Ohio State's James Laurinaitis
South squad linebacker Rey Maualuga of Southern California.
NFL draft previews
As many as eight linebackers could come off the board in the first round of next week's NFL Draft, even more if the defensive end-outside linebacker hybrids are counted.
But this year's group is especially intriguing because it is more than talented, it's also colorful.
Start with Ohio State's James Laurinaitis. He's probably the most decorated player in the draft, having won the Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2006, the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker and the Big Ten's defensive player of the year in 2007. He played in all 51 games the past four years for the Buckeyes, including 40 straight starts.
Laurinaitis gives his parents a lot of the credit for his success. His father, Joe, was a professional wrestler, known as "The Animal."
"He's a big kid," Laurinaitis said at the NFL Scouting Combine about his father. "He gets excited. He gets more hyped up about all this than I do sometimes. He definitely has had a huge influence. He does a great job of being a role model - how to handle things, how to handle success.
"He taught me two very important lessons when I was young. The first was, 'The day you ever become satisfied as a player, just walk away, because if you ever think you're good enough, you should be done, you've already accomplished everything.'
"The second thing he taught me is, 'No matter how hard you're working, there's always somebody across the country working that much harder to try and take your spot.'
"As far as physical stuff, I've been blessed with great genetics being a wrestler and a meathead, and my mom (Julie) being a fitness model. So I have a unique set of genes. I'm very blessed."
It'll be interesting on Draft Day to see whether Laurinaitis or USC's Rey Maualuga is the first inside linebacker selected. Maualuga comes in the draft with some character concerns.
The Trojans' man in the middle is an intimidating physical force who will punish any ball carrier who enters his personal space. But, while establishing himself as a player capable of making an immediate impact in the NFL, Maualuga has taken some missteps.
He was arrested as a freshman for suspicion of misdemeanor battery after punching a USC student at a Halloween party. A year later he was disciplined by the team for unruly behavior at a frat party, and then demoted for a game after missing a team meeting because he overslept.
In between those events, his father died after battling brain cancer, but Maualuga played in the Rose Bowl two days later. He said dealing with his father's death and remembering when he and his family were forced to live in the attic of a church has helped him mature.
"Things were rough growing up," he said. "You learn from it, and you pick up from there. You hope things never go back to the way it was. It's my motivation to make my mom happy. I know my father's smiling down on me right now. All I can do is move on from today. I can't worry about the past, and I can't worry about the future. I can only do what I can today."
Maualuga was one of about 200 Division-I football players of Samoan descent last season, and in the island tradition he wears his hair long like Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. The NFL Scouting Combine has become famous for the bizarre questions that prospective teams ask players, and Maualuga said the strangest was when he was asked what his reaction would be if he was asked to cut his hair.
"They wanted to know if I would I flip out," he said. "I told them the truth. It's a family tradition. If that doesn't work, I'll do whatever you want me to do. But if it was a player who told me to cut it, I'll hold my ground until I can't anymore, and just do what I'm asked."
Early in this year's draft, an NFL team will select Maualuga and ask him to hold his ground.
He will do as asked.
Bob LeGere breaks down the Bears' depth, draft history and top prospects in the April 25-26 NFL draft.
Bears depth chart: MLB Brian Urlacher and WLB Lance Briggs have played together for the past six years and have nine Pro Bowl appearances between them, including six for Urlacher, who is still an effective player, even though he is no longer at the Pro Bowl level. Nick Roach beat out Hunter Hillenmeyer last season on the strong side. Hillenmeyer and Jamar Williams provide decent depth. Current Grade: A-minus.
Bears 10-year draft history at LB:
Best pick: Lance Briggs
Worst pick: Michael Okwo
Rating the top LBs
LeGere's draft grade for the 2009 LBs: A. Orakpo, Matthews, English and Brown all could play defensive end in 4-3 schemes, at least as situational pass rushers. They may be more ideally suited as outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes, which have become increasingly popular in the NFL. As many as eight linebackers could be drafted in the first round.
|Aaron Curry||Wake Forest||6-1¾||254||4.55||No weaknesses; maybe the surest thing in the entire draft|
|Brian Orakpo||Nebraska||6-3||263||4.66||Big, strong instant-impact pass rusher, could be DE in 4-3 front|
|Brian Cushing||USC||6-2⅞||243||4.68||Has enough size, speed, strength and athleticism to play ILB or OLB|
|Rey Maualuga||USC||6-1¾||249||4.86||Punishing, run-stuffing MLB with some character concerns|
|Clay Matthews||USC||6-3⅛||240||4.67||Former walk-on now an elite player with superb pass-rush skills|
|James Laurinaitis||Ohio State||6-1⅞||244||4.79||Tremendous 3-year production; doesn't test as well as he plays|
|Clint Sintim||Virginia||6-2¾||256||4.79||Tough, stout, durable and provides excellent pass-rush threat|
|Larry English||Northern Illinois||6-2⅛||255||4.83||Fierce pass rusher as college DE but may have to adjust to LB|
|Cody Brown||Connecticut||6-2⅛||244||4.79||College DE will probably be a 3-4 LB or situational pass rusher|
|Marcus Freeman||Ohio State||6-0½||239||4.67||Tests better than he plays but could be special if he toughens up|