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NFL draft preview: safeties
NFL draft preview: safeties
03:35 AM CDT on Wednesday, April 23, 2008
There were four safeties selected in the top 24 picks of the 2007 draft and eight in the first three rounds. The fourth safety in 2008 probably won't go until the third round, and the eighth safety might go deep into the second day.
STRENGTH: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Spotlight on Washington State's Husain Abdullah
Husain Abdullah is projected as a second-day draft pick. But don't presume he's an afterthought.
Abdullah played at Washington State, which churns out safeties the way Penn State does linebackers. But Washington State does it with no fanfare.
The Cougars have sent four safeties to the NFL since 2004, and the highest draft pick was a fifth-rounder. Erik Coleman went to the New York Jets in 2004 and Eric Frampton to the Oakland Raiders in 2007 as fifth-rounders. Husain's brother, Hamza Adbullah, went to Denver as a seventh-round pick in 2005, and Tyron Brackenridge made the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007 as a free agent.
"All of us in the secondary at Washington State are so close," Husain said. "If I have a question, I can call up Erik Coleman and he'll help me out. Frampton, Brackenridge ... it's not just my brother. Everyone is willing to help everybody."
Husian started three seasons for the Cougars, led the team in tackles in 2007 and twice was named the team's defensive MVP. He hopes the NFL sees the same traits in him that the Broncos saw in his brother.
"I'm different because I'm three inches shorter," Husain said. "Other than that, we do a lot of the same things well. I try to do what he does but do it better. When I see him make plays or certain tackles, I want to do the same thing – but do it better and do it more often. He sets the bar, and I try to get over top of it."
Kenny Phillips, Miami (Fla.): Phillips spent only three years at Miami but started all three seasons, earning All-Atlantic Coast Conference acclaim in 2007 as a junior. He finished second on the team with 95 tackles and intercepted a pair of passes. Phillips also played cornerback earlier in his career. With a premium in the NFL on coverage safeties – someone who can walk up and cover the slot receiver – Phillips has powered his way to the top of this safety draft board.
Kareem Moore, Nicholls St.: Take the best defensive back each year from the second-tier Louisiana schools and you'll have a pretty good NFL secondary: Charles Tillman (Lafayette), Terrence McGee (Northwestern State), Chris Harris (Monroe), Keith Smith (McNeese). Moore is that prospect this year. A transfer from Mississippi, he started two years for the Colonels and was the Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Best of Texas
1. Quintin Demps, UTEP: NFL teams that want a ball hawk are going to want Demps. The San Antonio Roosevelt product intercepted 17 career passes and set a school record with his 404 return yards. He's the first player in NCAA history with two 100-yard TD returns in the same season. Draft projection: 3rd or 4th round
2. David Roach, TCU (and Abilene HS): Draft projection: 5th-6th round
3. Caleb Campbell, Army (and San Antonio Roosevelt): Draft projection: 6th-7th round
No respect: Despite starting four years in high school and earning all-state honors twice in Rhode Island, Jamie Silva was considered too short and too slow to play major college football. Boston College gave him its final scholarship, and he went on to become a three-year starter and All-American. Now the NFL considers him too small and too slow. Just watch the tape, says Silva. "I feel my strong suit would be putting the pads on and playing football," Silva said. "I play football. I don't run track. I don't compete in weightlifting competitions. My thing is football. My strength is when I get onto the field."
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The sweet science: The NFL offers players in the draft the chance to turn pro. But Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski turned pro two years ago – as a boxer. Zbikowski boxed in the Golden Gloves from the age of 9 on, compiling a 60-13 record. He was a Silver Gloves finalist three times and turned pro with a match in Madison Square Garden in June 2006. He knocked out Robert Bell in 49 seconds. "It was awesome," Zbikowski said. "I trained so hard for it for six or seven weeks. I had about 40 of my [Notre Dame] teammates there to support me and another 60 from home. It was one of the best experiences of my life." Zbikowski may not be done with boxing. "There's always a possibility," he said. "But as long as there's football in my life, it's not going to happen."
Old friends: Nemo Warrick played against Devin Thomas in junior college in Kansas and with him at Michigan State. Thomas is the top-ranked wide receiver in this draft – and part of the reason Warrick is on the draft board, as well. "We competed in the weight room, on the field, off the field," Warrick said. "He was a great player. He was going to push you, make you work hard, and I was hoping to do the same with him." Warrick also is the cousin of former Florida State and NFL wide receiver Peter Warrick.
300 club: Safeties are unique in that they are a cross between two positions. The NFL needs its safeties to tackle like linebackers in run support but also cover like cornerbacks in pass defense. So bulk is important – as is speed. Tyrell Johnson not only set a school record for career tackles at Arkansas State, he set a Sun Belt Conference mark. And he didn't just pile up his numbers against second-tier schools. He collected 14 tackles against Texas and eight against Tennessee in 2007 games. Here's the 300-tackle club for safeties on this draft board:
Name School Tackles
Tyrell Johnson Arkansas St. 363
Corey Lynch Appala. St. 358
Jonathan Hefney Tennessee 322
Jamie Silva Boston Col. 310
Caleb Campbell Army 307
Tom Zbikowski Notre Dame 300
Opportunists: There also are some great hands on the safety board. Appalachian State's Corey Lynch intercepted 24 career passes, Quintin Demps of UTEP 17, Bobbie Williams of Bethune-Cookman 15 and Craig Steltz of LSU 11. Steltz had six of his interceptions in 2007, helping LSU to a national title. Steltz shifted all the credit for takeaways to his defensive line. "It all goes back to the guys we play with and the scheme we're in," he said. "I've been blessed to have Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and guys who can put pressure on the quarterback. If you're a quarterback, the last thing you're worried about is the secondary if you have guys barreling down on you. They made our job easier. All the credit goes to them."
All in the family: Simeon Castille of Alabama is the son of former NFL cornerback Jeremiah Castille, who played with Tampa Bay and Denver in the 1980s. Marcus Griffin of Texas has a twin brother who plays in the NFL, safety Michael with the Titans. Dom Barber of Minnesota has a brother who played in the NFL, as well as his father. Both are named Marion and both played running back. Marion III became a Pro Bowler for the Cowboys last season. Dom welcomes comparisons. "I couldn't enjoy getting compared to my brother any more than I do now," Dom said. "I applaud everything he's done in the NFL. It's not about who's better or worse. We're family, the same blood, nothing more."
Inner strength: The Army makes men out of boys. It also makes them football players. Caleb Campbell started at Army all four of his seasons at West Point. He's on NFL draft boards this season because of his military coaching and training. "Without the military structure that I received at the United States Military Academy, I wouldn't be where I am today," Campbell said. "The military has taught me a tremendous amount about discipline. It teaches you inner strength in times when you don't think you can do any more. The academy sets you up for failure, but you end up succeeding. It makes you realize you can do so much more than you thought you were capable of doing. When you are a freshman, they will break you down to nothing. Then they build you up into a man of character, a man of discipline, a man with a purpose. That's what's great about the academy. It has transformed me into the disciplined player I am on the field."
Nothing in reserve: Forget the fact Tennessee's All-Southeastern Conference safety Jonathan Hefney is only 5-8. When he reports to an NFL camp this summer, he expects to compete for a starting job. He's never been anything but a starter. Hefney set his high school record by starting 56 games, then started a 50 games at Tennessee.
THE TOP 15
Player School Ht. Wt.
Kenny Phillips Miami (Fla.) 6-2 212
Noteworthy: 16 career tackles for losses
DuJuan Morgan N.C. State 6-0 205
Noteworthy: Converted quarterback
Tyrell Johnson Arkansas St. 5-11 ½ 207
Noteworthy: 3-time All-Sun Belt
Tyvon Branch Conn. 5-11 204
Noteworthy: 4.31 speed in the 40
Reggie Smith Oklahoma 6-0 ½ 199
Noteworthy: Converted cornerback
Thomas Decoud Cal 6-1 207
Noteworthy: 116 tackles in 2007
Quintin Demps UTEP 5-11 ½ 207
Noteworthy: Broke up 24 career passes
Craig Steltz LSU 6-1 213
Noteworthy: 101 tackles in 2007
Tom Zbikowski Notre Dame 5-11 211
Noteworthy: Started 48 career games
Josh Barrett Ariz St. 6-1 ½ 223
Noteworthy: 4.35 speed in the 40
Corey Lynch Appala. St. 6-0 202
Noteworthy: Broke up 28 career passes
David Roach TCU 6-0 210
Noteworthy: Played both free and strong safety
Husain Abdullah Wash St. 5-11 ½ 204
Noteworthy: 10 career interceptions
Jamar Adams Michigan 6-2 212
Noteworthy: 23 interceptions in high school
Caleb Campbell Army 6-1 ½ 229
Noteworthy: Biggest safety on board
(Potential first-rounders in bold)