So, Muhammad Wilkerson stood out to scouts, and not just because he's a 6-foot-4, 315-pound man wearing No. 9.
Wilkerson wore No. 96 for his first two seasons. Then-coach Al Golden reserved the single digits for upperclassmen who were of high character on and off the field and recognized by their peers for their toughness.
No. 9, it turns out, suited Wilkerson just fine. After a solid first season as a starter in 2009, Wilkerson — coached by former Packers assistant Jethro Franklin — was first-team all-MAC in 2010 after posting 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. Wilkerson, who played end in a 3-4 defense this past season, declared for the draft early and is a definite possibility if he's still on the board when the Packers are on the clock at No. 32 overall.
The Packers showed their interest by having a formal interview with Wilkerson at the Scouting Combine and they're expected to attend Temple's pro day on Friday.
While Temple isn't exactly a football factory, the MAC is underrated only by fans. The Packers, for instance, had Greg Jennings, James Starks, Cullen Jenkins and Frank Zombo in their starting lineup for the Super Bowl. Arguably the two best players on the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison, are MAC products, as well.
"At the end of the day, the MAC is a good conference," Wilkerson told Packer Report at the Scouting Combine. "You can get beat by any team. Somebody that comes to mind is Ben Roethlisberger, he played at Miami of Ohio. The MAC has talented players. They just aren't really recognized, so they come to events like this (the Combine), they get recognized and they wind up doing a great job for the organization that they get drafted by."
Wilkerson's decision to declare for the draft a year early was based on his family. Wilkerson grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., in a "real rough neighborhood, a lot of crime and violence." His parents still live there, as does his teenage sister, Zakkiyah.
"My mom (Janice) taught me well, raised me well," Wilkerson said, adding that he promised her that he'd return to Temple to get his degree. "I want to get away from that environment. I have a little sister and I don't want (her to be there). There's a lot of things you can get caught up in out there. We don't want to be around that.
"Growing up in Elizabeth, there's a lot of talent out there and a lot of talented guys got caught up and went down the wrong path. Fortunately, I made the right decisions. My mom helped me out the most and sports kept me out of those negative things."
Wilkerson is blessed with some rare tools that not even most players from the BCS conferences possess. His hope in high school was that he could play college football and college basketball, but as a post player at his height, he didn't receive any big-time offers to play basketball. So, he put his energy into football.
That basketball background helped, saying the footwork learned in that sport has served him well in beating offensive linemen. His 35 1/2-inch arms were the longest among defensive linemen at the Combine. Those traits, along with his character and experience in the scheme would make him highly appealing for the Packers, who figure to lose Jenkins in free agency. In theory, he'd battle Mike Neal for playing time opposite starter Ryan Pickett, with Wilkerson, Neal and nose tackle B.J. Raji giving the team a formidable starting group long after Pickett's days as a front-line player are over.
Wilkerson said his favorite player is the Giants' Justin Tuck for Tuck's ability to dominate against the run but yet get after the quarterback. Wilkerson thinks he can be that type of player.
"I do, and I can always improve," he said. "Improvement is the main thing. There's always room for improvement. I feel like with my ability now and going to an organization and getting with a defensive line coach, he can help me out and improve my technique."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.