LBs: Other 'Backers Trail in Curry's Wake

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This is the fourth in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com:    

While we wouldn't call it miraculous if the Jets took a linebacker early in April's draft, let's just say we'd be surprised. No team can ever have enough depth, but as of today one can pencil in the following starting four — Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace on the outside and David Harris and Bart Scott on the inside.

And the Green & White have a lot of money tied up in the position with Scott, Pace and second-year player Vernon Gholston all collecting big paychecks. Gholston, who was the No. 6 overall selection a year ago, will be Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's project.

"I see some things in his play that I knew that I would like to coach this young man because I don't even think he's scratched the surface of the kind of player he can be," Ryan said at his first news conference.

If Gholston progresses (the Jets would be ecstatic if he pushed BT for a starting spot) and Harris remains healthy, this unit could be one of the better corps in the league. Now out of the shadows of Ray Lewis, Scott may develop into a New York star.

Curry-ing Favor as Possible Top Pick

It's been more than two decades since a linebacker was selected with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. But Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry has vaulted himself into No. 1 consideration and he wants to hear his name called first.

"I can come in instantly and make an impact on anybody's defense," Curry said at the NFL Combine. "And my versatility as a linebacker, to be able to play in the 3-4, inside or outside, or 4-3, inside or outside — you just can't go wrong."

The 6'2", 254-pound Curry, who was the 2008 Butkus Award recipient as the nation's top linebacker, led the Deacons with 105 tackles as a senior. He won't come off the field on the next level and has the ability to play on any defense.

"He can play in the 3-4 scheme or the 4-3. He does everything well, and he's extremely coachable," says NFL Network's Mike Mayock. "You can insert him on day one and he's a starter, your defense is better, and you don't have to worry about him getting in trouble."

Curry was a show-stopper at the combine, pacing all linebackers with a 4.56 time in the 40 and a 10'4" broad jump. His 37" vertical also tied for the lead among all 'backer prospects.

Not asked to pass-rush a lot in college, Curry supporters think he'll be able to get to the quarterback as evidenced by his career 44.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He also is a fluid athlete who can drop in coverage, collecting six interceptions at Wake and returning three for touchdowns.

Does Curry have any flaws? Not many, but linebackers very rarely go No. 1. The Atlanta Falcons tagged Auburn LB Aundray Bruce in 1988 and he ended up having a decent 11-year career. If the Lions like Curry, they'll want more of a return on their investment.

"To go No. 1 is a crazy feeling," Curry said in an NFL.com article. "I've been working hard for a long time to go No. 1."

"O-Sack-Po" Also Versatile

Texas product Brian Orakpo, a 6'3", 263-pounder nicknamed "O-sack-po" by his teammates, is probably the best pass-rush prospect in this year's draft class. He's coming off an 11.5-sack, four-forced-fumbles campaign for the 'Horns and he touts his versatility as an asset.

"I'm not just a guy that's projected. I played [outside linebacker and defensive end], and I've been very effective at both," he said. "A lot of teams are going to that 3-4 scheme, but you still have a lot of teams in the 4-3. They need versatile guys who can play either position."

Orakpo, a physical specimen, has not disappointed off the field. He made UT's honor roll in the spring and was active in the school's community relations efforts. But some question his motor and NFL.com's Gil Brandt noted the following: "The one question mark on him is that he's one of those guys that appears to play hard 90 percent of the time but takes a vacation the other 10 percent."

Ohio State's James Laurinaitis is the son of an "Animal." Laurinaitis doesn't don the paint his dad made famous as a member of the "Legion of Doom" wrestling tag team, but he's been known to body-slam a few helpless offensive players.

The 6'2", 244-pounder is a just a solid football player who's going to make some team very happy. He has fabulous instincts and covers a lot of ground. Even though the three-time All-American played inside on Saturdays, there is some though that Laurinaitis would probably be a better fit on the weakside on Sundays.

Expectations for Trojans' Trio

The talent is never weak at the University of Southern California. Three Trojan linebackers — Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga — all figure to be selected in the first two rounds.

Clay Jr., whose father also played at SC and was a Pro Bowl performer, was actually a walk-on who didn't get a scholarship until 2006. But he worked his way up from special teams and eventually got a chance to start as a senior. The 6'3", 240-pound Matthews, who arrived at SC weighing less than 170, finished second on the team in sacks (4.5) and third in tackles for loss (9.5).

"I think I exceeded everyone's expectations," he told the Los Angeles Times, "including my own."

Matthews projects to be an outside 'backer, but Cushing and Maualuga could find homes in the middle. Cushing, a 6'3", 243-pound Park Ridge, N.J., native who starred at Bergen Catholic, started 13 games last season and collected 73 tackles (10.5 behind the line).

"The guy has an intense motor," said former Texans GM Charlie Casserly of Cushing. "He has a passion for the game, he's all over the field, he plays hard all the time. He's a physical football player."

As for Maualuga, an important pro day awaits on April 1. He pulled up lame in Indy after a disappointing 4.77 mark, but he's a powerful hitter who was a '09 All-American. After he showcased his pass-rushing prowess as a junior with six sacks, the 6'2", 249-pounder didn't have one tally as a senior. Maualuga has been known to go for the big hit instead of wrapping up and has been burned by overpursuit.

If you're looking for a small-school diamond, Larry Englishfits the bill. English, a 6'2", 274-pound DE at Northern Illinois, was the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons while totaling 23 sacks.

Other Notables

Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina; Dannell Ellerbe, Georgia; Clint Sintim, Virginia; Darry Beckwith, LSU.

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