MOBILE, Ala. — Former UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes had just finished blowing past some of his South teammates in one-on-one pass protection drills on Wednesday, and scouts had one obvious question: Where was that all season?
Vanderdoes knew the question was coming. A litany of injuries—plus extra weight packed on thanks to the reduced practice and workout time because of those injuries—made Vanderdoes look like a shell of the player he was as a redshirt freshman in 2014. Losing the 2015 season to a left ACL tear suffered in the season opener and struggling through the injuries in 2016 for the sake of a floundering team meant Vanderdoes needed to make up a lot of ground at Senior Bowl practices and the NFL combine. Two days into his Senior Bowl experience, Vanderdoes seems to be doing exactly that.
After playing through a strained knee, a repeatedly aggravated ankle sprain and a bone bruise— not to mention frequent double teams—for 12 games, Vanderdoes had to invent a number to explain how much better he feels now. “A bajillion percent better,” Vanderdoes said Wednesday. “I’m 20 pounds lighter. My cardio is better. I feel stronger. I feel quicker. I’m more athletic explosive. More explosive. And healthy, obviously.”
Vanderdoes knows he probably won’t go as high in the draft as friend and former UCLA linemate Kenny Clark, who went to the Packers with the 27th overall pick last season. “I’m all the way down,” Vanderdoes cracked on Wednesday. But Vanderdoes knows he could be bargain for a team looking for a run-stuffer comfortable playing anywhere between the outside eye of the offensive tackle and the nose. Wednesday’s performance in pass protection drills suggests a healthy Vanderdoes might also offer an interior pass rush teams will appreciate. Earlier in the day, Vanderdoes showed off his hard-won ability to split double teams. He’s had to do that since he first took the field for the Bruins. As a redshirt freshman in 2014, he made 50 tackles (5.5 for loss) and spent the rest of the time eating space to help free up linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack to make plays. Vanderdoes made 27 tackles (1.5 for loss) this past season.
The 6’ 3” Vanderdoes said he played at 340 pounds during the season because he didn’t reduce his calorie intake even though he was burning fewer. To be healthy enough to play in games, he had to sit out practices. And even with his team sinking to a 4–8 record, Vanderdoes refused to sit out of games. “It wasn’t the coaches trying to push me through,” he said. ‘That was me. [The coaches] asked me if I needed to pull back. I said ‘Let’s go.’”
Vanderdoes weighed in Tuesday at 320 pounds. He’d like to play in the NFL between 305 and 310. That might be the most encouraging factor for Vanderdoes—he hasn’t reached exactly what he wants to be physically, but he’s already looking like the player he was before the injuries.
“I’m still not even close to where I want to be,” he said. “But it’s nice to be able to show who Eddie really is.”