NFL Scouting Combine Research: Inside Linebackers, Part 2

Whose comeback from a knee injury rivals that of Adrian Peterson? Who became close friends with a little boy with cancer? Who in the heck is Phillip Wright? These incredible stories highlight the inside linebacker prospects.

Antonio Morrison, Florida (6-1, 232): What does Morrison have in common with Adrian Peterson? A remarkable recovery from a serious knee injury. During the Gator Bowl to cap the 2014 season, Morrison tore multiple knee ligaments in an injury so severe that his screams could be heard easily by fans at the game and watching on TV. Two surgeries were required. The medical staff just wanted Morrison to enjoy a normal post-football life. Morrison wanted much more. Four months after his second surgery, he was squatting 500 pounds. When fall camp started, Morrison was ready to go. "In all the years that I've done this, I've never quite encountered anything like this or someone like him," said Florida's longtime director of rehabilitation, Marty Huegel. "For lack of a better term, it's the most amazing thing I've ever seen." Other than a break for a lunch and possibly a brief nap, he rehabbed from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. “I didn't feel any pain,” he said early in camp. “I didn't feel slower. I actually felt faster, more agile and I put on about 15 pounds. I felt good. I just didn't know how I was going to hold up for two-and-days and camp. But I never had any pain at all.” Remarkably, Morrison played every game. He led the Gators with 103 tackles (42 solos) and was second with 12 tackles for losses. He added 2.5 sacks, one pass breakup and one forced fumble and was named second-team all-SEC. Morrison started four games as a true freshman and seven games in as a sophomore before a season-ending injury. In 2014, he was second-team all-SEC as he tallied 101 tackles, making him the first Gators linebacker with 100-plus tackles since 2007.

Jared Norris, Utah (6-1, 239): After starting seven times as a sophomore, Norris earned all-conference accolades his final two seasons. As a senior, Norris had 87 tackles (50 solos) and ranked seventh in the Pac-12 with 7.8 tackles per game. He added two forced fumbles and five pass breakups. He was even better as a junior, with 116 tackles (63 solos), four sacks and 13 tackles for losses. From grade school, when they were both youth football quarterbacks, all the way through their careers at Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif., Norris was friends and a teammates with USC quarterback Cody Kessler. “I was like, 'Dang, I'm going to school with him and I don't know if I'm going to be able to beat him out,'?" Norris said. "So I'm like, 'Well I guess I need to find another position.” On the practice field at Centennial, they “battled daily,” their high school coach, whether it was football, dodge ball or ping-pong. He’s an avid skateboarder, having been a camper at Camp Woodward, one of the top skateboard programs at more than $1,100 per week. “I skated ever since I was about 5, just because my cousins and everybody did it. I was never super good, but I started pursuing it, like a lot. I would do it everyday. And then in eighth grade I went to Woodward and I was, like, the biggest kid there. All these little skater kids were short, skinny kids, and I’m just like this linebacker out there skateboarding. I still hung with everybody, and I got invited back to the camp and everything, it was fun. Even now if you give me a skateboard I can do some stuff, it’s just been a long time.” He has a tattoo that honors his grandmother, who died when he was in high school. He was raised mostly by his grandparents.

Joshua Perry, Ohio State (6-4, 253): Perry , a first-team all-Big Ten selection as a senior, ranked second on the team with 105 tackles (53 solos), with 3.5 sacks and 7.5 for losses. He also broke up four passes. The three-year starter paced the Buckeyes with 124 tackles en route to winning the national title in 2014. He finished his career with 298 tackles, including 19 for losses. His younger brother, Jahred, was diagnosed at age 9 with Asperger's syndrome, part of the autism spectrum. With Joshua’s assistance, Jahred is a student at Ohio State and a manager on the lacrosse team. "We call him the 'Mayor of Lewis Center' because he knows everyone," Perry said, referencing the Columbus suburb. "Even with the way he interacts with people on campus and the way he balance his school work and extracurriculars ... it's amazing to see that growth and know whatever you want to do is attainable if you put your mind to it." His kindness goes far beyond his family tree. Perry befriended a young boy named Joshua, who in February 2013 was diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Perry, along with his teammates, send short videos to brighten his spirits as he goes through chemotherapy. Perry wears a “Joshua 1:9 wristband in his honor. “If I was going through something like that at such a young age,” Perry said, “I really don’t know how I’d be able to deal with it the way that he was and it’s literally amazing to see that.” To help raise awareness for children with cancer, Perry organized a Whipping Childhood Cancer Challenge in which he and several teammates got a whipped cream pie smooshed into their faces.

Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama (6-1, 259): Ragland is the consensus best inside linebacker in the draft. Scouts surveyed wouldn’t rule out Ragland getting to Green Bay’s spot at No. 27 but thought it more likely than not that the team would have to look elsewhere to get Clay Matthews out of the middle. As a senior, he was a first-team All-American and the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker), Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year) and Nagurski Trophy (Defensive Player of the Year). After starting on the weak side as a junior, Ragland excelled at middle linebacker as a senior with a career-high 102 tackles. He added 2.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for losses and seven passes defensed.  Ragland anchored a defense that entered the playoffs ranked No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 1 in rushing defense and No. 2 in total defense. At the Senior Bowl, he showed his versatility by playing outside linebacker. Ragland might have been a first-round pick last year, when he had 97 tackles and was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. "I decided to stay and in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to stay because I wanted to become a smarter player before I went to the NFL,” he said at the Senior Bowl. That league is a grown man's league. Those guys have families to feed and I don't want to go in there half-stepping because I don't want to mess up somebody's family. So I wanted to be the smartest person I could be before I take the next step." As a kid, he got sage advice from his parents. School comes first. Girls come later. "Reggie knew he had to answer to me," Ragland Sr. said. "That's one of the main reasons he stayed in line was because he always knew he was going to have to answer for whatever he did out there. He'll tell you one of the reasons he didn't do anything was because he knew what would be waiting on him once he came home." He’s a big guy now; he was a big guy when he was little, too. "When he was little and in diapers, everybody thought he was three or four years old," his mom said. "People said, 'Why does that boy still have diapers on?' This kid wasn't even a year old yet."

Terrance Smith, Florida State (6-3, 219): The three-year starter had his senior season derailed by a high-ankle injury that cost him four games. In nine games, he finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles (35 solos), with one sack, one forced fumble and four passes defensed. Just before the injury, he had 2.5 tackles for losses and forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in a 14-0 win over Boston College. “It’s frustrating, but it taught me that I can influence the people without having to be on the field. I was more or less coaching on the sideline, trying to get the young guys to see what I was seeing.” As a junior, Smith was second-team all-ACC with 87 tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions, including a 94-yard pick-six vs. Florida. As a sophomore, he moved into the starting lineup in Week 5 and recorded 59 interceptions to earn honorable-mention all-conference. Smith’s father, the late Terry Smith, starred as a wide receiver for Clemson in the 1990s. In 1997, Terry kicked in the door of his estranged wife’s home and held her at knifepoint while she held their 2-year-old daughter. Terry was shot by police to save the family. "I've never been ashamed of who my father was," Terrance said. "I've always kind of felt like he's been there for me, watching over me."

Nick Vigil, Utah State (6-2, 230): Underclassman. Vigil led the Mountain West conference with a career-high 144 tackles — sixth-most in the nation. He was the only player in the nation to record at least nine tackles in every game. He added three sacks, 13.5 for losses, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Playing alongside his brother, Zach, in 2014, Nick Vigil had 123 tackles, seven sacks, 16.5 tackles for losses, five forced fumbles and one interception. Vigil was first-team all-Mountain West both seasons. His three-year totals of 324 tackles and 38.5 tackles for losses rank 13th and third, respectively, in school history. Against BYU in 2014, Vigil had nine tackles on defense and carried 16 times for 57 yards and one touchdown on offense. Playing a total of 108 snaps, Vigil was the only player in FBS to lead his team in rushing and tackles in the same game. Against Air Force, he became the only player in the nation to start on both sides of the ball in the same game. On defense, he had 11 tackles and one interception; on offense, he carried five times for 10 yards and one touchdown, completed 2-of-2 passes for 13 yards and played a total of 97 snaps. Against UNLV, he had six tackles and a forced fumble and 51 yards on 11 carries despite missing the second half with a leg injury. In a bowl game against UTEP, Vigil recorded seven tackles and rushed for 34 yards, including a touchdown. Of course, even that two-way prowess was lost in the shadow of Big Brother, who played 16 games with the Dolphins last year. As brothers tend to be, they are highly competitive and drive each other to success. “Zach had shot a deer early in the morning,” Nick said. “He shot a little two-point and was real happy about it. He gutted it out and took it back to the trailer and we kept hunting When we came back, I had shot a deer that day, too, and mine was bigger. We have a picture of it and Zach’s sitting there behind his deer and I’m behind my deer, and he’s real grumpy and real mad because I got a bigger deer. He always says that’s the story of his life, but I thought it was a funny moment.”

Scooby Wright III, Arizona (6-0, 246): Underclassman. Wright was a three-year starter. His 2014 campaign was one of the best in NCAA history. He ranked in the top five among FBS players for total tackles (163), tackles for losses (29.0), sacks (14.0) and forced fumbles (six). Not only did he win the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, but he captured the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Rotary Lombardi Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award, all given annually to the nation’s top defender. In 2015, however, he played in only three games due to a knee injury in the opener and a foot injury later. He returned for the bowl game and piled up 15 tackles, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses. Wright, like his hero Tedi Bruschi, was a two-star recruit who started his first career game at Arizona. "Everybody always told me I wasn't good enough or I wasn't fast enough," Wright said. "It really didn't make sense to me. I was sitting on the stage at the Nagurski Award banquet thinking to myself, 'Wow, this is really cool to go from nobody wanting me to this banquet.'" And, no, his name really isn’t Scooby. It’s Phillip Wright III. His father liked to call baby Phillip “My little Scooby-Doo.” The name stuck. So much so that nobody in high school knew who in the heck Phillip Wright was when his name was called at graduation. “They were like, ‘Who’s that?’ Some of my closest friends, from like fourth grade, didn’t know my name was Phillip. That was pretty funny.” Some more Wright trivia: He pukes before games. And he eats. A lot.


Outside linebackers, Part 1
Outside linebackers, Part 2
Outside linebackers, Part 3 (FREE)
Inside linebackers, Part 1
Inside linebackers, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive ends, Part 1
Defensive ends, Part 2
Defensive tackles, Part 1 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 3 (FREE)
Offensive tackles, Part 1
Offensive tackles, Part 2
Offensive guards, Part 1 (FREE)
Offensive guards, Part 2 (FREE)
Centers (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
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Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
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