- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS — A first-grade student at 2 years old. A high school freshman at 12. A college senior at 19.

The road to the NFL for Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye is unlike any other player preparing for the draft. He is the youngest participant at this week’s NFL Scouting Combine even though he played four years of college football.

“I never really felt younger than everybody else. I always felt I was in the right grade,” Okoye said. “I started to realize it more in the past year with all the media attention.”

Born in Nigeria, the son of a principal and a medical supply company owner, Okoye started school early and skipped the sixth grade before joining his father in Huntsville, Ala., in 1999. Once he proved to his American school his age didn’t make a difference in his academics, he was on the fast track.

Following a 55-tackle, eight-sack season for Louisville, Okoye projects into a second-round draft pick.

“The first thing that will really help Amobi is that he’s very intelligent,” said Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, who coached at Louisville until January. “He’s a real student of the game, so he understands blocking schemes. He knows how to attack pass protections.”

Okoye isn’t scaring NFL teams like Maurice Clarett did because he has spent four seasons in a college program, which means he’s elite physically. And his smarts are confirmed by his psychology degree.

Okoye agrees with the NFL rule that players must complete three years of college before becoming draft eligible.

“I think those rules are good,” he said. “Every kid who has a chance and ability to go to college should go because it’s a life-changing experience.”

Okoye’s father wanted him to experience college at Harvard.

“My dad was big on going to Harvard, and I was big on playing football,” he said. “Louisville had the best of both worlds for me as far as athletics and academics.”

With the Cardinals, he had only 11 starts and 2 sacks in his first three seasons before starting all 13 games in 2006. Okoye dropped 25 pounds before last season and came to the combine at 302 pounds.

“He can be a Warren Sapp-type guy — he has those physical traits,” Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “He’s very mature for a 19-year old, but it has to be determined if he can go into a locker room with 30 old guys and adjust to everything.”

Getting his chance

With Warrick Holdman unlikely to be re-signed and Lemar Marshall’s role undefined if the Redskins sign a new middle linebacker, all indications are that second-year player Rocky McIntosh will get a chance to win a starting job.

McIntosh rarely played a defensive snap until the final month of the season. He started at St. Louis and made 10 tackles.

“We like what saw in Rocky,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “He’s got to play a bunch. When he was in there at the end of the year, we felt he played well. He’s explosive, adds a lot of speed and is a young guy that we think can really help us.”

Doing their homework

Even though the Redskins don’t have a glaring need on offense, associate head coach Al Saunders said the staff still fills out a report and watches video of all of the top-ranked players.

“Free agency has changed the landscape of the game so much,” Saunders said. “One of these guys might get drafted by somebody, and in two years they’ll be released and might be a fit for us. Or three, four years down the road, they might be a free agent. You keep track of everybody and a log of everybody.”

Back in the saddle

Despite missing 15 games over the last two seasons, District native Byron Leftwich — not fan favorite David Garrard — will be the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback in 2007. Leftwich was limited to six starts last year and had late-season ankle surgery.

“If you look at Byron and compare him with all the guys who have been drafted in the first round in recent years, I think he would compare favorably to a lot of them,” said James Harris, the Jaguars’ vice president of player personnel. “He has progressed. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t continue to progress and be a good NFL quarterback.”

In four seasons, Leftwich has 51 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. He helped the Jaguars to a wild-card playoff berth in 2005.

Johnson solidifies status

Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson — one of the few top skill-position players to work out — ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash yesterday, further cementing his status as the draft’s top receiver.

Johnson, who measured 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds after arriving at the combine — likely won’t slip past Tampa Bay, which has the No. 4 pick.

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