Brian Rolle Leads OLBs In T-A-N (Part 4)

The fourth and last part of our Tough-As-Nails series takes us through the outside linebackers and into the secondary. Plenty of rough, get-it-done players to take a gander at.

By Dave-Te Thomas


Brian Rolle The Ohio State University Buckeyes #36 5:09.5-227

With NFL teams becoming more and more enamored by "measurables," drafting a player under 5:10 might be okay at wide receiver or kicking specialist, but one look around the league and you are not going to find too many linebackers measuring in at 5:09.5. But, if you measured Rolle's heart, desire and fire, he'd stand seven-feet tall.

For a team utilizing a 3-4 scheme or Cover-2 defense, Rolle might be a fit, especially if that team has a defensive end-sized strong-side linebacker. Some team could look at his speed and pass coverage skills, and decide that Rolle might be a better fit at middle linebacker or as a strong safety.

A standout special teams performer during his first two seasons as a Buckeye, Rolle made Ohio State fans quickly forget All-American James Laurinaitis with his stellar performance as the team's middle linebacker since taking over that position as a junior. Since moving into the starting lineup, he registered 171 of his 210 career tackles and registered 18.5 of his 21.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage while still serving as the leader of the special team coverage units.

Despite standing just a shade under 5:10, this Sam Mills (ex-Carolina Panthers)/London Fletcher (Washington) clone has seen his unit lead the Big Ten Conference in total defense, ranking fifth nationally in 2009 (262.31 ypg) and fourth in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks in 2010 (262.23 ypg).

Ohio State also led the league in rushing defense during his senior year (96.69 ypg; third nationally) after placing third in the conference in 2009 (90.77 ypg; seventh in the NCAA). The Buckeyes also paced the Big Ten in scoring defense (14.31 ppg) during his final campaign after allowing just 12.54 points per game in 2009 (both yearly averages ranked fifth in the nation).

As a senior, Rolle was recognized as an All-American honorable mention and an All-Big Ten Conference first-team pick. Named team captain, he led the squad with 75 tackles (35 solos) that included 2.5 sacks, placing second on the unit with 11.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, good for ninth in the league.

In 51 games at Ohio State, Rolle started 25 times. He produced 210 tackles (35 solos), 3.5 sacks for minus 26 yards, 21.5 stops for losses of 75 yards and three QB pressures. He caused a fumble and recovered two others, including one in the end zone for a touch-down. He also deflected five passes and gained 76 yards on four interception returns.

COMPARES TO LOFA TATUPU-Seattle… If they could measure heart, desire and determination, Rolle would stand tall among the linebackers in this year's draft, but when actually measured, his height and size will become an issue on draft day. He is an athlete that plays bigger than his size, as he has a great combination of speed, quickness and strength. He is a well-proportioned athlete with above average sideline-to-sideline agility and range. His quickness and instincts are his best assets. While undersized, he plays big. Rolle shows a nose for the ball and attacks the offense with good determination. He is a solid run defender who despite a lack of size, plays strong with good hand usage. But, he is even more effective when avoiding and slipping blocks to make the plays. Slower offensive linemen seldom get a good shot at him, but when they do, he will get washed out of the play because of his safety-like frame. How-ever, you will not see him blocked for long, as he is quick to redirect and is the type that will play until the whistle. Rolle plays with a low pad level and generates the speed and strength to gain leverage on blockers and the ball. He is a fast, athletic mover who is able to sift through traffic, showing good range in pursuit and an explosive burst to close. He is an effective blitzer who takes proper angles to apply pressure. He has good pass coverage skills, dropping back smoothly and quickly.

Rolle has quick feet and flexible hips to break coming out of his backpedal and plays either the man or zone coverage with equal effectiveness. He sticks tight to the tight ends and backs, using his hands effectively to jam and reroute. He eyes the receivers through their routes and shows good discipline, as he is not the type that will bite on fakes or play action. The Buckeye has natural hands for the interception and utilizes his good leaping ability to time his jumps to get to the ball at its high point. He catches with hands extended from the frame and keeps his head on a swivel, quickly reacting to the thrown ball. He is also a secure tackler who strikes, faces up, snaps his hips and wraps securely to drive the ball carrier back.

If left at middle linebacker, size will always be an issue, but his ability to face up or slip blocks makes me feel that he can be effective in a cover two system. Big things come in small packages. Just ask ex Dallas Cowboys standouts Dexter Coakley and Dat Nguyen or former Carolina Panther great, Sam Mills. He will probably not be drafted where his grade indicates, but in a few years, someone will have unearthed a talent, whether at linebacker, safety or on special teams.

TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Tampa Bay, Houston, San Diego and Atlanta…There might not be a better place for a Cover-2 linebacker than in Tampa Bay, where Derrick Brooks turned in what is expected to be a Hall of Fame career. The Bucs have a gaping hole at left outside linebacker, where Dekoda Watson managed only 30 tackles in 15 games last year. Rolle could also battle Corey Lynch for a spot in the secondary. Houston is looking more for a big pass rushing linebacker in the Von Miller mold, but innovative defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has had success in Dallas with their smaller line-backers in the past. San Diego has Shaun Phillips and Larry English on the outside, but strong safety Steve Gregory and left inside linebacker Stephen Cooper are easily replaced in San Diego. The Falcons have to develop a playmaker behind aging Mike Peterson and Rolle's physical style would be a nice compliment next to Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton in the Atlanta linebacker unit.

Lawrence Wilson University of Connecticut Huskies #8 6:00.6-225

Wilson is taller than Rolle, but at 225, he is a bit "light in the pants." However, he is constantly on the move, thanks to excellent speed, footwork, balance and lateral agility. His coaches cite his work ethic and the thing that impresses you when watching him on film is the way Wilson attacks blocks, strings out running plays and can rush the passer.

A model of consistency, Wilson started all but one of the 52 games that he appeared in for the Huskies. Three times during his Connecticut career, he produced 100-plus tackle seasons. His 449 tackles rank second in school history, fourth in Big East Conference annals and placed fourth among the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision's active performers. His 35.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage tied for sixth on the school's career-record chart.

Regarded as a ball-hawking defender, Wilson also developed into quite an effective play-maker. Five of his six forced fumbles were recovered by the Huskies, four leading to scoring drives. He also recovered six fumbles and showed very good pass defense skills, along with a nose for the end zone, returning three of his five interceptions for touchdowns.

As a junior, Wilson earned All-Big East Conference first-team honors. He led the league and tied for tenth in the nation with a career-high 140 tackles (80 solos), placing second on the team with five sacks and eleven stops behind the line of scrimmage. His 140 hits rank sixth on the school season-record chart.

Wilson's senior season saw him repeat as an All-Big East Conference first-team choice. He again led the conference with a team-best 123 tackles (71 solos), setting the school career-record by returning his third interception for a touchdown. He tied for third on the squad with ten stops for loss, 3.5 of them resulting in sacks while taking over middle line-backer chores due to injuries suffered by Greg Lloyd.

Among the NCAA's active players at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, Wilson ranks fourth in total tackles (449), second in solo hits (246) and 11th in average tackles per game (8.63). He also ranked 15th with 32 solo tackles (35.5 total) behind the line of scrimmage.

His 449 tackles rank second in school history, topped by John Dorsey (495; 1980-83), as that total placed fourth on the Big East Conference all-time record chart behind Dan Morgan of Miami (532; 1997-2000), Stephen Boyd of Boston College (509; 1991-94) and Grant Wiley of West Virginia (477; 2000-03), becoming the eighth conference player to reach the 400-tackle level.

COMPARES TO: DERRICK BROOKS-ex Tampa Bay…Sure, most cat-quick smaller linebackers are somehow compared to Brooks, but Wilson has a lot of the same style as the perennial All Pro – speed, field smarts, incredible balance and excellence playing in space. He might not be a great pass rusher, but with his speed and change of direction skills, few weak-side linebackers can cover ground as well as Wilson. He might have to work on adding more bulk to play at the next level, but he does a fine job of keeping plays in front of him.

Wilson is a well-prepared athlete who can handle whatever the offenses throw at him. He has very good read-and-diagnose ability, knowing his teammates' assignments well enough to keep everyone in position on the field. He stays focused, is rarely rattled and usually carries out all assignments. He knows how to use his strength to compensate for a lack of ideal size. He plays with good leverage while taking on blocks and can hit and shed with authority. He uses his hands effectively to free himself working off the edge and has the pass coverage skills and fluid hip motion to drop back quickly in pass coverage.

Against the run, his size issue sometimes causes him to struggle working in-line. However, he knows how to use his quickness to slip past and avoid blocks in order to get to the ball and clog the inside rush lanes. He is best in pursuit, showing urgency, balance and body control with excellent change of direction agility to run clean and take proper angles to the ball when working in space. He is a solid wrap-up tackler with enough power to drag ball carriers down.

He has the hand strength to get a decent push off the ball. He works hard to tie up blockers long enough to free other defenders to get to the quarterback. When working off the edge, he is a functional blitzer who has the speed to close. Against the pass, he is very effective at adjusting to the blockers' moves, using his hands to fend off low blocks and fit through the tight spots to fill the lanes.

He is explosive breaking out of his backpedal, keeping his feet under him to turn and mirror receivers in their routes. He has more than enough quickness to cover tight ends underneath, shadowing his man to prevent the reception. He is a very solid tackler working up field. He is quick to locate and track down the ball in flight. His lateral agility allows him to close quickly and he takes good angles to close the cushion immediately when beaten. Wilson has experience and knowledge to play any of the linebacker positions, but his quickness and field vision might be better suited for the weak-side. He might not be the biggest linebacker you will find, but he compensates well with instincts, strength, quickness and intelligence.

TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Arizona, Green Bay, New England and Buffalo…The Cards are going to revamp their linebacker unit, with aging Clark Haggins and Joey Porter being led to the unemployment line. Bringing in a speedy backer to apply constant pressure on the backfield is a must, as those are areas that Wilson is strongest in. Green Bay has an outstanding pass rusher in Clay Matthews, but Wilson would give the Packers one of the quickest set of playmakers at this position in the NFL. New England is well aware of Wilson's field exploits. They have slowly rebuilt their linebacker unit, but need that speedy player to be a nuisance along the line of scrimmage. Buffalo mysteriously resigned Shawne Merriman, but they need to cover their bases when that former San Diego All-Pro ends up on IR or continues his career downslide in 2011.


Cortez Allen The Citadel Bulldogs #13 6:01.4-196

Generally, teams look for cornerbacks that were developed in the major college ranks, but there have been a handful to go on to Pro Bowl careers from the small college level, most notably Arizona's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Blessed with the size and hitting ability of Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor, Allen has received serious mid round consideration by more than a dozen teams looking to upgrade their secondary.

Allen has a tall, well-built, muscular frame with long arms, good bubble, thick thighs and calves. He has a tight abdomen, trimmed upper body and a frame that can carry additional bulk without it affecting his overall quickness. He has smaller than ideal hands, but it does not impede him from securing the ball properly and extending away from his frame when competing for the pass at its highest point.

Since moving into the starting lineup as a sophomore, Allen has allowed just 69-of-197 passes targeted into his area to be completed (35.03%). He has limited his main coverage assignments to 33 of those grabs.

During his career, opponents managed to convert just three of those receptions into touchdowns, as the Bulldog limited his competition to an average of only 4.42 yards per pass attempt. During that same span, The Citadel's other defensive players have allowed 527-of-767 pass attempts to be completed (68.71%) and gave up 56 aerial touchdowns.

Further evidence of Allen's "shutdown" ability is the big plays he has consistently produced that killed the oppositions' scoring drives. His 29 third-down stops vs. the passing game as a junior led all of college football.

Allen produced 63 third-down hits (five vs. the run, 58 vs. the pass) and 15 more on fourth-down action in his last three seasons. The rest of the Citadel defense recorded only 159 third-down tackles and 12 fourth-down stops during that same 39-game span.

Allen's ability to execute the bump-&-run is almost flawless. On the 128 passes that the opposition failed to complete in his area, the Bulldog rerouted/jammed his main pass coverage assignment on 102 of those incomplete tosses (79.69%) and also recorded 21 passes defended (16 deflections, five interceptions).

Physicality is the "name of the game" for Allen. Having allowed just three touchdown catches by an opponent since the start of the 2008 campaign, the cornerback delivered 21 of his stops inside the red zone. He also excelled on special teams, producing thirteen tackles for the special teams coverage unit (eight on punts, five on kickoffs). All but one of those tackles was a solo effort.

COMPARES TO: Aeneas Williams-ex Arizona Cardinal…Allen is a vastly underrated boundary cornerback who has the length and stride in his backpedal to easily stay on the receiver coming out of transition. He does not let his assignments break his cushion and gets on top of those receivers in an instant, evident by rerouting 54 opponents away from catchable throws last year. He opens up laterally or vertically with ease and shows an outstanding burst to recover.

Allen can plant-&-drive with no gather and displays the mirror ability to stay with any receiver he's matched up against. He consistently makes plays on the ball and is determined to finish when executing the tackle. He might not get a lot of opportunities vs. the running game, but when he does, no other FCS cornerback can do the job of keeping outside containment like Allen. He just might be the most underrated man coverage defender in the collegiate ranks.

Because Allen plays mostly in man coverage, he has had just limited opportunities to make plays in the box, but he is a physical tackler in the open field. He can put a "big hit" on a receiver competing for the ball and is not the type that will just attack "legs" when facing up to a ball carrier. He has effective drag-down strength and can get guys to the ground, but is not regarded as an explosive tackler. He knows how to make adjustments to break down and fit when playing in the open and shows good desire to make the play. He will go low, wrestle the ball carrier down or use his upper body strength to knock his opponent out of bounds.

For a boundary cornerback, Allen does a very nice job of disrupting the receivers before they can get into their patterns. He has that strong hand placement to tie up his man for a long time at the line of scrimmage. He uses his length well to reach around and compete for the ball in flight. He has the speed and burst to run on the receiver's hip and recover when his man gets behind him.

With his fluid hips and quick change of direction agility, along with excellent anticipation skills, he does better than most corners in attempts to be very active and physical with his hands. He shows sharp plant and drive agility, but will sometimes get sloppy on deep routes and round his angles to the ball. Still, he has outstanding feet and balance when adjusting to the receiver's moves and can flip his hips, redirect and plant sharply coming out of his breaks without needing to gather.

TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Pittsburgh, Carolina, Baltimore and Oakland…If the Steelers fail to resign Ike Taylor, cornerback becomes an immediate need for Pittsburgh. Even if Taylor returns, the secondary was exposed enough in the playoffs to warrant multiple picks at this position. Chris Gamble never panned out in Carolina and the Panthers had their most success when they had a big, physical press coverage corner like Ken Lucas starting for them. Allen might fit that mold with a mid round choice. Baltimore has one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. They ranked 21st in the nation in pass defense (224.9 ypg) and their cornerbacks were torched for 19 touchdowns during the regular season. Fabian Washington proved to be a first round bust and was replaced during the course of 2010. Oakland suffered perhaps its greatest loss in recent history when it was announced that Nnamdi Asomugha was declared a free agent. They resigned Stanford Routt and were close to extending Chris Johnson before the lockout, but depth is lacking and neither of those can ever hope of matching Asomugha's playing level.

Ras-I Dowling University of Virginia Cavaliers #19 6:01.3-198

Dowling seriously considered leaving school for the NFL after the 2009 season, but decided to return to improve his draft stock. The problem was – injuries. A rash of ailments sidetracked the physical cornerback, leaving him with only five games of action to show for his decision to play college ball in 2010.

Dowling is a tall boundary cornerback with an impressive wingspan, big hands, good bubble, high-cut, long legs and solid overall muscle tone. He has a tight abdomen, developed hamstrings and broad chest, looking more like a Cover-2 strong safety rather than a cover cornerback.

The senior would sit out the team's first two games in 2010 while recovering from his ham-string issues. He struggled some upon his return, seeing action in three games before again being sidelined vs. North Carolina due to a knee sprain. When he returned to the field vs. Eastern Michigan, he last just three plays before again heading to the sidelines after the knee started acting up.

After two more games of inactivity, Dowling attempted to play vs. Maryland, but he exited that contest in the first quarter with what doctors first thought was a left foot sprain. X-rays revealed that the right cornerback had suffered an ankle fracture.

In mid-November, head coach Mike London announced that his star defensive back had played in his final game for the Cavaliers. "I think he'll do things in his pro day to warrant the first-round tag that a lot of people put on him initially," London said. "I think he'll be bigger, stronger, faster."

Dowling turned down invitations to play in college all-star games after his injury-plagued season. He concentrated on rehabilitating and preparing for the agility tests conducted in late February at the NFL Combine. He clocked 4.56 running his first 40-yard dash, but was prevented from completing the rest of the drills, as he suffered a right hamstring strain during his first run.

Dowling started 25-of-40 games at right cornerback for Virginia, recording 160 tackles (115 solos) with a 6-yard sack and 7.5 stops for losses of 24 yards. He recovered one fumble and caused four others, gained 34 yards on a punt return lateral and 70 yards on a trio of interceptions. He also deflected 29 passes. He also became the eleventh player in school history to lead the team in interceptions in consecutive seasons (2007-08).

COMPARES TO: SEAN SMITH-Miami…Dowling has the height, arm length, leaping ability and timing to win most jump ball battles. He shows good ability to jump and track the ball in flight and is fearless going up for the ball in the air when working in a crowd. He takes good advantage of interception opportunities and has the ability to reach and pluck outside his frame. There are times he will drop the ball when tracking it over his shoulder, though. Dowling has solid ball reaction skills, using his arm length and leaping ability to win most jump ball battles attempting to get to the pass at the high point. He will round his breaks (stiff hips), but has the burst to the ball and can get physical with the receiver. Still, with that hip stiffness, you can see that he will have some problems (needs to show better rapid foot turnover).

Dowling's long stride allows him to make up ground in a hurry, more so on plays in front of him (another reason he might be a better fit at safety). He shows the power to combat for the ball in flight and is starting to show ability to read the quarterback and bait him to throw, knowing he has the burst to close on the ball. He seems to get better depth and position playing in the zone than in man coverage, as he uses his frame well to keep everything in front of him. With his reach, leaping ability and natural hands, he reacts quickly in attempts to make a play on the ball.

TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Detroit, Philadelphia, Houston and Minnesota…The Lions desperately need somebody who can shut down the big, physical receivers they faced regularly in the NFC North. While they will more likely go for an outside linebacker in round one, they could still find a first round talent like Dowling still around with their 44th pick. Only Dallas (33) and Houston (33) gave up more touchdown passes in 2010 than Philadelphia (31). Asante Samuel is a ball hawk, but with Ellis Hobbs expected to retire due to injury issues, getting a physical press corner who would allow Samuel to continue to freelance is essential early in the draft for the Eagles. Houston might regret letting Dunta Robinson bolt for Atlanta, as they failed to replace the All Pro last year on the way to yet another non-playoff season. Putting Dowling in a Houston uniform could solve two issues, as he would be a nice fit at left cornerback and allow the 2010 starter, Glover Quin to shift to his more natural free safety position. Minnesota would be another nice fit, where he could be reunited with his old Virginia teammate, Chris Cook and also add needed youth to a secondary whose best player is 34-year-old corner, Antoine Winfield.


Mark Legree Appalachian State University Mountaineers #13 5:11.6-200

The Mountaineers have been known for producing outstanding playmakers in recent years and LeGree is the nation's active pass thief. He has an athletic build with minimal body fat (6.4%) and room on his frame to carry at least another 10-15 pounds of bulk without the added weight affecting his overall quickness.

Much like the New Orleans Saints' Darren Sharper, LeGree is a punishing contact hitter with classic wrap-up technique. He has the ability to cover speedy receivers in the deep zone, come up to provide solid run support inside the box and the hand placement and technique to consistently jam receivers and take his coverage assignments out of their route's progression.

But, LeGree is mostly recognized for his "big play" ability, as he has been responsible for setting up eleven Appalachian State touchdown drives from the 24 turnovers he's totaled (22 interceptions, two forced fumbles). His 22 pass thefts rank third on the school and tied for second on the Southern Conference all-time record lists.

In his time as a starter, he has personally killed 103 potential scoring drives by the opposition, based on his turnovers (24) and stops on third-down (69) and fourth-down (10) plays and preserved a victory when he deflected a two-point conversion pass with 0:56 left in a 42-41 win over Chattanooga in the 2010 season opener.

LeGree became the first Southern Conference player to lead the nation in interceptions (ten in 2008). Those ten pass thefts were the most by a league performer since the 1975 campaign and also established the school's annual mark. They were also the most by an FCS defender since the 2002 season.

During his time as a starter, receivers have averaged a miniscule 4.24 yards per pass attempt vs. LeGree. None of those receivers have found the "promised land," as the Mountaineer has yet to allow a touchdown catch. Further evidence of his "big play" skills comes from his stellar performance in tight quarters. He registered 39 of his tackles inside the red zone, with fourteen of those stops coming on goal-line plays.

LeGree tackled opponents for a loss six times and took down receivers at the line of scrimmage for no gain six more times. His hand placement skills and timing has greatly frustrated his main pass coverage assignments and opposing offensive coordinators. On 247 passes thrown his way, he rerouted the opponents away from 130 of those tosses (52.63%).

The defensive back has also shown a fearless attitude when asked to play near the line of scrimmage, making 98 of his plays vs. the ground game. For a player with his "pedigree," LeGree still has a "blue collar" work ethic, relishing his role as a wedge buster on special teams, delivering eight tackles for the kickoff coverage squad as a junior.

COMPARES TO: Nick Collins-Green Bay…Like Collins, LeGree has enough range to play centerfield and his seventeen interceptions are evidence that he is a solid ball hawk. He can mirror the tight end underneath and stays tight with the slot receivers up the seam. When working the zone, he gets a much better jump on the ball on plays coming from the middle hash. He will square up and hit with good pop and is a solid wrap-up tackler. He appears very instinctive going for the jump ball, timing his leaps to get to the pigskin at its high point. LeGree's best assets are his hands, as he holds two of the top three season spots on ASU's pass theft record list. While he has shorter-than-ideal arm reach (29 7/8-inches), he compensates with good leaping ability, timing and natural hands to reach and pluck the ball at its highest point. He catches the ball with his hands properly extended from the body's frame. When he competes for the ball, he will generally get a piece of the pigskin. He uses his hands with force in pass coverage, doing a good job of jamming and rerouting tight ends when attacking at the line of scrimmage.

LeGree shows very quick reactionary skills. Opposing offenses were smart to steer clear of his territory in 2010, as he displays very good instincts. He has that natural feel for finding the ball, thanks to his quick decision making that allows him to read and reacts in order to get to the ball in a hurry. He is seldom fooled by play action and misdirection, doing a nice job of keeping action in front of him.

More than 35% of his tackles in his last two years came outside his territory, as he is alert to defensive breakdowns and feels it is his responsibility to serve as the "last line" for his unit. He is not the type that will bite on misdirection or play action, evident by his ability to easily read the quarterback and makes plays on the ball in flight. He sets the tone of the game with his aggressive play and does not hesitate to close once he spots the ball. He has exceptional blocker awareness and because of that vision, he is able to slip through blocks to make plays in tight areas.

The senior has that natural feel for the ball, showing awareness in zone assignments. He does a nice job of keeping the play in front of him. He keeps his head on a swivel, tracking the ball in flight and times his leaps to get to the pigskin at its high point. He shows no hesitation stepping into the box to make plays in run force and is quick to locate the ball when working through trash. He gets a good jump on the play and it is rare to see him get caught out of position. He is not the type that will get over aggressive, but does hit with authority. He breaks on the ball well and gets a good jump from the hash.

TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville and Minnesota…Dallas needs help at both safety positions. While both lines need immediate attention, the Pokes hope to find a "diamond in a coal mine" on the draft's third day. Alan Ball is really a corner forced to play free safety for Dallas and with the team not interested in bringing back Gerald Sensabaugh, they need to find a player who can replace Sensabaugh's pass thievery skills. Brian Dawkins has been showing his age lately (37) and had perhaps the worst season of his career in 2010. The new defensive coaches say they would like him to return for 2010, but they need to draft a youngster to groom behind the perennial All-Pro. Jacksonville featured Don Carey, a converted cornerback at free safety, but in two seasons with the Jaguars, he's managed only 55 tackles with one interception. Minnesota thought it solved their free safety issues when they inked Madieu Williams away from Cincinnati, but in three seasons, the oft-injured defensive back has made just three interceptions and missed the end of 2010 dealing with a concussion.


Ahmad Black University of Florida Gators #35 5:09.0-184

Sometimes, maybe teams need to toss away their criteria factors when it comes to a player. Ask any general manager what he looks for in a strong safety and they will tell you they want one who is over six-feet, more than 220 pounds, has the speed of a cornerback and the tackling ability of a linebacker. In Black's case, he only managed the tackling criteria. He's just 5:09, 184 and ran a 4.77 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, numbers that saw his draft stock slide considerably.

Having started 39 of his last 41 games at strong safety, Black just shrugs off all of that draft stock slipping talk. "I go out there and try to prove my doubters wrong. I regret nothing about this whole ride. I enjoyed everything about it. I met some great people, some great players. I'm just enjoying it. I'm just living the moment. I'm having a lot of fun. It's probably the most fun year I've had here. It's sad that it's coming to an end," the safety said after the 2010 regular season.

"I had a pro scout tell me that he [Black] is the best tackler in college football today, UF safeties coach Chuck Heater said. "He's got a gift for it. He's an athletic guy. He's really athletic. First off, he's tough. If a guy doesn't want to make a tackle, all that other stuff doesn't really matter. Some guys don't want to make a tackle. He's a tough guy. Then it becomes just that ability to weave himself through people and around people and make plays the way he does. He's extraordinary."

Black closed out his career with 244 tackles (142 solos) with two sacks for minus 30 yards, fourteen stops for losses of 52 yards and two quarterback pressures. He caused three fumbles and recovered two others, blocked a kick and deflected fifteen passes.

Black tied Bruce Bennett (1963-65) for fourth in school history with thirteen interceptions. He holds the school career-record with 362 yards gained via interception returns. Only Darryl Bishop of Kentucky (376 yards; 1971-73), Bobby Wilson of Mississippi (379; 1946-49) and Eric Berry of Tennessee (494; 2007-09) gained more yards via interception returns in Southeastern Conference history.

COMPARES TO: CBOB SANDERS-San Diego…Few safeties in the professional ranks have the instinctive feel for the ball and knowledge of the action in front of him that Black displays. He plays with the same field vision, ball anticipation skills and determination as Sanders. He is a physical tackler who excels in run support and does a nice job of impeding the ball carrier's forward progress with his hard-hitting wrap-up tackling skills. He has large, natural hands to make the interception and excels at gaining placement in attempts to reroute the receiver.

What he lacks in hip fluidness and explosive second gear, Black makes up for it with solid tackling skills, a good understanding for taking proper angles and great anticipation skills. Toss in his total disregard for his own safety, determination to make the play and an added bonus with his kamikaze-style of play on special teams and you have player who is certain to become a fan favorite.

Black plays with impressive strength to quickly gain leverage, setting the tone of the game with his aggressive play, and he will not hesitate to close once he spots the ball. He is an explosive wrap-up tackler who does a nice job of attacking the outside leg to prevent the ball carrier's forward progress. For a player his size, he has a strong desire to fill the rush lanes, extending his arms properly to engulf the ball carriers.

The safety shows good route awareness and maintains contact on the receiver playing in the short area. He keeps his shoulders square and stays low, driving with his legs to rock the ball carrier back at the line of scrimmage. Despite a lack of blazing speed, he runs with an effortless stride and is very decisive in his movements on plays in front of him.

He gets a good jump on the ball to stay with the receivers in the short range area, using his hands well in attempts to impede the route's progression. He loves to compete for the high passes, as he is good at elevating to catch the ball in his hands and away from his body.

The thing you see on film is that Black will always stick his head into the pile and he is very good at coming up and filling the rush lanes, looking like Sanders with his ability to use his hands to slip blocks and push the fullback back into the holes (uses his hands well to counter the bigger blocker's moves).

TEAMS SHOWING THE MOST INTEREST: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Dallas and Houston…When Indianapolis cut Bob Sanders, it left a huge void in their secondary, making Black, a version of Sanders an ideal fit to be his replacement. Dallas is not going to bring Gerald Sensabaugh back, leaving them with nobody in the secondary with the pass thievery skills Black brings to the table. Jacksonville ranked 28th in the league vs. the pass (250.2 ypg), as they allowed 28 touchdowns while picking off 13 passes with Courtney Greene and Don Carey both expected to lose their starting safety jobs. Houston tied for the league lead by allowing 33 touchdown passes. Bernard Pollard recorded 111 tackles, but failed to record any interceptions in 2010 at strong safety and the Texans' free safety, Troy Nolan, recorded just 49 tackles after signing off the street.

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