April 19, 2012

Inside or out, Texas gets it done up front

Choosing the schools for our Position U. series got a little more complicated when we started focusing on defense.

Blame it on the schematic differences between the college and pro games.

About half the NFL teams run 3-4 defenses, whereas the vast majority of college programs continue to use a 4-3 alignment. That means plenty of college defensive ends such as Penn State's Tamba Hali and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan moved to outside linebacker once they enter the pro ranks. So should we classify those guys as linebackers or defensive ends?

PASS RUSHER U. 2012
Our choice: Texas.
Who they've sent:Sam Acho (Arizona Cardinals), Tim Crowder (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Lamarr Houston (Oakland Raiders), Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins), Cory Redding (Indianapolis Colts), Brian Robison (Minnesota Vikings)
Who's next: Keenan Robinson is rated as the No. 10 outside linebacker in the 2012 draft class by nfldraftscout.com, which considers him a potential third-round pick. The same site lists Emmanuel Acho as the No. 16 outside linebacker and a likely fourth- or fifth-round selection. Alex Okafor is rated as the No. 1 defensive end prospect in the 2013 draft class by nfldraftscout.com.
Other finalists: Florida (Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati's Derrick Harvey, San Francisco's Ray McDonald, Jacksonville's Jeremy Mincey, Oakland's Jarvis Moss, New England's Jermaine Cunningham), Georgia (Seattle's Chris Clemons, Cincinnati's Robert Geathers, Washington's Kedric Golston, Carolina's Charles Johnson, Green Bay's Jarius Wynn), LSU (Kansas City's Glenn Dorsey, Green Bay's Howard Green, Kansas City's Tyson Jackson, Seattle's Pep Levingston, Dallas' Marcus Spears), Nebraska (Seattle's Pierre Allen, Washington's Adam Carriker, Buffalo's Chris Kelsay, Detroit's Barry Turner, Detroit's Kyle Vanden Bosch), North Carolina (Washington's Kentwan Balmer, Arizona's Vonnie Holliday, Chicago's Julius Peppers, St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Tampa Bay's E.J. Wilson), Purdue (Detroit's Cliff Avril, Miami's Ryan Baker, Atlanta's Ray Edwards, Green Bay's Mike Neal, San Diego's Shaun Phillips, Dallas' Anthony Spencer, Washington's Ryan Kerrigan), USC (Minnesota's Everson Griffen, Detroit's Lawrence Jackson, Buffalo's Kyle Moore, Cleveland's Frostee Rucker).
Candidate you might not have considered: Idaho State has produced two active NFL defensive ends, including 2011 NFC defensive player of the year Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings. Allen led the NFL with 22 sacks last season and earned his fourth career All-Pro selection. Another former Idaho State player is New Orleans' Jeff Charleston, who has recorded eight sacks in his five-year career.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE U. 2012
Our choice: Texas.
Who they've sent: Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh Steelers), Henry Melton (Chicago Bears), Roy Miller (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Frank Okam (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Shaun Rogers (New Orleans Saints)
Who's next: Kheeston Randall is listed as the No. 11 defensive tackle in the 2012 draft class by nfldraftscout.com, which rates him as a potential third- or fourth-round pick.
Other finalists: Alabama (Baltimore's Terrence Cody, Buffalo's Marcell Dareus), Auburn (Tennessee's Zach Clayton, Detroit's Nick Fairley, Tennessee's Sen'Derrick Marks, Dallas' Jay Ratliff, Cincinnati's Pat Sims), Boston College (New England's Ron Brace, Houston's Tim Bulman, San Diego's Antonio Garay, Green Bay's B.J. Raji), Florida State (New Orleans' Brodrick Bunkley, Arizona's Darnell Dockett, Detroit's Andre Fluellen, Minnesota's Letroy Guion), Georgia (Cincinnati's Geno Atkins, San Francisco's Demarcus Dobbs, Oakland's Richard Seymour), Iowa (Atlanta's Jonathan Babineaux, Minnesota's Christian Ballard, New Orleans' Mitch King, Tennessee's Karl Klug), Oklahoma (free agent Remi Ayodele, Kansas City's Kelly Gregg, San Diego's Tommie Harris, Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy), USC (Tennessee's Jurrell Casey, Houston's Shaun Cody, New Orleans' Sedrick Ellis, Indianapolis' Fili Moala, Philadelphia's Mike Patterson), Tennessee (New Orleans' Aubrayo Franklin, free agent Albert Haynesworth, free agent John Henderson, Miami's Tony McDaniel, Arizona's Dan Williams)
Candidate you might not have considered: Temple had a pair of defensive tackles who earned starts in the NFL last season. Terrance Knighton has been a starter with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the last three seasons, while Andre Neblett made four starts for the Carolina Panthers in 2011. And that doesn't even include Muhammad Wilkerson, a former Temple defensive tackle who started at defensive end for the New York Jets as a rookie last year.
Here was our solution: We've created a defensive ends/outside linebackers category that would include natural defensive ends as well as guys who played defensive end in college and moved to outside linebacker in the NFL. Today's article focuses on that position as well as the defensive tackles category. We also have a separate category for all other linebackers and will announce the winning school at that position on Saturday.

Amid all that confusion, this much was clear. Texas has done one heck of a job at producing NFL defensive tackles and pass rushers over the last decade.

"It's definitely something we take pride in," Minnesota Vikings defensive end and former Texas star Brian Robison said.

The list of NFL defensive tackles from Texas is headlined by five-time Pro Bowl selection Casey Hampton of the Pittsburgh Steelers, three-time Pro Bowl pick Shaun Rogers of the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears starter Henry Melton.

And that doesn't even include recent Indianapolis Colts free-agent signee Cory Redding, a nine-year NFL veteran who has played both defensive tackle and defensive end during his pro career. For the purposes of this project, we listed Redding as a defensive end.

Other defensive ends/outside linebackers from Texas include Robison, Sam Acho (Arizona Cardinals) and Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins). That trio combined for 24 sacks last season.

That was enough to make Texas the choice at both the defensive tackle and defensive end/outside linebacker categories.

Texas' strength at the defensive tackle position comes from veterans approaching the end of their careers. Hampton and Rogers are former college teammates who entered the NFL together in 2001. Most of the defensive ends/outside linebackers from Texas are just now making their marks in the NFL.

Orakpo already has recorded 28 1/2 sacks and has earned two Pro Bowl invitations in his first three NFL seasons. Robison, a fourth-round pick in 2007, delivered eight sacks and forced three fumbles last year. Acho, a former fourth-round draft pick, recorded seven sacks as a rookie last year.

And while it's easy to assume Texas' annual haul of top-10 recruiting classes makes it easier for the Longhorns to produce NFL talent, not all these guys arrived at school as elite prospects.

For example, Robison signed with Texas as a three-star linebacker recruit. He moved from middle linebacker to defensive end his sophomore year.

"I always kind of had aspirations since I was a little kid of [reaching the NFL], but it didn't really become a reality until my junior year," Robison said. "I kind of had a breakout year - I ended up with seven sacks that year - and that was the point when I felt I could be an NFL player if I kept working at this, kept grinding and kept doing what I had to do.''

Acho, also a three-star recruit, developed into a four-year starter at Texas who even played some defensive tackle his senior year. The former Academic All-American proved to be a quick study in the NFL, as he delivered a solid rookie season with Arizona.

The Texas contingent of defensive ends also includes Tim Crowder, who made a combined 13 starts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

Robison credits Texas defensive ends coach Oscar Giles for helping the Longhorns' pass rushers make such a smooth transition to the NFL. Giles, a former Atlanta Falcons defensive end and linebacker, joined Mack Brown's staff in 2005.

"He's obviously one of the best I've ever worked with," Robison said. "He's got that pro-style background. He played in the NFL and he knows what teams want, what they're looking for.''

WHAT'S POSITION U.?


The Position U. series is our attempt to determine which schools provide the most NFL talent at each position. We will analyze a different position just about every day up until the April 26 start of the NFL Draft. For the purpose of this series, we only took into consideration players who were still active as of last season.
April 13: Quarterbacks
April 14: Running backs
April 17: Offensive tackles
April 18: Guards/Centers
April 19: Defensive tackles and DE/OLB
April 21: Linebackers
April 23: Cornerbacks
April 24: Safeties
April 25: Kickers and punters
Texas had a slight edge in this category over Purdue, which also has sent a notable number of pass rushers to the NFL in recent seasons. Former Purdue defensive ends making an impact in the pro ranks include Kerrigan (Washington Redskins), Cliff Avril (Detroit Lions), Ray Edwards (Atlanta Falcons), 2010 Pro Bowl selection Shaun Phillips (San Diego Chargers) and Anthony Spencer (Dallas Cowboys).

In the defensive tackles category, no program had a combination with the track record of former Longhorn teammates Hampton and Rogers. Hampton has spent his entire pro career in Pittsburgh and has earned two Super Bowl rings.

Texas also produced Melton and Roy Miller. Melton collected seven sacks for the Bears last season, while Miller has made 19 starts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the last two years.

The Longhorns' success at producing defensive linemen and outside linebackers doesn't surprise Robison.

He remembers learning from older teammates when he arrived at Texas. After he'd been around a few years, Robison started helping out younger teammates such as Orakpo.

The Longhorns didn't allow concerns over playing time to interfere with the goal of making the team better. That team-oriented approach eventually assured that each former Texas player would be suitably prepared upon entering the NFL.

"At Texas, we're not selfish," Robison said. "We don't sit there and look at it as, 'You know what? I don't want this guy to get better.' We look at it as, 'This guy has a lot of promise. We need to help him out and try to get him at the point we're at, if not better.' For me, it's the [satisfaction] of being able to say I helped that kid and he ended up being better than me or becoming the type of player he is now. That gives you just as much [satisfaction] as anything.''


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




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