- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Phillip Merling’s sports hernia surgery could serve as enough of a red flag that he will be available when the Washington Redskins select at No. 21 in Saturday’s NFL Draft.

Merling, an early entry defensive end from Clemson, did not work at the NFL Scouting Combine (citing a groin injury) and had surgery last month before he could perform at the Tigers’ pro day.

“He’s one of the more intriguing questions in this year’s draft,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “To me, he’s a top-15 player. If he falls beyond that into the 20s, I think it’s directly attributable to the fact that teams are nervous about him because they can’t test him.”

Merling does have 38 games of college experience that will be dissected by every team. They will see him post three sacks and 46 tackles in 2006 playing opposite Gaines Adams and then have a 78-tackle, seven-sack junior year.

Merling should be more attractive to the Redskins than rush ends Derrick Harvey and Calais Campbell because he can slide inside and play defensive tackle. A pass rushing presence from the tackle position would benefit end Andre Carter.

“I think I’m one of the true defensive ends in this class — there are a couple of others but a lot who play linebacker and defensive end,” Merling said. “And I wouldn’t mind playing tackle. Playing end or tackle, it doesn’t matter. I think I could do a good job at both of them.

“We played a couple of defensive fronts where I played inside and was able to get on the quarterback on third-and-longs.”

If Merling is off the board and/or the Redskins decide the tackle trio of Cornelius Griffin, Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston can hold down the position in 2008, Campbell could become an option.

Campbell, from Miami (Fla.), measured 6-7½ and 290 pounds at the combine, saw his sack total drop from 10½ to six and his tackle total fall from 84 to 50 last season. Yet he still came out for the draft.

“I don’t feel like I played as well as I could have last year, so I’ve got some things to prove,” he said.

Said Mayock: “To me, he’s a kid that his best football is down the road a year or two. He has to grow into his body.”

If the Redskins were pining for an offensive tackle in the first round, there would be plenty of options. Five left tackles and one right tackle could go in the opening round.

“It’s the best group I’ve seen in 24 years, and it was a good group before the juniors were added,” Pittsburgh Steelers personnel boss Kevin Colbert said. “The majority of them can play on the left side or both sides. It’s unusual to have that many guys that big, that athletic and that productive.”

Where the Redskins will look to add offensive linemen is Sunday’s final five rounds. They need to develop a player who can fill in at guard and center.

TOP FIVE OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Jake Long, Michigan, 6-7, 313

Possible No. 1 overall pick allowed only one sack his senior year and committed only one penalty in his career

Ryan Clady, Boise State, 6-6, 309

Some analysts have Clady ranked ahead of Long among tackles. He played in a zone-blocking scheme, making him a perfect fit for Denver.

Branden Albert, Virginia, 6-5, 309

He’s the fastest rising prospect on the board in recent weeks. A left guard for the Cavaliers, he could go as high as No. 7 to the Patriots.

Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh, 6-6, 321

The former junior college product is more advanced in run blocking at this point. He could go to Carolina as a right tackle with 13th pick.

Chris Williams, Vanderbilt, 6-6, 320

He allowed only one sack and one pressure in 836 offensive snaps last season. He could go to Minnesota at No. 17.

REDSKINS’ OUTLOOK: The Redskins would be wise to draft a couple of linemen during the later rounds, chiefly a player who can play guard and center. Since 2004, the Redskins have developed only one lineman (tackle Stephon Heyer, which was blind luck).

TOP FIVE DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Glenn Dorsey, LSU, 6-13/4, 297

He’s the best defensive player in the draft, period. He won’t get past Oakland at No. 4.

Vernon Gholston, Ohio State, 6-3, 266

He put up 23.5 sacks the last two years and has nudged ahead of Long on most projections.

Chris Long, Virginia, 6-4, 266

He is a safe pick because of his technical skills. He could fall to the Jets at No. 6.

Sedrick Ellis, USC, 6-0, 309

He posted 13 sacks his last two college seasons and occupied blockers for teammates like Keith Rivers to make plays.

Phillip Merling, Clemson, 6-41/2, 277

Among the top pass rushers, he has shown the ability to move inside as a nickel rusher.

REDSKINS’ OUTLOOK: Most mock drafts have the Redskins addressing their pass rush in the first round, and the likely candidates would be Merling, Miami’s Calais Campbell and Florida’s Derrick Harvey. But the Redskins would like to draft an end who also can slide inside to play tackle if called upon.

Ryan O’Halloran


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