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D-Linemen Bringing Swagger to NFL

In a very good year for defensive linemen, talent is not the only commodity. Confidence--some might say cockiness--is running high, too. With a half-dozen defensive ends or tackles projected to go early, maybe they deserve to boast a little.

Why not, when you can run fast, hit hard, even drop into coverage if asked.

And maybe the brashness is a necessity.

"You have to going against those big boys," Southern Cal defensive tackle Shaun Cody said Saturday at the NFL combine. "You have to have that kind of swagger to you. They say I am undersized (about 290 pounds) so you have to have that sparkplug to you. You have to be able to run around. That's just part of the personality of a defensive lineman."

It doesn't seem to be a turnoff to the pro scouts and personnel directors. If a guy can rush the passer or collapse the pocket or stuff the run, he is a top commodity. Last year, six college linemen went in the first round.

"I think it's important to have a confidence about yourself," said LSU end Marcus Spears, who entered the combine as one of the top-rated defensive linemen. "But you always have to remember that you have to be humble, and you have to show these guys what kind of person you really are.

"When I talk to these teams, they get me. They like it or they don't like it. I think you have to be you."

Cody, Spears, Wisconsin's Erasmus James and Antaaj Hawthorne, Georgia's David Pollack, Maryland's Shawne Merriman, Oklahoma's Dan Cody and Notre Dame's Justin Tuck are among the potential first-rounders. Iowa's Matt Roth, Virginia's Chris Canty, Florida State's Travis Johnson and Southern Cal's Mike Patterson also could draw early interest at the April draft.

"When you find a guy who can really get to the quarterback and disrupt an offense, he's attractive," Jets coach Herman Edwards said. "You want a difference maker."

Pollack was one of those, and he spent four seasons at Georgia, meaning the NFL will get a mature player with a history of sharp work in big games. Pollack set an SEC record for career sacks, surpassing Reggie White.

"There was no pressure at all," he said. "It's not something that crossed my mind. In my senior season, I wasn't concerned with stats."

But he was concerned with performance.

"We play in front of 92,000 people. Crazy fans," he said. "We're in the SEC, which in my opinion is the best conference. Every week you've got somebody you've got to get ready for. You have to get up for every game and that's something that's important."

Several teams at the top of the draft need help on the defensive line. The first three clubs--San Francisco, Miami and Cleveland--fit that category. So do Tennessee, Oakland and Dallas in the top 11 selectors.

But there are no teams that will ignore a stud who could be the next Julius Peppers or Richard Seymour.

Or Warren Sapp.

"I'm not over the top," Shaun Cody says. "I don't see myself as a Warren Sapp type. There are definitely extremes to it. Each personality is different, but the position in itself has that kind of personality."

But if a lineman gets shuffled to another spot, what happens? Tuck easily could wind up at linebacker, as could Merriman.

"I'm versatile," Tuck said. "I've played linebacker sometimes in different packages we had. Either way, I am going to be a steal in the draft."

Merriman, known as "Lights Out" for his hard hits, claimed pretty much the same thing. With a smile as wide as Tuck's--or Cody's or Spears' or Pollack's--he displayed that same self-assurance as his peers.

"I think I can play any linebacker, middle linebacker, outside, whatever they need me to play I can play it," Merriman said. "It all depends on what they project me as and what they need for the team, and I can do it. I'll be able to fill those shoes."

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