Off the field, Larry English says he's a "gentleman."
On the field, though, there's nothing gentle about this man. Especially if you're an opposing quarterback.
English, who piled up 30.5 career sacks during his final three seasons at Northern Illinois and was a two-time Mid-American Conference player of the year, is one of the many pass-rushing prospects in April's draft perfectly suited to play outside linebacker in the Packers' new 3-4 defense. English told Packer Report that Green Bay used one of its 60 formal interviews on him at the Scouting Combine last month.
"I'm just a natural competitor and that's kind of how it's always been for me. I've always wanted to be the best," English said at the Combine. "I've always wanted to make plays and win, and I think those are some of the intangibles that are important in a good football player."
English was considered a possible top-20 or even top-15 prospect until the Combine, when he failed to impress with a 40-yard dash that didn't rank among the top 10 defensive linemen, never mind the top linebackers. Plus, at 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, he's not the prototype for the position. Whether any of that will push English down to No. 41, where the Packers will select in the second round, is unlikely, but he could be a target if they trade out of the ninth overall slot.
ESPN's Mel Kiper says English is one of the top couple pass rushers in this draft. Scout.com draft analyst Chris Steuber calls English "relentless" in pursuit of the quarterback. Insiders tell us that they love English's combination of athletic ability, physicality and hard-nosed determination.
"He flashes a quick first step, good strength off the edge and blinding closing speed that abruptly hits the quarterback," Steuber said. "He moves well in space, showing good awareness and tackling ability. He has strong hands and is able to defend against the pass, but he has to work on his coverage skills and footwork. English is a rising prospect and fits a 3-4 scheme very well. He has the potential to start right away next season and have an instant impact."
English ranks a notch below the upper-crust outside linebacker prospects, Florida State's Everette Brown and Texas' Brian Orakpo, and is the mix with players like USC's Clay Matthews Jr., Tennessee's Robert Ayers and Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson.
"There are a lot of good players in this draft at my position, and I feel I'm among the top," English said. "I feel that with my motor and athletic ability and my desire to learn and become better, I put myself right up there at the top."
So, how did a player of English's magnitude wind up at Northern Illinois? Well, he's a local kid who liked the program and wanted to play right away. But playing at a middle-level school made scouts wary of English's production — despite his 2.5-sack output at Tennessee last season — which made his performance at the Senior Bowl all the more important.
"It was great to be out there and to compete in a setting like that," English said of his week in Mobile, Ala. "It was conducive to learning, but at the same time, pro teams came in and got to look at how you worked, look at how you picked up the concepts and improved as the week went on."
English's sacks production slipped as his accolades grew. After recording 12 sacks as a sophomore, he tallied 10.5 in 2007 and eight in 2008. Nonetheless, being voted MVP of the MAC as a junior and senior speaks to the respect he had earned from the league's coaches.
"It meant a lot to me, especially to win that award two years in a row," English said. "It's an award that's voted on by the coaches and to know that I was regarded that highly by my opponents."
Facing constant double-teams in college should be a benefit in the NFL. While MAC offensive tackles aren't nearly as good as what he'll see in the NFL, it's no picnic having to two beat two blockers.
"It's challenging, especially when you get double teams and you get chips and thing like that," English said. "But really, it's about desire and finding a way to get there. Rushing the passer, that's what it's really all about: It's finding a way to get there."
English has the physical tools to be a success in the NFL. He also has the right attitude.
"I think it's all about the work you put into and the mind-set you take into it," he said. "I'm one of those guys that's going to come every day with the attitude that I want to get better and want to learn. I know that I still have a lot to learn. Even guys with five, six years in the league, they'll tell you the same thing."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum. Bill also is giving Twitter a try. Find him at twitter.com/packerreport