Scouts split on English

Posted by Administrator On April - 7 - 2009

When it comes to Larry English, scouts play a game of “he said, she said.” He was too productive in college to pass on as a late first-round pick. He’s too small. His quickness is undeniable. He will get dominated by bigger blockers.

The list goes on …

He’s a linebacker. No, he’s a defensive end. The Northern Illinois grad would be better in a 4-3 scheme. No, he would excel in an odd front.

In fact, the 23-year-old has so many unanswered questions regarding his draft stock that teams have him graded anywhere between a first- and sixth-round prospect.

English, possibly the most debated player of the 2009 draft class, is prepared for the negativity that any professional player inevitably draws.

“What I realized is that everything that people say about you is not always good,” he said. “At the end of the day I’m confident with myself as a football player.”

His confidence comes on the heels of a collegiate career that saw him atop the depth chart at defensive end for the Huskies each season. Few can argue with his production. English left Northern Illinois as the school’s all-time leader in sacks, pummeling opposing quarterbacks 31½ times.

English also stands as the only defensive player to win Mid-American Conference MVP awards in consecutive seasons (2007 and ’08) and only the second defensive player to win the award in any year.

“It definitely meant a lot,” English said. “That was an honor to be able to win that two times in a row, especially an award like that that is so prestigious and voted upon by your opponents.”

Even more remarkable, English won his first MAC MVP in 2007 after his team finished a 2-10 campaign — displaying how imposing he was in league play.

“He dominated the league,” said Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill, who coached English for the first time in 2008. “He just wasn’t a good player, he dominated. People couldn’t block the kid and, to me, for a guy they’re looking at as a possible first-round draft choice, you have to dominate and he dominated.”

Kill, who coached Giants RB Brandon Jacobs and Jets LB Bart Scott when he was at the helm at Southern Illinois, is aware that it’s difficult for mid-major college players to get the same kind of recognition as players from power conferences.

As soon as Kill set foot on Northern Illinois’ campus in DeKalb, Ill., he instantly became as enamored of English as he was with Scott or Jacobs. Having coached against English when at Southern Illinois, Kill knew how difficult it was to contain him.

”He’s a can’t-miss guy,” Kill said. “I only coached the kid for a year and for me to say that, I don’t go off the limb. I knew Brandon Jacobs was a freak of nature because you could look at him and I knew Bart [Scott] was. You know when somebody has that ‘it factor’ and whatever ‘it’ is, Larry English has got ‘it.’ ”

Although the MAC has produced NFL stars like Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Falcons RB Michael Turner in recent years, English’s ability to play against better competition has been questioned.

Scouts high on English point to examples where he played up to the level of his competition. His best efforts of the 2008 season came in away games against Tennessee and Minnesota — Northern Illinois’ only two BCS-level opponents. English totaled eight tackles, 4½ tackles for loss, 3½ sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in those two contests.

“Look at the past and a good majority of the MAC players that come out are successful,” English said. “At the end of the day we’re all football players and these guys have a chip on their shoulder because of always being not respected.”

But, respect is something that English isn’t short on. He was widely considered one of the toughest players in the MAC after breaking his right thumb and having pins surgically inserted to help the bone heal — forcing English to play the majority of the 2008 season with a cast on his hand.

For a defensive lineman, losing the use of a hand is like taking away a hair stylist’s scissors. During most of his ’08 campaign English had to rely on other ways of getting to quarterbacks.

“I think that it really made me polish up on my skills,” he said. “It really allowed me to use my chop move and keep an offensive lineman from getting his hands on me in the first place.”

Though his performance under inhibiting circumstances was admirable, his predraft workouts took a totally different turn.

After English ran a mediocre time of 4.82 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, he did little to improve those numbers at Northern Illinois’ pro day — displaying a lack of athletic ability that might not have shown up on film.

Some question the validity of Combine and pro-day numbers considering the measurements aren’t taken under game circumstances, without an audience and unrestrained by pads.

Nonetheless, scouts and NFL executives take these numbers into account and unquestionably use them to formulate their draft boards.

“I’ve been coaching for 25 years and you better judge people how they play,” Kill said. “They’re never timed in shoulder pads and full gear in front of 90,000 people.”

And as the debate rages on, it won’t matter what scouts say on Draft Day and beyond. Ultimately, English will be judged by how well he plays on Sundays.