NFL Draft prospect is stout in the middle

Facing questions such as ‘what is the opposite of the opposite' during the combine is something every prospect in attendance had to go through. Picking a way through or taking on double teams against towering offensive linemen is only for the select few.

It doesn't matter what kind of defense Anttaj Hawthorne ends up in. He knows the type of player he is. A defensive tackle out of Wisconsin, Hawthorne loves sticking his nose in the play and grinding it out with the big boys.

And teams such as Dallas and San Diego, who have each interviewed the prospect, are in love with his attitude on the field.

With 31 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks over the past two years, Hawthorne has shown he is more than capable of holding up the line and getting penetration.

It is a role he relishes in.

"I am real physical on the inside, down and dirty inside the trenches, starting to get a push up the field, taking on double teams, getting off blocks and stuff like that," he explains.

The Wisconsin lineman showed flashes of brilliance during his week in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl. He gets off the snap with a burst and can effectively clog the middle of the field yet didn't show the skills necessary to collapse the pocket as many had hoped.

In a draft that isn't considered to be top heavy in terms of defensive tackle talent, Hawthorne is near the top.

Hawthorne isn't stuck in the mindset that he will only be used in the traditional 4-3 scheme. No matter what the defense is, he figures to be lining up in relatively the same spot.

"Playing defensive tackle, lining up on the guards, depending on what kind of defense they are playing," he said.

A team captain as a senior, Hawthorne's experience playing Big Ten football has become a commodity in NFL circles.

Still, he saw the Senior Bowl as a challenge that he could not pass up.

"The talent was the best," Hawthorne said. "I wanted to prove that I can bang with the best. I think it is the best conference, but you don't always go up against the best players in the nation. You go up against big offensive lineman all the time and they like to run the ball a lot, marching straight down the field. I think I have that advantage right there coming from the Big Ten, but you don't go against this caliber of athlete (in the Senior Bowl) every game."

Bouts of inconsistency have plagued Hawthorne's career. While he can be unstoppable off the line at times, he will also disappear for stretches.

The feeling among scouts at the Senior Bowl was he needed to be coached further to realize all of his potential. He is generally sound in the run-stuffing department but is a shade slow in his ability to snare the quarterback. Scouts in Mobile saw a person who would work hard to take his game to the next level and Hawthorne agrees.

"I bring a lot of enthusiasm, energy and things like that," Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne threw up 225 pounds on the bench press 21 times and ran his forty in 5.25 seconds, a little slower than he had hoped.

With a thin crop of defensive tackles entering the draft, Hawthorne could turn into a gem in the proper system. The team that grabs the Badger on day one has to maximize his potential and get him to play hard on every down. If they do, he could turn into one of the best linemen to come out in the 2005 NFL Draft.

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