The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a number of positions to address in the 2009 NFL Draft, and defensive end could be one of them.
The Bucs are targeting a number of defensive ends entering the 2009 NFL Draft, one of which is Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson, as PewterReport.com wrote about last week.
One of the other defensive ends the Bucs are interested in drafting is Northern Illinois' Larry English, whom some project to play linebacker at the next level.
The Bucs are in need of an upgrade along the defensive line, particularly at the defensive end position. Tampa Bay notched just 29 sacks in 2008.
English, 23, is certainly a player that could help the Bucs get after opposing quarterbacks on a more frequent basis. A fiery leader and intelligent player (reportedly scored a 34 on his Wonderlic), English has notched 31.5 sacks while playing with a non-stop motor at Northern Illinois.
New defensive coordinator Jim Bates' scheme should help the Bucs get to the quarterback more because of the press coverage the cornerbacks will be asked to play. In Miami, Bates' defenses averaged 42 sacks per season.
English had the opportunity to speak to Bates and Tampa Bay's staff at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine earlier this offseason.
Tampa Bay was also one of 15 teams in attendance for Northern Illinois' pro day workout last month. While he was not one of the collegiate players the Bucs brought in for pre-draft visits over the past month, English does appear to be a player the Bucs are considering drafting in the first round.
"I have had contact with the Bucs," English said. "They talked to me [about playing defensive end]. With my speed off the edge they feel I can play in that type of scheme. I agree with them. We'll see how things go."
Not only does he not know what team he will play for, English also is unsure of what position he'll play. That's because some pundits believe English is better suited to play linebacker in a 3-4 defensive system at the next level because of his 6-foot-2, 255-pound frame, which some consider a bit undersized.
"I don't really have a preference," English said of playing defensive end or linebacker. "I just want to go play football wherever I receive the opportunity to play. I have the athletic ability to play both positions. It's not going to be a problem for me to stay at defensive end in the NFL. It would be a blessing to do that. At the same time, I have the athletic ability to play linebacker. I actually played linebacker before I got into college. Having versatility is a good thing. It's kind of out of my hands now."
While he doesn't have a preference in terms of which position he plays in the NFL, English takes issue with the thought that he isn't capable of holding up at defensive end in a 4-3 scheme in the pros.
"It doesn't really bother me, but at the same time I don't agree with that," said English. "If you put on the tape you'll see that I'm solid against the run. You don't see me getting blown out of a play on tape. Size and strength is something that you can continue to work on once you get into the league. I've gradually put a few pounds on here and there throughout college. I would have no problem moving up to around 260 or 262."
The Bucs invested the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft in DE Gaines Adams. Adams (6-5, 260) has notched 12.5 sacks in his first two seasons in the NFL.
Tampa Bay wants to leave Adams at right defensive end, which means English could be called on to play left end should he be drafted by the Buccaneers. That's something English was able to do at times during his playing days at Northern Illinois.
"I played on weak side," said English. "Leading up to my senior year I was always right defensive end. We had a coaching change this past year because my previous head coach retired. When Coach Kill came in he brought a defensive scheme that allowed me to be the lead defensive end and the rush end. The rush end was a position where I was always lined up opposite the tight end, so I've played both sides.
"I feel like I can be effective from both sides. That decision would come from the defensive coordinator and coaches. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help my team win."
English opened a lot of eyes at the Senior Bowl, but his 4.82 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was a bit surprising to some teams and scouts. However, the speed rusher worked on improving his 40 time and accomplished that feat at his pro day workout, reportedly running in the 4.6s, which supports the speed he's displayed off the edge for years.
"I was hoping to run a better time," said English. "I just didn't have a good day running the 40. I'm not too concerned about it, but I do know that some teams put a lot of stock into 40 times. I went back and worked on my technique and ran a better 40 time at my pro day. Hopefully teams take that into account."
The fact that Tampa Bay didn't bring in English for a pre-draft visit likely means the Bucs either do not want tip their hand in the first round, or they have decided not to draft English over some of the other players that will be on the board when Tampa Bay is on the clock with the 19th overall pick in the draft.
Regardless of where he winds up, English suggested whichever team drafts him on Saturday will not be disappointed.
"They're getting a person that cares about football," said English. "I love football and I have a tremendous passion for it. I'm a person that cares about winning, but more than anything I want to be a successful player, have a successful career and help my team win."