4-3 LBs and Cam Newton Update

by Tommy Lawlor  –  http://www.ScoutsNotebook.com

This is not the year to go looking for 4-3 OLBs.  Bruce Carter was the best pure 4-3 LB, but tore up his knee late in the season and that will affect his value and ability to contribute in 2011. Beyond him, things aren’t pretty.  The group of ILBs isn’t as good as I anticipated either.  There are some good pass rushers off the edge for 3-4 teams, but this isn’t the year to go looking for pure LBs.  Here’s some thoughts on a couple of guys…

* I was disappointed in Greg Jones performance at the Senior Bowl.  Actually, that doesn’t do it justice.  I was pretty horrified by some of what I saw.  In the game he was avoiding blocks.  I can live with a LB who struggles to shed blocks, but I can’t deal with a guy who plays as if he’s shy in regard to taking on blockers.  Can’t have that.  I wanted to make sure I wasn’t over-reacting to one game so I went back and took a look at game tape.  Wow.  Greg always seemed to catch my eye when watching games live, but he doesn’t show up well when you carefully go over the tape.  I thought of him as Top 50 material at one point, but now I’m not seeing him as Top 100.  He might be better suited to OLB, but I don’t know that he’s got the size or speed most teams are looking for.

* Nate Irving is a tough player to rate.  Go back and watch some tape or highlights of him from 2008.  He played on the outside and looked really good.  I’d forgotten just how good until I went back and re-watched some of his stuff.  Nate had 11 TFLs and 4 INTs that year.  He had good range.  He was comfortable in space or attacking up the field.  He could hit, tackle, cover, and run.  He missed all of 2009 after being in a very serious car accident.  Irving returned to action in 2010 and moved to MLB.  He played in John Tenuta’s attacking scheme and responded with 21.5 TFLs.  Irving wasn’t the same athlete.  He was a rugged force between the tackles, but out in space he didn’t have the same quickness, speed, or agility.  I’ve projected Nate as a MLB.  The question is whether his leg will continue to get better.  Can he approach his 2008 form?  If so, he’s okay at WLB or MLB.  As a pure MLB he is a 3rd or 4th round pick, assuming he checks out well at the Combine with the medical staff.

* I’ve watched some of Mason Foster.  He was a very productive tackler for Washington this year.  Mason is one of the best hitters/tacklers in the draft (along with Irving).  The problem I have with Foster is where to play him.  He’s 6’1, 241.  He is at his best when he can see the ball and go get it.  He is the best LB I’ve seen this year at working through trash to get to the ball.  On 3rd/Goal from down deep this is a guy you want on the field.  I don’t know that he’s athletic enough for WLB.  Can he cover in space?  Is he instinctive enough for MLB?  He might be ideal for 3-4 ILB.  Mason is definitely the kind of tough guy you want at LB.     * Miami LB Colin McCarthy has played MLB and OLB.  I listed him on the outside, but I think he can play either spot in the NFL.  He runs well.  He’s got solid size at 6’1, 235.  McCarthy is effective on the inside, but also has enough playmaking ability to handle WLB.  He’s a physical tackler and high energy guy.

* Mark Herzlich is a guy we all want to make it.  He still has a great frame.  He is an instinctive player with good hands and a knack for making things happen.  The problem is that I don’t see his old athletic ability.  He got better all year long, but didn’t make the jump at the Senior Bowl that I was hoping for.  Has he peaked?  The Combine will be important for him, medically and athletically.  He’ll have a month from the Senior Bowl to work hard to be ready.  It will be interesting to see how he looks.  He doesn’t need to be all the way back to get in the league, but he doesn’t look like starting material right now.

* * * * *

* Cam Newton‘s workout was Thursday.  I caught a few highlights.  He looked terrific, but that was expected under those conditions.  Newton can’t answer any concerns about him with a workout.

I don’t get the JaMarcus Russell comparisons.  Russell was very different.  His questions had to do with conditioning and character.  Newton has no conditioning questions.  He keeps himself in great shape.  There are questions about scheme and character.  The scheme questions apply to Gabbert, Kaepernick, and several other QBs.  Really, it boils down to character.  You have personal character (did Newton do anything wrong with his recruitment to Auburn?  did he do anything wrong at Florida) and you have football character (is he committed to working hard in the film room?  does he practice hard?).  Outsiders really won’t know the answer.  Scouts will talk to a lot of people around him and will come up with various conclusions.

In the end, I still see Newton going pretty high.  He did things in 2010 that I’ve just never seen before.  At some point, a team will roll the dice on getting a great player.

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