Draft Notebook: Talking 3-4 DE, OLB

Leading off a national notebook, there are more linebackers than defensive ends to help the Packers in this draft. That and much, much more from national writer Len Pasquarelli.

The jury is out on a lot of defensive linemen, in terms of where they best project for the draft, and Penn State's Devon Still is among them.

Although Still proclaimed at the Scouting Combine that he is "hands down" the top tackle prospect in the 2012 pool, interior players such as Dontari Poe (Memphis), Michael Brockers (LSU), and Jerel Worthy (Michigan State) seem to have surpassed him on some boards.

Like some inside players, Still's best position might be as a "five technique" end in a 3-4 front — a position the Green Bay Packers would like to upgrade in this draft — with the ability to move inside in some 4-3 looks or situational occasions.

At 303 pounds, he probably isn't a candidate for 3-4 nose tackle, although a few clubs that don't use a traditional "space-eater" type player still have him as a possibility there.

The good news for Still is that he seems to have answered any lingering physical questions about past injuries, including an ACL in 2007 and broken ankle in '08. But there remains the question of where Still, solid against the run and still quicker than most guards, will line up in the NFL.

3-4 outside linebackers

While there continues to be a shortage of "five technique" 3-4 end prospects, things seem to be looking increasingly positive for clubs like the Packers who are seeking 3-4 rush linebackers.

There are a number of college defensive ends -- likc USC's Nick Perry, Andre Branch of Clemson, and Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, among them -- who seem capable of making the transition.

At the combine and on tape, scouts have been impressed by the players' abilities to play in space, and although the relative video samples have been small, the projections are now better than they were a month ago. Mercilus especially turned in a nice performance at a stand-up linebacker stint during his recent pro day.

Kirkpatrick's arrest

The marijuana possession charges that recently were dropped against Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, still seen as a first-round pick, don't seem to bother many teams in assessing the former Crimson Tide standout.

For one thing, Kirkpatrick has the endorsement of Alabama coach Nick Saban, a man whose opinion carries plenty of weight with NFL teams. But this note, too, that might have some bearing: Some people at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Kirkpatrick was working out before the combine have been reprimanded for allowing some allegedly unsavory characters into the facility.

And it's believed that UnderArmour has also taken some steps to discipline an employee who might have had some role in the incident as well.

The takeaway: Kirkpatrick's explanation to scouts about the marijuana-related arrest seems to ring true with teams, and the punitive actions taken by others has probably helped him.

Learning disabilities

No word yet on possible failed drug tests at the combine, an annual story, it seems, but several scouts pointed out to The Sports Xchange that about 4-5 draft prospects were diagnosed with different degrees of learning deficiencies, varying from dyslexia to attention deficit disorder to ADHD.

Some of the players spoke openly in interview sessions about the disorders, and others were discovered during the interview process. The consensus is that most of the players handled themselves fairly well in the interviews and "at the blackboard" in discussing plays and strategies, and one personnel director said no player should be "too hurt" by the disorders.

In 2009, however, it's generally believed the draft stock of Ball State quarterback Nate Davis was impacted somewhat by a learning disorder. Davis was chosen by San Francisco in the fifth round that year.

Datko under microscope

Scouts are anxious to get another look at Florida State left offensive tackle Andy Datko, who was limited to four games in 2011 by shoulder surgery, and who has a history of troublesome shoulder problems.

Datko started 40 games during his career with the Seminoles, was 6-6 and 315 pounds at the combine, where he ran 5.32, but still has some interesting potential.

Datko entered last season as one of the better tackle prospects in the country, is regarded as having decent feet, but scouts seem to like his frame and his demeanor, and he could be a late-round choice for some team willing to take a chance.

The man who replaced Datko after his injury, Zebrie Sanders, has been a bit of a disappointment in workouts.

Extra points

— As first reported Tuesday by The Sports Xchange, tailback Trent Richardson (knee) and safety Mark Barron (hernia), both still rehabilitating from recent surgeries and unable to work out at the combine or at the Alabama pro day on Wednesday, will audition for scouts in about three weeks. Each is the top-rated player at his position.

— Even if Dallas signs a veteran in free agency, look for the Cowboys to choose a quarterback somewhere in the draft. With Jon Kita retiring and coaches still uncertain about three-year veteran Stephen McGee, the Cowboys want to generate more competition behind Tony Romo on the depth chart.

— It would be unfair to characterize Georgia tight end Orson Charles as plummeting, because he actually caught the ball fairly well at the team's Monday pro day, and in blustery conditions. But Charles did not run particularly well, clocking 4.75 with the wind and 4.90 against it. Charles still looks like a second-rounder.

— One tight end who seems to have helped himself since the combine is Michael Egnew of Missouri, who might have the best hands of any of the candidates at the position. Egnew, though, is still bothered by a hamstring injury, although he participated in the Mizzou pro day workouts

— Since teams are now looking at bigger wideouts who might eventually be able to make the transition to the red-hot tight end position, clubs are keeping an eye on UCLA's Nelson Rosario. A project for sure, Rosario was over 6-5 and weighed 230 pounds, and caught the ball well at his pro day.

— Another possible tight end project is Adrien Robinson of Cincinnati, a one-year starter who was not invited to the combine, but performed well on pro day.

— Teams who interviewed the former Ohio State players who were suspended last year largely came away impressed with the prospects, particularly wide receiver DeVier Posey and tailback Boom Herron. The scouts felt that each of the players met questions about their indiscretions head-on, and that they had some mitigating family circumstances that led to the problems. In general, it seems teams were impressed by the prospects' candor this year, including several players in the candidate pool who were forthcoming about past drug problems.


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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.


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