Pro Speak 8/9: Defenders Working For Spots

As promised, Professionally Speaking returns for a second installment this week. After updating those Buckeyes making a stab at an NFL career on the offensive side of the ball, we check in with the defenders - such as the Saints' Will Smith - and special teamers today.

If 2006 is any indicator, Will Smith may be ready to take the mantle of best Buckeye in the pros.

The defensive end made his first Pro Bowl last year after posting a team-high 10.5 sacks. He has 19 stops of the quarterback in the past two years and picked up where he left off last year by posting four tackles and a sack at the NFL Hall of Fame Game last weekend in Canton.

Unfortunately, Smith is following that performance with a brief hiatus as he attends the funeral of his grandmother, Saints coach Sean Payton told the club web site…

Darrion Scott has had a less spectacular start to his NFL career than his teammate from the national championship-winning 2002 OSU defensive line, but the former third-round pick has put together a productive career with the Minnesota Vikings nonetheless.

Although the Vikings have used recent first-round picks on ends Kenechi Udeze and Erasmus James, the 6-3, 289-pound Scott started 13 games last season and posted 5.5 sacks. He has enjoyed a plethora of playing time filling in for both Udeze and James when the bigger names were injured the past two years.

This year James is sitting out the start of camp as he continues to rehabilitate a torn ACL, meaning Scott is battling Udeze for the starting left end spot.

Regardless of the winner of that competition, Vikings Update on the network reports that Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would like to use as many as six different defensive linemen all season.

Additionally, Scott will likely be used as a pass-rushing tackle on appropriate downs whether he earns a full-time job at end or not…

Injuries could open the door for two more former Buckeye defensive linemen to see more playing time in 2007.

Rookie Quinn Pitcock went to the Indianapolis Colts via a third-round pick in last April's draft, but any plans to ease the tackle into his pro career seemingly went out the window when starting nose guard Anthony "Booger" McFarland suffered a serious knee injury August 3, the same day Pitcock signed his rookie contract.

In the 300-pound McFarland's absence, Pitcock takes the title of heaviest (at 299) defensive linemen, and he figures to see serious playing time along with a handful of others for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Not that it changes Pitcock's approach.

"From the beginning I wanted to play as much as I could, so I was going to step up no matter what," Pitcock told reporters Monday.

"Quinn's doing a good job," Colts head coach Tony Dungy added at a post-practice press conference Wednesday. "He hustles, he's a strong guy. He has to work himself back into condition. I think the heat was an issue for him today, but he's going to do well for us from first impressions."…

With projected starter Orpheus Roye undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery that will keep him out the rest of the preseason, Browns defensive end Simon Fraser has a chance to earn more playing time. As part of a rotation last season he managed 4.5 sacks.

Other candidates include Shaun Smith, a free agent pickup from the Cincinnati Bengals this past offseason who is listed as the starter opposite Robaire Smith on the Browns' initial depth chart of camp, J'Vonne Parker and Orien Harris

Among linebackers, the most surprising development for Buckeye fans most likely is how well John Kerr has performed early in camp with the Vikings.

Vikings Report on the network reports the undrafted free agent Kerr stood out in a pair of scrimmages over the weekend.

Kerr reportedly made one big hit along the sideline, intercepted a tipped pass from Kansas City quarterback Jeff Terrell and made a nice play to stop a sweep.

"He always flies around, sometimes with merit and sometimes we should be going a little bit slower," head coach Brad Childress told reporters afterward. "I'd rather have to slow him down. He did a nice job getting his hands on that ball down the middle."

Kerr is one of 10 linebackers on the Viking roster and likely remains a long shot to make the team, but continuing to play well could earn him a spot on the club's practice squad…

With more than a dozen former OSU defensive backs in NFL camps this August, there figures to be plenty of news, but not all of it is good.

Dustin Fox, trying to recover from an Achilles injury, was listed No. 3 at one corner on the most-recent Vikings depth chart, while Donnie Nickey's well-publicized altercation with franchise quarterback Vince Young last week might make his hold on a roster spot more precarious. He is listed No. 2 at strong safety behind Chris Hope with former Penn State Nittany Lions Calvin Lowry and Bryan Scott also in the running.

Because neither was a high draft pick, Fox and Nickey are both safe from the dreaded label of "bust," but there are some observers of the Buffalo Bills who feel that may not be true of Ashton Youboty.

Although he slipped to the third round last April, Youboty was seen by many as a first-round talent, and there was some sentiment that he would take over for Nate Clements when Clements took the richest defensive free-agent contract in NFL history to play for the San Francisco 49ers. Youboty appears third on the current depth chart on the Bills' team web site, behind returning starter Terrence McGee and one-time undrafted free agent Jabari Greer. Former Atlanta Falcon Jason Webster is listed as the starter at the other corner...

To begin to find positive news about former Buckeye DBs, however, one need not leave the Bills' training camp in Pittsford, N.Y.

That is where Donte Whitner could be taking on a leadership role on the Buffalo defense this season with several veterans in the back seven – most notably fellow-former-Buckeye Clements – having moved on.

After starting 14 games and totaling 104 tackles as a rookie last year, Whitner told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle he does not believe in sophomore jinxes.

"I'm going to go out, play hard. The things I did well last year, I'll do well this year. We just want to take this defensive unit to a new level, put pressure on people, force them to beat us and win more games. We're not backing down."…

In Spartanburg, S.C., the retirement of Mike Minter has thrust Nate Salley into a battle for the Panthers' starting free safety spot - or at least it would have if Salley were not on the sidelines nursing a sore knee.

Recently acquired Chris Harris and Deke Cooper are the other serious candidates for the job.

Also sitting out practice at the beginning of the week was former Buckeye linebacker Na'il Diggs (thigh)…

In rounding out defensive player news, we check in one more time with Vikings Report. The site reports that a shoulder injury suffered by safety Darren Sharper has enabled veteran free-agents Mike Doss and Tank Williams to get extensive reps with the first team.

With Sharper's return imminent, Doss remains in a battle with six players for four or perhaps as few as three roster spots…

That rounds out defensive player news, but what would a check on Ohio State football be without some information about kickers?

And for that one needs to go to just one place these days: the nation's most populous city houses the Buckeyes' previous two starters at one of Jim Tressel's favorite positions.

While Josh Huston battles Lawrence Tynes for the No. 1 job with the New York Giants, Mike Nugent has gotten off to a good start this preseason after finishing his second campaign on fire last year. He has made 18 straight field goals in the regular season and was perfect on three tries in the playoff loss to New England last year.

Nugent reportedly added 10 pounds to his 5-9 frame.

"Mike spent a lot of time this off-season working on total-body strength," Jets head coach Eric Mangini told the New York Times. "One of his points of emphasis was kickoffs, more distance and hang time. He's done a good job with that."

Nugent explained the reason for his weight gain to the New York Post.

"I looked around the league at some of the better kickers, like Olindo (Mare) and (Adam) Vinatieri, and saw that even though they were only an inch or so taller than me, they had 10 or 20 pounds on me," Nugent told the paper of the 190-pound Mare and 202-pound Vinatieri. "I knew the only way I would ever get to that level would be to get bigger, so that's what I did."

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