Linebackers: Look past the numbers here

Cecil Sapp is one of those inside power runners who rarely loses yardage on any carry, so it came as a surprise to him and his Colorado State teammates when he was tackled for a loss behind the line not once, not twice, but three times in the Liberty Bowl by the same player, LaMarcus McDonald.

Of course, the TCU linebacker had done it all season. He was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the year after leading the Horned Frogs to the No. 1 defensive ranking in all the land. TCU accomplished that with a run defense that allowed 1.98 yards per carry and only 778 yards all season. Sapp did manage to gain over 100 yards in the Liberty Bowl, but as a team Colorado State was held to 89 yards on 31 carries (139 yards total offense) in the 17-3 loss.

Anyone who watched the game would've immediately predicted an NFL job for McDonald, TCU's lead defensive player. But his 40 time of 4.9, after he'd lost 20 pounds to help his speed, turned off plenty of teams. It all added up to one assistant defensive coach uttering the workout process' most definitive line:

"This is all (expletive)," said Chuck Cecil of the Tennessee Titans as he pored over a printout of McDonald's times and measurements. "Put on the film. I know he can play football."

McDonald certainly can play football and the film is most telling at linebacker, a players' players position.

The Pittsburgh Steelers won't be interested in McDonald, but not because of those weights and measures. It has more to do with needs, or lack thereof, and the Steelers don't need an inside linebacker. They could use an outside linebacker to battle Justin Kurpeikis for the job behind Joey Porter. That player – normally a college defensive end -- will also be groomed as a possible starter the following year since it appears as if Jason Gildon's career is winding down.

Second Round – Antwan Peek (6-2 5/8, 246, 4.62) of Cincinnati is the quickest and most agile of the dozen or so "tweeners" available in this draft. But, again, a linebacker isn't all about measurable. The Steelers like the fact that Peek is passionate about the game and is tough with an outstanding work ethic. Like Porter, Peek came to college as a wide receiver and eventually shifted to defense. He spent the last three years as Cincinnati's rush end and was most productive as a junior, when he recorded 12.5 sacks. Teams paid more attention to Peek last year and he was limited to six sacks. Was worked at linebacker this off-season and reportedly looked very comfortable in drills. Back-to-back Antwans in the second round anyone?

Third Round – Shurron Pierson (6-1 7/8, 243, 4.63) of South Florida is another defensive end who compares favorably with Porter (6-2, 248). Pierson came out a year early after he began to blossom at the end of the 2001 season. In his last 15 games, Pierson's had 17 sacks and a handful of blocked kicks and forced fumbles to go along with an interception. His pass coverage skills, as with any tweener, are the big question mark, but he's shown ability to rush the passer.

Fourth Round – Chaun Thompson (6-1 7/8, 240, 4.53) of West Texas A&M played inside linebacker in college and has more potential as an NFL coverage backer than does the typical tweener. Thompson turned down track scholarships to Princeton, Yale, Stanford and Arizona to play football at D-2 West Texas, where he made the All-America team in spite of his team's 0-11 record. Can run, hit and cover and obviously loves the game.

Fifth Round – Sam Williams (6-4½, 250, 4.58 school workout) of Fresno State is a late bloomer who's impressing scouts in post-season workouts. He has the measurables, but can he turn his hips to drop into coverage? Another possibility is that Williams adds a few pounds to play defensive end in the future. The Steelers have shown plenty of interest.

Seventh Round – John Williamson (6-1½, 235, 4.95) of East Carolina has started at defensive end, outside linebacker and inside linebacker and hasn't impressed with his computer numbers, but this tweener has proven to scouts that he can drop into coverage and play faster than he times.

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Jim Wexell
Steel City

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