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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 1, 2010

Defensive players at head of draft class

Associated Press

Ndamukong Suh thinks he should be the No. 1 pick.

Gerald McCoy and Eric Berry both contend they should go first, too.

Suddenly in the quarterback-driven NFL, defense is becoming all the rage. Early draft projections have Suh and McCoy, defensive tackles, going among the top four picks. Berry could join them in the top five, and none of the three defenders is shy about making their cases for who is the best.

"In my eyes, I feel like I'm the best player in the draft because I bring a lot to the table," Berry said yesterday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. "I was a game-changer in college. If you want to compare the big playmaking ability, you can put that there. As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I was a star for three years."

McCoy and Suh can't exactly say the same thing though they are clearly the bigger stars now.

Suh came to the league's annual scouting combine a little shorter than 6 feet 4 and 307 pounds, two months after joining the other Heisman Trophy finalists in New York. McCoy, a playful character with oodles of charisma, checked in at 6-4, 295.

"One time in little league, I tackled three people," McCoy said. "I came through and the quarterback didn't know who to give it to, so I just grabbed everybody."

Suh (Nebraska), McCoy (Oklahoma) and Berry (Tennessee) are presumably battling a pair of quarterbacks, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, to become this year's draft lottery winner.

History does not bode well for these defenders.

Quarterbacks have gone first in nine of the last 12 drafts. The last defensive tackle to go No. 1 overall was Cincinnati's Dan Wilkinson in 1994. Of the five defensive tackles taken No. 1 since 1964, only Dallas' Russell Maryland played in a Pro Bowl. He made it once.

The questions about Suh are more about whether he can adapt to the NFL style, which will require him to play the run on the way to the pass.

"I think I can do that, I just haven't had the opportunity just yet to do that because of the scheme that we were in (during college)," Suh said Saturday in Indy. "I'm not saying that was a problem because there's opportunities in our scheme when I had a chance to do that, but it wasn't as much as some of the teams did. Gerald had that opportunity a little bit more."

Berry has more significant obstacles to overcome.

Safeties have rarely gone in the top 10. The last defensive back taken No. 1: Safety Gary Glick of Colorado A&M, who went to Pittsburgh in 1956.


Safety Myron Rolle figured out the proper balance between football and academics long ago.

His priority: Becoming a neurosurgeon after football ends in 10 to 12 years.

So could his passion for football wind up ruining the precious hands of a future surgeon?

"That's not something I really worry about," Rolle said yesterday at the NFL's annual scouting combine. "When I'm on the football field, I'm a football player. I'm tough, I'm physical, I'm aggressive and I like contact. I want to do some violent things on the field. That's the total opposite of how you need to be as a neurosurgeon."

Anyone who has walked through an NFL locker room has seen fingers that are, well, bent out of shape.

Rolle, who played at Florida State, insists this dual-career path can happen. He has not played football since 2008 because he spent the past year studying as a Rhodes Scholar in England. To stay in shape, Rolle played rugby, then returned to the U.S. in December to start preparing for the NFL draft.

Last month, he worked out at the Senior Bowl.


Stanford running back Toby Gerhart hasn't created much buzz at the combine even though he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

At 6 feet and 231 pounds, some are questioning which position he's better suited to play, a feature runner or fullback.

"I firmly believe I have the skill set to play running back," he said. "I threw in a little wiggle every now and again, but I'm a physical runner."

Gerhart won't be taking another page out of Deion Sanders' playbook, though. He's decided to give up baseball, a sport where he was a standout outfielder.