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BARREL OF BACKERS

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Teams hoping to buttress their LB corps need look no further than the Big Ten, which once again is loaded with prospects Sunday, April 23, 2006 By Jimmy Smith Staff writer Looking for a linebacker? The Big Ten, this year ...

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Old 04-24-2006, 07:19 AM   #1
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BARREL OF BACKERS

Teams hoping to buttress their LB corps need look no further than the Big Ten, which once again is loaded with prospects
Sunday, April 23, 2006
By Jimmy Smith
Staff writer
Looking for a linebacker?

The Big Ten, this year at least, is a one-stop shopping experience. In fact, four of the top 10 rated at the position in this year's NFL draft are from schools in that conference, led by top-rated A.J. Hawk and Ohio State teammate Bobby Carpenter.

The Buckeyes have a history of producing big-time linebackers who go on to noteworthy professional careers, and Hawk and Carpenter, both outside linebackers, should extend that legacy.

"(New England Patriots linebacker) Mike Vrabel's a guy who comes back and works out a lot," Carpenter said of Ohio State's linebacking lineage. "He's a guy who does a lot of things. I tried to kind of pattern what I did this year off of him. The coaches put me in a situation to rush the passer a lot.

"He's someone in the offseason who I really talked to. He's the all-time leading sack leader at Ohio State, so I figured he knew something about rushing the passer a little bit. So I learned some from him. A.J. (Hawk) and Anthony (Schlegel, who'll also be drafted) helped me out on a daily basis. We work out together every morning and practice hard together, and we really push each other."

Ohio State's alumni linebackers constantly are hanging around campus, walking reminders, Hawk said, of the tradition the newcomers must uphold.

"The best thing about being there, is the older guys would come back and let us know how they did things, and how to handle yourself on and off the field," Hawk said. "I have a lot of respect for them. I grew up hearing about them from my dad and other people.

"(Chris) Spielman is always around. He has a radio show in Columbus, does some TV stuff. Randy Gradishar was an honorary captain for a game my junior year. Mike Vrabel is always back working out with us. Andy Katzenmoyer. The list goes on."

Also ranking among the linebacking elite this season are two from Iowa, Chad Greenway, an outside linebacker, and insider linebacker Abdul Hodge.

Also bolstering the inside linebackers are Maryland's D'Qwell Jackson, Iowa State's Tim Dobbins and San Diego State's Freddie Keiaho. The top underclassman in the group is outside linebacker Ernie Sims of Florida State.

"Inside linebacker is probably the strongest group I've seen in the 20 years I've been doing this," said Kevin Colbert, the Pittsburgh Steelers' director of football operations. "It's strong at the top, strong in the middle, and there are some kids on the second day that will be contributors, if not starters."

Said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher: "I think it's a very good group. There's size. And there's depth."

As well as variety.

No matter what a team might be looking for, this year's linebacker crop can provide practically everything any team might require.

"My main strong point, for example, is just my ability to get off the blocks and get to the ball," Hodge said. "I'm making plays all over the field, no matter where the ball is. I think I can show teams my quickness and show them I can change directions.

"But overall, I think the linebacker group this year is high caliber. There's a lot of good inside guys and good outside guys. Everybody looks the part. They look like they're ready to go. Just by watching linebackers play across the country, there's a lot of good linebackers out there."

Hodge, a possible first-round choice, won't, however, be drawn into a discussion about whether Iowa linebackers are better than Ohio State's.

"I don't know," Hodge said. "The Big Ten is loaded with a lot of good linebackers. Ohio State has three good ones. We have a couple. Northwestern has one. All over the Big Ten there are good linebackers."


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