LeVar Talley has been waiting for this weekend his whole life. The weekend of the annual NFL Draft will take on new meaning for Talley this year; his future depends on it.
Talley finished his four-year Temple football career with 384 tackles, good enough for fifth all-time for the Owls. He led the Owls with 135 tackles this past season and 131 in 1999.
He was the top linebacker in the Big East this past season behind Miami’s Dan Morgan, who is expected to be the first linebacker taken in Saturday’s draft. But Talley has a small problem. Well, a short problem. Actually, it’s a height problem.
Morgan is 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, a prototypical NFL linebacker. He won every possible award that makes a linebacker a good NFL prospect: the Bednarik Award, the Butkus Award, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year; he has the speed and aggressiveness to be a Top 15 draft choice and probably will be.
Talley, on the other hand, is 5-foot-11, 240. What he lacks in size and speed–NFL scouts love big linebackers–he makes up in aggression and skill. Talley hopes that the scouts have been able to look past his diminutive height to his demonstrative talent.
“I’m aggressive,” Talley said. “I’m not as fast as some linebackers but I can hold my own weight. I’ve done all I can do. If somebody doesn’t realize that, there’s nothing I can do about that.”
Talley was named to the all-Big East second team and to the Rotary Gridiron Classic Senior all-star game.
At the event, held in Orlando in January, Talley was on Team USA against a team of college seniors from Florida. He made a big enough impact in the game to garner the attention of a defensive genius who has been on his side ever since.
Buddy Ryan, the defensive super-mind and former coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, was Talley’s coach on Team USA. Ryan noticed the former Owl and has been praising his name ever since, according to Talley’s agent Jim Solano.
“Buddy Ryan really liked him a lot,” Solano said. “He recommended him highly to a lot of teams.”
Among the teams that have expressed interest in Talley, in no particular order of Ryan’s influence; Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Green Bay, New England, Tampa Bay and Denver.
“If somebody picks me up then that team is going to have a good linebacker,” Talley said. “It’s been my dream since grade school. It’s always been a dream for me.”
Talley is not expected to be a high draft pick but has a slim shot at being picked up in one of the late rounds on Sunday. His impact on a team would have to come as a special teams player and then maybe, if he’s lucky, a move to full-time linebacker could happen.
“I think I would make it as an undersized linebacker,” Talley said. “Nickle type and special teams. I gotta work my way into playing full time.”
Talley said he looks up to other undersized players at his position in the league. Dexter Coakley (5-10, 228) and Dat Nguyen (5-11, 231) both start for the Dallas Cowboys. Coakley was originally a third-round draft choice, leading the league’s rookies in tackles in 1997. He made it to the Pro Bowl in 1999. Both are, however, 20 pounds lighter than Talley and faster.
“Basically what you have to sell is his special team ability,” Solano said. “No one’s gonna project him as a starter, he’ll have to make his mark on special teams and move up from there.”
Ryan’s seal of approval helps Talley’s draft hopes, but the other thing that Talley picked up in Florida doesn’t- a knee injury.
According to Solano, Talley “tweaked” a knee in the game and that has hampered his performance in workouts. Talley’s times in speed drills were down from where Solano, a 1962 Temple graduate, thinks they would have been without the knee injury.
But just like Talley hasn’t let his height stifle his dreams, he isn’t ready to let a knee problem get in the way.
Solano’s job has been trying to explain away the knee injury and boost Talley’s standings. Although, if Talley isn’t drafted, Solano is confident that he can sign as a free agent somewhere.
Whether or not teams can look past size and make Talley a draft pick will be determined this weekend, the most important weekend of the former Owl’s life.