Patriots likely picks to be Reggie Nelson and Posluszny
By John Ingoldsby
The NFL Draft, or the fifth most popular sport in America as I heard it referred to this week, is nearly upon us, and here are your New England Patriots two first round picks.
As written in this space a few weeks ago, the team's first pick at number 24 will be Florida Safety Reggie Nelson, the 6'1" 175-pound hitting machine. At pick #28, the Patriots will choose Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny, the two-time winner of the Maxwell's Football Club's Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player.
Recent events have only confirmed the choice, including the signing of cornerback Tory James from the Cincinnati Bengals. The signing of James takes the edge off the immediate need at cornerback, and reinforces the notion that safety is now the Pats' biggest need in the draft. Not to be overlooked with Nelson is that he can play cornerback as well, a trait that Coach Bill Belichick and General Manager Scott Pioli relish.
For an expert perspective on Nelson's college career, your Patriots Insider scribe sought out an old hometown friend and 13-year Gator season-ticket holder, who has missed only one home game since 1994. This 25-year Gainesville resident got hooked on the Swamp experience by selling soda in the stands during the 1980s - when Steve Spurrier and national championships were just a twinkle in Gator fans' eyes. He writes below:
"Reggie Nelson is a very special person. This kid wanted to be a Gator so much that when he did not get in because of our academic standards, he went to a JUCO.
Florida S Reggie Nelson
While there, his mother, to whom he was very close, developed breast cancer. She and her family kept it from Reggie because they knew he would not want to stay there. She would wear wigs when he came home and it was only after a year or so that he found out. She talked him into staying and fulfilling his dream of being a Gator.
When he got here, it was obvious he was a very gifted athlete. It was just a matter of finding his best position. I do not know how scouting reports can say he is not good at point of contact or missing coverages. His nickname on the team was "The Eraser" because of his ability to cover up mistakes from the front seven or other DBs.
His mom died last December, just before Christmas and after the regular season and before the national championship game with Ohio State. He was devastated. The last thing this kid did before every game was call her. No one knew how he would deal with it before the title game. It is a mandatory rule that players are made available to the press during the week leading up to the game. Coach Meyer and UF asked for, and were granted, a special exemption to the policy. As it turned out, our D-line and linebackers did such a good job against OSU, Reggie really wasn't much of a factor in the game. He was held on the opening kickoff that Ted Ginn scored on.
All I know is, many teams would refuse to even throw near him. I remember an opening-possession interception at UT that set the tone for our 21-20 victory in the third week of the season. His hard hits against FSU in the last regular season game. His interception return for a TD to seal the Alabama game in the Swamp. So many more...."
Regarding Posluszny, full disclosure is required here since I grew up in the shadow of Beaver Stadium and, like my hometown friend in Gainesville, sold beverages during Nittany Lion games when I was a teen-ager. Must be a western Pennsylvania work ethic thing.
Posluszny, more than any other single player, led the Lions back from the abyss two years ago when he was a junior. The 6'2", 240 pounder had an absolute monster year, lifting Joe Paterno and his teammates back to national prominence.
Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny fights off Wisconsin fullback Chris Pressley during the second half Saturday, November 5, 2005 at Beaver Stadium (Photo: Derek Montgomery/Badger Nation)
He displayed talent, leadership, intelligence, toughness, and big-play timing during the 11-1 campaign, which ended prematurely for him when he injured his knee early in the epic Orange Bowl victory over Bobby Bowden and Florida State. He worked maniacally to get back on the field for his senior year, where he had a solid year on a solid team, although nowhere near as spectacular for either as the previous year.
All in all, he carried on the tradition of legendary Linebacker U, showing he was an able successor to the likes of Jack Ham, Greg Buttle, LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short, and legions more. And talk about good gridiron blood lines. He grew up in Aliquippa, PA, the hometown of Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, and Ty Law, not to mention Pistol Pete Maravich.
The Patriots' second most obvious position (after safety) that needs to get young in a hurry is linebacker. There are many reasons why Posluszny will be the pick, but the statistic that shows it best is this: He is Penn State's career leader in tackles with 364, a fascinating figure when stacked against all the great defenders who have dominated in Happy Valley.
Belichick and Pioli take note of this type of production, especially when it comes from a character guy like Posluszny. They will trust their instincts by bringing him in to be the next Bruschi.
John Ingoldsby is a free-lance sports writer based in Medfield, Massachusetts, who has written articles about the Patriots for various publications during the past five years. You can find John on the Patriots Insider boards under the handle Rudiee.