Editor’s Note: Chargers.com will take a look at one player from each positional group with an interesting or compelling story as the NFL Draft approaches. We’ve already profiled San Diego State punter Brian Stahovich.
SAN DIEGO – Defensive players often switch positions between college and the NFL.
Usually, though, it’s pass rushers moving from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker, or a player along the defensive line switching spots or techniques.
Less often, a college cornerback moves to safety in the NFL. The main impetus? Speed. If a physical, smart, good-sized, sound corner doesn’t have the speed to match up with NFL receivers 1-on-1, they might be transplanted.
Alabama cornerback DeQuan Menzie may be a candidate. At 5-foot-11, 202 pounds, he helped the Crimson Tide win a BCS Championship as a starter on one of the better defenses in college football history.
Menzie was a lesser-known name in a stacked secondary which included Dre Kirkpatrick, the other starting corner, and safety Mark Barron, both of whom are potential first-round picks. Alabama’s pass defense allowed 116.3 yards per game (83.9 pass efficiency), both first in the nation.
But it was Menzie who led the team with 11 pass breakups. Despite slogging through a lingering hamstring injury for most of the season and with teams targeting him perhaps most frequently of the Crimson Tide’s four starters in the secondary, Menzie held his own.
“I really don’t even pay attention to all that,” Menzie said of his lack of notoriety at Alabama. “I just want to go out there and play football. That’s all I want to do.”
Not a track star, Menzie ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.6 and 4.7-second range at the NFL Combine and at Alabama’s pro day.
Menzie moved to the slot on third-down situations under Bama coach Nick Saban and developed a reputation as a physical corner at the line of scrimmage and in run support. Menzie last played safety as a freshman at Shaw High School in Columbus, Ga., but the Washington Redskins’ coaching staff placed him there at the Senior Bowl in February.
And fair or not, perception among many observers is that players in Saban’s defensive system, complex for the college level, are well-equipped to grasp NFL concepts, something Menzie believes could help.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock thinks there are two safeties at the top of the 2012 class and speculates teams could turn to college cornerbacks for safety help after those players come off the board “because of the proliferation of all the spread sets, (which force) safeties (to) come down on tight ends and slot (receivers).”
“There aren’t a lot of natural safeties in this draft that can cover a slot, and I think you’re going to start to see some of those bigger corners, DeQuan Menzie from Alabama, the kid from Boston College, Donnie Fletcher – there are going to be three or four corners that teams start to look at and say, is he tough enough and smart enough to play inside?”
Menzie has shrugged off questions about a potential move to safety just as he has questions about his speed and the other big-name players in Alabama’s secondary.
“I don’t mind at all,” he said of playing safety. “I play it all. I played safety in the Senior Bowl, played safety in high school, played corner (at Alabama) and (in the slot). It really doesn’t matter.”
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