- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS — One end of the large Indiana Convention Center meeting room was buzzing yesterday afternoon when the best outside linebacker in this year’s NFL Draft — A.J. Hawk of Ohio State — was talking with almost 100 reporters.

Meanwhile, the draft’s best inside linebacker — Maryland’s D’Qwell Jackson — had an audience of four — two writers and two draft Web sites.

Not that Jackson cares. He’s at the NFL Scouting Combine this week not to chat but to make an impression on teams leading into the April 29 draft.

Jackson wants to improve on his 40-yard time of 4.7 seconds, show he’s capable of playing in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense and at weak-side linebacker and prove his size (6-0, 230 pounds) is not a problem.

“I expect a solid performance across the board,” said Jackson, who will work out tomorrow at the RCA Dome. “A lot of scouts want to see how I run. That’s the biggest thing. They have me around 4.7, so if I come out there and run a 4.5, I should be able to rest my case and answer my critics.”

Jackson and Iowa’s Abdul Hodge are the best inside linebackers in the draft, according to many services.

“If a team wants an inside backer, I should be the first one they look at,” Jackson said.

The outside linebacker spot is loaded. Ohio State’s Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, Iowa’s Chad Greenway and Florida State’s Ernie Sims could go in the opening round.

“If you look at it from a position standpoint, you can say this is probably as strong a linebacker group as we’ve had in a while,” Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said.

Washington Redskins linebackers coach Dale Lindsey said there are a lot of linebackers this year about Jackson’s size.

“The difference I see right now is that last year’s group seemed bigger, height-wise,” he said. “This group looks like they did 15 years ago — more 6-footers, 5-10s, 5-11s. But there are a couple of good linebackers.”

Last year, two first-round outside linebackers, San Diego’s Shawne Merriman and Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson, made an immediate impact. Merriman, a Pro Bowl selection, recently spoke with his former Maryland teammate.

“I talked to him a couple months ago, and he told me the main thing is staying focused and how I had four days to show what I can do and it’s going to be tough but take care of my business,” Jackson said.

Jackson certainly took care of business as Maryland’s starting inside linebacker for three seasons, totaling 136, 123 and 137 tackles each season. As a senior, he added four sacks and two interceptions.

Jackson was a weak-side linebacker at Maryland before moving inside. Among the 12 teams that interviewed him Saturday night, some asked about his ability to change positions.

“I’ve gotten comfortable there,” he said. “But as long as I’m on defense and playing linebacker, it doesn’t matter to me.”

Jackson said what he lacks in size he makes up for in football knowledge.

“My thing is being mentally prepared,” he said. “I’m not the 6-2, 250-pound ‘backer, so I have to focus on the details that most players take for granted. When I step on the field, I have to be prepared to know what plays come out of what formations. That separates you a little bit.”

Aside from his workout, Jackson hopes those hours studying come across when he meets with teams.

“I wouldn’t be the first one who is 6 foot, 230 pounds to play in the NFL,” he said. “If other guys have done it, I can’t see why I can’t.”

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