LB Alexander Easing His Way Into Pros

Linebacker Rufus Alexander was surprised he wasn't drafted until the sixth round in April, but he's learning it's a different game at the NFL level. See what the rookie had to say about the transition over the course of two interviews during spring practices.

Sixth-round draft pick Rufus Alexander is easing his way into the Vikings' system. He just signed a four-year contract with the team this week, ensuring he will be able to start training camp on the practice field on July 27.

That's a good thing for any rookie trying to digest the schemes run by a professional football team.

"You can't expect being a rookie to get in and know everything when there are guys that have been there before you. You've got to play your role and learn everything. Guys already know that played the speed of the game," Alexander said.

Even for the 2006 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, making the jump from college to the professional ranks can be difficult, and, like most rookies, Alexander's biggest challenge is adjusting to the speed of the NFL players.

"It is the biggest change. Everybody is fast and you've got the best of the best coming at one level and playing. It's not like you have any slow people on the field. You've got to stay comfortable and do what you can. Don't try to do too much or do what you can't do and make yourself look bad," he said.

"The offensive linemen are a lot faster and know what they've got to do. Everybody is a lot more faster. Everything happens a lot faster, reads and everything."

In college, even in an established football program like Oklahoma's, Alexander averaged nearly 100 tackles per season in his final three seasons as a starter. He increased his production in nearly every category each year, finishing his senior season with 118 tackles.

But all that production didn't add up to a first-round draft selection or even a first-day selection. Alexander had to wait for 175 other players to be drafted before he finally heard his name called.

"It surprised me, but it is what it is and I have to go out here and make the best of it. I got picked in the sixth (round), and I have to come out here and make the plays that I have to to make the team," he said.

"It doesn't matter if I got picked in the first or second round, I'd still have something to prove. There are veteran guys on every team that are going to come out and not just give it to anybody that comes in. If I had went anywhere, I'd have had to go out and prove that I could play at this level."

He isn't expected to crack the starting lineup any time soon. E.J. Henderson is starting in the middle this year, with Chad Greenway manning the weakside linebacker position. Alexander is working behind Ben Leber on the strong side. Already he has survived the release of one rookie linebacker, George Hall, and for now Alexander is concentrating on making the team before making any predictions about his future or being a potential sleeper pick from the sixth round.

"I guess you could say that I'll come out and surprise people, but I'm just going to do what I have to do to make the team – play aggressively, play fast, play well – that's how I play the game."

Although Alexander said he talked with defensive assistant Jeff Imamura in the months before the draft and knew the Vikings evaluated him at the Senior Bowl, the linebacker had no idea which team would draft him or which round he would be selected in. Fortunately for him, he says the Vikings' Cover-2 scheme is similar to the one his Sooners ran in college.

"It's pretty much the same as what we did at OU. Scheme-wise, it's pretty much the same adjustments and getting the language down," he said, but he also admitted that getting all the schemes down was the toughest adjustment for him, especially considering the lack of repetitions a second- or third-string linebacker gets in practices. "In college, you're more of the guy. Having less reps – everything is about getting in, getting your reps and getting out."

As sophomore at Oklahoma, Alexander was named second-team all-conference by the Associated Press and honorable mention by the coaches. As a junior, he led the team in tackles and was named first-team all-conference. As a senior, he was named All-America and became only the first Sooner since Rocky Calmus (1999-2000) to lead the team in tackles in consecutive seasons.

Now he knows that special teams might have to be his calling card to making the Vikings and admitted to some nervousness in his first practices with the team.

"You're coming out here and playing with some of the best talent around, so there are nerves to come out there and just play fast, play hard and impress the coaches," he said.

So far, it's a work in progress for the well-decorated college player.

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