Senior Bowl Day 3: Small School Players Standing Tall

Posted Jan 25, 2012

MOBILE, Ala. – Two of the tallest offensive skill players in this year’s Senior Bowl happen to come from two of the smallest schools, and they both hope to make a big impact.

Appalachian State wide receiver Brian Quick and Louisiana-Lafayette tight end LaDarius Green have the size and the physical tools that make the mouths of NFL scouts water. But like many small-school players that came before them, they have a little bit more to prove.

Joining the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Quick and the 6-6, 236-pound Green in that category are seven other seniors, including Green’s teammate at Louisiana-Lafayette, defensive back Dwight “Bill” Bentley. They all know the knock associated with their alma maters, which is the level of competition they faced, but that hasn’t stopped their predecessors at this venue.

“Armanti Edwards and Daniel Wilcox, those guys have helped me tremendously,” said Quick, referring to two former Appalachian State players that reached the NFL. “They basically just told me to stay focused and play hard and I actually played with Armanti, so seeing him play hard and seeing his work ethic and the way he played just made me work even harder and gave me the drive. We’re still good friends and talk all the time.”

Edwards was drafted in the third round (89th overall) by the Carolina Panthers in 2010 after going 42-7 as the Mountaineers’ starting quarterback and winning the Walter Payton Award as the best player in the FCS. Wilcox was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2001 by the New York Jets and finished his career with the Baltimore Ravens.

Quick, who caught 71 passes for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior compares himself to New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks because of his size and also because of his ability to stretch the field and make the tough catches over the middle. He is just the second Appalachian State player to appear in the Senior Bowl, joining wide receiver Dexter Jackson in 2008. Seeing the higher profile players from Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Alabama and the other big schools has not intimidated him so far, but he was a bit nervous facing the NFL coaches from the Minnesota Vikings.

“It’s kind of nerve-racking a little bit when you don’t know the plays and you’re trying to get everything down and you’re head’s spinning,” Quick said. “You play your best football when you’re calm and you don’t worry about a lot of things and you just do it, but I feel like it doesn’t have anything to do with the size of the school. A lot of people get caught up in the big name schools but everybody out here is really good and it’s the best of the best and being at Appalachian State I had to work for the recognition.”

Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland has had a successful track record plucking talent from the lesser known schools, most recently with defensive end Kendall Langford in the 2008 NFL Draft. Langford played at Hampton University and caught the eye of a lot of scouts and coaches at the 2008 Senior Bowl.

With nine small school players in the mix this year, Ireland and the other general managers around the league hope to find the next one or two diamonds in the rough. Of course it’s also a virtual chess match during these practices as nobody wants to tip their hand.

“I think there’s a couple out there (worth looking at) and I saw a couple of skill position guys that I won’t name by name that have jumped out at me,” Ireland said. “We watched a lot of tape in December and there are some guys out there that may not even be at this game that are going to make a strong case in the draft.”

For Green, this week had to be extra special being that he hails from nearby Pensacola, which is only an hour away. That meant that his family and friends could come out and watch him practice.

One year after hauling in 44 passes for 794 yards and seven touchdowns for the Ragin’ Cajuns, Green had 51 receptions for 606 yards and eight touchdowns and finished his college career with 149 catches for 2,201 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns. He stood tall out on the field during the first two days of practices for Mike Shanahan’s Washington Redskins coaching staff.

“I take a lot from the fact that other players from small schools have made strong impressions during their week in Mobile so there’s a lot I have to prove,” Green said. “I tell the scouts that you draft players, you don’t draft schools and I just want to prove myself and make it on my own merits this week.”

Over on the other side of the ball, Bentley shares the same view as his fellow Ragin’ Cajun in terms of highlighting his skills as a player and taking the attention away from where he played. He admitted he came in with a chip on his shoulder intent on representing his school and doing what it takes to make it in the NFL.

Fellow defensive back Asa Jackson from Cal Poly, like Quick, has a former teammate of his to lean on and look up to as an example in wide receiver Ramses Barden, who was a third-round pick of the New York Giants in 2009.

“In this whole draft process one of the knocks on me was that I haven’t played against anybody,” said Jackson, who had 54 tackles (31 solo), a half a sack and two interception returns for touchdowns, including one for 100 yards last year. “So this is my opportunity to prove those people wrong. It adds a little something extra for me but I relish the opportunity and relish the challenge. I’m looking forward to performing well this week.”

Jackson seems to be speaking not only for himself but also for Quick, Green, Bentley, Marshall defensive lineman Vinny Curry, UMass tight end Emil Igwenagu, North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins, Furman defensive back Ryan Steed and University of Alabama-Birmingham offensive lineman Matt McCants. These are the lucky nine that will get to go toe-to-toe with the big boys and open more eyes.

NEVADA LB JOHNSON DOES NO. 52 PROUD: There are more high profile linebackers in town this week like Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and North Carolina’s Quinton Couples, but Nevada’s James-Michael Johnson is making a strong statement on his behalf.

Sporting the No. 52 made famous now by future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens and Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers, Johnson was flying all over the field at this morning’s practice. During 11-on-11 drills near the south end zone, Johnson’s crunching tackles could be heard in the last row of the surrounding stands.

One sequence featured back-to-back running plays that were quickly stuffed by Johnson as he collapsed the middle of the offensive line and penetrated the backfield. He left a mark on Boise State running back Doug Martin and Ohio State running back Dan Herron among others.

Johnson hopes he left an indelible mark on the NFL scouts, coaches and general managers this week. If he did he will find out between now and leading up to the NFL Scouting Combine next month in Indianapolis.
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