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NFL combine 2020: Raymond Calais attempting to run into league as inside threat

Louisiana-Lafayette back was high school sprint champion

Louisiana running back Raymond Calais speaks to media during the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 in Indianapolis. (Aaron Doster/NFL)
Louisiana running back Raymond Calais speaks to media during the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 in Indianapolis. (Aaron Doster/NFL)

Indianapolis – Raymond Calais wants to change his label.

It isn't just that the smallish Louisiana-Lafayette running back (5 feet 9, 189 pounds) wants to be known as a runner who invites the opportunity to grind inside the tackles.

"I think a lot of people think I just like to run the ball outside, and that's just not me," he said Wednesday from the NFL Combine, where running backs, offensive linemen and specialists made their rounds through the media availability. "I like running inside zone and the outside zone."

It's also that he wants to run away from the tag of being a "track" man who plays football. And that one may be even harder to peel off, because Calais has track excellence on his resume.

As a senior at Cecilia High in Breaux Bridge, La., he won Class 4A state titles in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, 10.59 seconds in the former and 21.21 seconds in the latter. He also anchored the winning 4 X 100- and 4 X 200-meter winning teams, and was the Gatorade Louisiana Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

But at the Combine, Calais is more interested in letting teams know that deep down inside, he's willing to run inside.

"I had a 92-yard touchdown that came inside, I had an 80-yard touchdown that came inside," he said. "Everything was all inside zone. I'm not shy of running between tackles.

"A lot the NFL teams, they don't ask me about (track). They just ask me about my favorite run concepts, and I always say, 'Inside zone.' Inside zone is my favorite run concept. But most people just look at me as a track guy and don't really see me as being an inside runner."

As a senior, he ran for 886 yards and six touchdowns on 117 carries. And in his four-year college career, he returned 100 kickoffs for 2,493 yards and two touchdowns. Calais hopes he has enough time logged in football to prove the game is his priority.

"Just the camaraderie with my brothers," he said. "I just love building relationships and competing. I think football really makes you compete, really brings out the 'dog' inside of you. That's why I love playing the game of football."

LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire almost was in lockstep with Calais in measurement (5-7, 207). But there's no track label to shed for Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns, and caught 55 passes for 453 yards and a touchdown, as LSU (15-0) won the national championship last season.

"As a player, I'll say I'm 'exclusive.' That's the noun that I'm going with, it's the adjective that I'm going with and I'm going to stand behind that 100 percent," Edwards-Helaire said. "I feel like everything I do is something that can't be matched. I feel like – I'm not really making my own category – but I feel like in this instance, I'm making my own category and doing the things that I need to do that's separating me from the bunch."

One of the things that separates Louisiana-Lafayette offensive lineman Robert Hunt from others in his position group is that Hunt, who played at Burkeville High in Burkeville, Texas, had about 17 teammates on his high school team and won two games in his high school career.

"Sometimes, it'd get down to, like, 14," Hunt said of the roster.

But Hunt accepted the offer to play at Louisiana-Lafayette (he said Houston also offered), started the last two years at right tackle and helped the Ragin' Cajuns win 11 games in his redshirt senior season.

"I know I can play tackle, and I know I can play guard," Hunt said. "So wherever a team needs me to play, I'll be able to play it.

"I don't really have a preference. I've been playing tackle the last two years, I'm comfortable there, I can play there in this league – I know I can. But if a team needs me as a guard, I'll be a guard."

A guard, or tackle, who gained perspective through losing in high school.

"It was tough," he said. "I hate losing, there was a lot of losing. You can't dwell on it, we tried to get better. But through that process I learned that people got to actually want to be good to make a good team."

Hunt said he never allowed himself to envision receiving an invitation to the Combine.

"I was just playing," he said. "I've never been a guy to look forward and try to jump ahead of myself. I take every day by itself. I'm thankful to God and I give all the praise and glory to Him because I know that without him, I wouldn't be able to do any of this stuff."

A surprise Combine invite to some likely wasn't much of a surprise at all to others. LSU center/guard Lloyd Cushenberry probably is exactly where he envisioned he would be. He participated in the Senior Bowl in January, which served to be the perfect lead-in to his time in Indianapolis.

"I'm glad I went to the Senior Bowl just to get a little taste of (the process.)," Cushenberry said. "At the Senior Bowl, I had a lot of formal (interviews with teams) so I knocked out a lot of that. Here this week, I'm only going to have three. So it was good to have a little more down time than a lot of guys."

There is a difference between the two weeks, in terms of physicality.

At the Senior Bowl, players practice against each other – offensive linemen against defensive linemen in pass- and run-block drills, etc. – and the week culminates with a game Saturday. At the Combine, drills are performed but no pads are worn, no tackling takes place and no game serves as a conclusion.

"But you still have that same approach," Cushenberry said. "It's gameday. So on Thursday and Friday, you've got to come in with that mind-set like you're going to dominate every drill, you're going to finish. It's kind of the same, but kind of different."

Louisiana tackle Robert Hunt speaks to media during the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 in Indianapolis. (Logan Bowles/NFL)

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