|04-19-2006, 11:22 AM||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Saratoga, NY
A competitive friendship
By Jim Corbett, USA TODAY
A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter forged their friendship at the weight room door the week of Ohio's 2002 north-south high school all-star game.
Their overachiever fervor bonded Hawk and Carpenter well before they raced each other to the football in Ohio State's distinguished linebacking corps.
"Practice was over at 11 a.m. and Bobby and A.J. were like, 'Where's the weight room?' " says Bobby's father, Rob, a former NFL running back and current Lancaster, Ohio, high school coach. "I found the janitor and said, 'These two guys will be coming in here every day. Can they get their own keys?' ... They're ultra-competitive kids who feed off each other."
The all-out, all-stars were the only players to hit the weight room after practice that week.
"Bobby and I were roommates and we're the same type guys who enjoyed working out every day after practice," Hawk says. "We hung out at night and talked about what we wanted to accomplish. We pushed each other in a good way."
Their high-effort ethic figures to pay first-round dividends in the April 29-30 draft when they are expected to be among the top outside linebackers taken in one of the deepest groups in recent memory.
"A.J. Hawk is very explosive and instinctive," Titans general manager Floyd Reese says. "The term 'throwback' applies to this guy. If you wish for 10 things a linebacker should have, he has all 10.
"Bobby Carpenter is more suited to playing strong-side linebacker. He can do anything. I coached against his dad and remember wishing his father wasn't so darned tough. I'm sure Bobby's a first-round guy as well."
Hawk and Carpenter have the size, speed, instincts, power and the ability to blitz or drop into coverage. They have the versatility NFL personnel men covet.
"When you speak about A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, it's high praise," says John Dorsey, Packers director of college scouting. "They're very passionate players with a high intellect for the game. They have great instincts and a unique way of getting to the football. A.J. and Bobby will make a very successful transition."
The 2005 Lombardi Trophy winner, Hawk is touted as a top-10 pick.
The trend has been for linebackers to fall since LaVar Arrington was chosen second overall by Washington and Brian Urlacher was taken ninth by Chicago in 2000. Last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year, Shawne Merriman, was the 12th overall pick by San Diego. Defensive rookie runner-up, Seattle's Lofa Tatupu was the 45th overall selection.
"It's a position where a lot of times they say they don't want to draft people too high because they think, 'How much impact can a linebacker have?' " Hawk says. "Guys like Shawne Merriman and Lofa Tatupu had huge years.
"The linebacker position, with all the defenses they're playing and with the offenses you have to face — one week you're facing a spread offense, the next week a team is trying to pound the ball on you. You have to be able to do a little bit of everything."
The 6-1, 243-pound Hawk has the 4.59 speed to play any spot. But he is considered best suited on the weak side in the mold of Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks.
The 6-3, 245 pound Carpenter thrived on the strong side in a third-down edge-rusher role similar to one former Buckeye Mike Vrabel popularized with the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots.
With more teams playing the 3-4, linebackers who can pressure the quarterback off the edge are in high demand.
"Obviously, Mike Vrabel is someone I've looked at and tried to emulate ... (and) Joey Porter, those guys have extremely complete games; they're extremely talented and tough players," Carpenter says. "It's tough to say I'm on the same plane as them. But those are two guys whose game I try to emulate."
Hawk and Carpenter pride themselves as throwbacks always in relentless pursuit.
Says Hawk when asked his throwback fantasy:
"I would have enjoyed playing back with Dick Butkus. There were a lot of tough guys who played back then. I'd like to see how much different the game they played was."
Teams in need: Green Bay, San Francisco Oakland, Detroit, Cleveland, New England, New York Giants, Jacksonville
Insider's take: "I'll take either one of them. All I know is you put on the game tape and both those guys produce." —former Ohio State and NFL linebacker Chris Spielman, now an ESPN college analyst, on A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter.
Prospect's view: "A guy I really look up to is Zach Thomas," Hawk says of the Dolphins linebacker. "He can do everything as a linebacker. I have a lot of respect for him."
Carpenter says: "What's fortunate at Ohio State is that guys like Mike Vrabel come back in the offseason and work out with us. Mike is a tremendous athlete who can run for days. He's helped me a lot. He gave me some pointers on how to play defensive end and rush off the edge."
Stats and stuff: A two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year, Hawk had 9 1/2 sacks last season and finished fifth on Ohio State's all-time list with 382 tackles.
Carpenter was second on Ohio State's fifth-ranked defense with eight sacks last season when he was turned loose as a third-down, edge rusher.
Last year's gem: Shawne Merriman, selected 12th overall by San Diego, earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with 10 sacks.
Cream of the crop: A.J. Hawk, Ernie Sims, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Chad Greenway.