, Orchard made himself one of the players to watch during Saturday's game and heading into the NFL Scouting Combine next month.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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