Posted: 5:30 a.m.
MOBILE, Ala. - To say that Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes is looking for intense warrior-types that thrive on combat down here in the chilly south at the Senior Bowl is a little like saying Rudy Giuliani is looking for a few votes in Florida.
"You know who I want? William Wallace. That's who I'm looking for," said Hayes, a smile curling his lips as he thought about the bloodthirsty, passionate patriot of the middle ages movie Braveheart. "The first thing I want to know about a guy is if football is important to him."
As he watched his first practice of the week, Hayes had yet to talk to USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. He will in the next few days and then follow up at next month's scouting combine and then at a campus visit as the Bengals expect to eye a front seven defensive player with the ninth pick in the April draft.
But even though Ellis isn't impaling any guards, Hayes has to like the fact he simply saddled up this week as one of the few elite players left in this game.
"I don't know why they do it. I guess they're afraid of their stock falling," Ellis said of players bowing out of Saturday's game, like the tackle rated ahead of him on everyone's draft board, LSU's Glenn Dorsey.
"I don't have that fear. Football is what I do. I'm going to get paid to do it, so I feel like I have to come out here and play my game."
There are those that believe the ninth pick in the draft isn't here this week, either because it's going to be a junior or that the best players simply don't play the positions the Bengals need. And there are those that think Ellis is too short at barely past 6-1 and 310 pounds to go that high and have even put a second-round grade on him.
Not John Murphy, the scouting guru for Yahoo.com. He thinks Ellis is a top 10 player if some team decides it needs a slashing, one-gap penetrator.
"It looks like he's going to be the second and last guy in that tier," Murphy said Monday after Ellis' North team practiced. "There's a gap between Dorsey and Ellis and then another gap. It depends. If he fits a team that needs him."
That would seem to be a fit if the Bengals think he's worthy, but their situation is complicated by the fact that they are still mulling what kind of base defense new coordinator Mike Zimmer is going to use.
As the Bengals converged here without a linebackers coach, moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 is apparently still very much a viable option. And that may be one of the reasons the job is still unfilled because the Bengals will need each an outside backers coach and an inside backers coach if they go to that 3-4.
Like secondary coach Kevin Coyle for the coordinator job, it's believed that an inside candidate is being considered in Paul Guenther, a four-year veteran of the staff assisting both linebackers and special teams.
Other possible links with head coach Marvin Lewis are Ravens linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald and Dolphins linebackers coach George Edwards. Glenn Pires, the Dolphins assistant backers coach, worked with Coyle at Syracuse in the early '90s.
But here's another reason Hayes is going to love Ellis. He says Ellis can play "any tackle spot on the line," and that includes a 3-4 nose tackle if the Bengals go that way.
"The last two years at 'SC we played a lot of 3-4 and I'm comfortable playing the zero technique," Ellis said. "And I can play the left or the right (in a 4-3). Whatever you need. To me what it takes to make it in the NFL is not being one-dimensional. You have to be able to rush the passer and stop the run. And you have to have longevity."
That's why Ellis says he looks to the "classics" for role models at the position: "Warren Sapp, Booger McFarland," and Yahoo's Murphy does compare Ellis' penetration and physical play to how McFarland plugged the Tampa Two for so many years.
The height thing doesn't concern Ellis. Not with career numbers and durability like 28.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks in his career. Or a 2007 season in which he started all 13 games and had 58 tackles that included 12.5 for losses and seven pass deflections. The only games he missed came in ''06 when he sat out three with a knee scope.
Not with reports like this one from Scouts, Inc. "Plays with a great motor and works very hard on and off the field. Never gives up on a play and his effort is infectious." The report also says he's disruptive against the run, but it also says his weaknesses are: "Plays with a narrow base and will get overwhelmed by bigger blockers in the phone booth. He struggles to anchor when teams run at him."
Ellis, a personable hometown guy from Chino, Calif., politely disagrees.
"I held up just fine for three years at 'SC and I think I can hold up just fine somewhere else," Ellis said. "We play the Big 10, the Michigans, the Illinois, the Texases. I think we've done a great job, our defensive linemen, of beating those guys and holding them to virtually no yards rushing the ball."
Hayes also doesn't care about height.
"I'm more worried about arms than anything else," Hayes said. "It's tough to play that position in the NFL with short arms. It's just so hard to keep your hands in and underneath and come off blocks. You can be short and still have a big reach."
Ellis doesn't have short arms for his size at 32.5 inches, a category in which he comes out about average. But other things, like snap-to-snap intensity and the ability to fit the scheme, can reach past height.
Which is why they're here. To find out if intangibles outstrip the measurables. Ellis knows his name has been linked to the Bengals because of their needs and he already knows they play the one-gap alignment that suits him.
"Our (USC) philosophy is to get off the ball as quick as possible and get in the backfield," Ellis said. "We're not a gap-plugging defensive line. We get up the field and we make our tackles and keep offensive linemen off the linebackers."
Maybe not William Wallace.
But maybe a brave heart by April.