Combine Preview: Defense

Forty times and weight-lifting results are all important for defenders during the combine. Fast corners, speedy edge rushers and strong defensive tackles are always high on the priority list every April. Here are the names to watch out for next week.

There is a good chance the top defensive ends won't run at the combine, preferring individual Pro Days instead. A few second-tier linemen stand to improve their draft rankings with good performances. Bill Swancutt and James Davis can capitalize on solid Senior Bowl showings while scouts are very excited about Adrian Awasom, a sleeper of sorts from North Texas. Junior tackle C.J. Mosley, unheralded Kevin Vickerson and Albert Means are a trio from the defensive tackle ranks who will all benefit from solid showings in the RCA Dome.

While the top player on the board at outside linebacker is set, the next few slots are still in debate. Shawne Merriman, Kevin Burnett and Darryl Blackstock are the next three on most scouts lists, though a shift in the order is possible depending on workout results.

Also critical will be how some of the smaller collegiate defensive ends display their skills when used at linebacker. DeMarcus Ware, Jonathan Goddard and Ryan Riddle all terrorized quarterbacks on Saturdays from a three-point stance but will be put through a battery of linebacker drills and good results could solidify the trio as first day picks, with Ware headed towards the early part of the second frame.

Inside/middle linebacker is also a position that could see a lot of jostling near the top. Lance Mitchell must run well after coming off of knee surgery, Barrett Ruud must prove his athleticism while Kirk Morrison could make more believe in him after a splendid Senior Bowl with a good Indianapolis showing.

A lot is at stake in the defensive secondary as the faster the prospects run, the higher they will be selected. Antrel Rolle won't run until his Pro Day at Miami on March 4, so if Adam Jones chooses to work out and performs well in the RCA Dome, he could lock up the top spot at cornerback. Brandon Browner needs a fast time to seal himself as a top 45 pick, as does Corey Webster and Marlin Jackson after poor senior campaigns. Keep a close eye on Darrent Williams, the small cover corner who stood out at the Senior Bowl and has run some blistering times recently.

Finally, safety Josh Bullocks could stake a claim in the first round with a good showing and Marviel Underwood could make a move up draft boards if he's as good as advertised.

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