A Lot on the Line

With the Combine days away the focus is directed on big-name players such as Calvin Johnson and Brady Quinn. Yet small-school players such as Marques Colston, who came out of last year's Combine, made an impact as a rookies. Brent Sobleski looks at a pair of small school offensive linemen hoping to do the same in '07.

Just a month ago, a resurrected New Orleans Saints franchise was vying to play in the Super Bowl against the eventual NFC representative, the Chicago Bears. New Orleans overhauled their team roster the previous offseason to put them in position to achieve that success. A key addition for the Saints was drafting a small school offensive line prospect by the name of Jahri Evans. The Bloomsburg State product became a fourth-round selection by the franchise and solidified the right guard position from training camp throughout the entire season.

This underdog story is a reason why the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine is so important to most prospects. Often small school prospects are overlooked for the more glamorous names on the docket who may or may not elect to work out. But upon further review, it is those small school prospects that most often benefit from the exposure the Combine brings, especially along the offensive line.

Evans is not a singular example. In recent years names such as Paul McQuistan, Kevin Boothe, and Michael Roos came from non-Division I-A programs, had solid Combine results and became immediate starters for their respective teams. The league itself is littered with offensive linemen from small schools including future Hall of Famer Larry Allen and solid veterans like the Patriots' Steven Neal. And even a young stud by the name of Jamaal Jackson in Philadelphia.

This leads to today's crop of small school line prospects. Only two from non-Division I-A schools were invited along the offensive line. Those two being Allen Barbre and Elliott Vallejo.

Barbre hails from Missouri Southern, while Vallejo was an Aggie from the University of California-Davis after transferring from UCLA. Just being invited to the Combine should be a testament to the talent both possess, but just being invited is not the goal of these players.

Allen Barbre is a rare athlete at his position. At 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, Barbre has been asked to cover punts and even carry the ball on occasion in college. But don't just take my word for it. Here's what Southern Missouri's offensive line coach Casey Meile's had to say about him in a recent article in The Joplin Globe: "Considering he's the first guy down on the punt team every time, Allen is a special athlete," he said.

Rumor is Barbre will run a 40-yard dash time of sub-4.8 seconds. A Division I-AA All-American, Barbre was able to give the scouts an early peek at playing against some top level competition during the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star game last month. The results were positive. The left tackle prospect, who will likely be a guard at the next level, is a bit of project but has all the raw material NFL scouts drool over.

Elliot Vallejo impresses with his size of 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds. On top of that, Vallejo is a solid athlete and is expected to run in the 5.1 range this weekend. Vallejo replaced another former NFL prospect from Cal-Davis, Brad Lekkerkerker, and grew into a starter of thirty-two straight games at right tackle for the Aggies. A dedicated mechanical engineering student, Vallejo at one point questioned his future in the sport, but he'll see this week that NFL teams are serious about his potential.

Obviously there will be other prospects at different positions from non-Division I-A schools at the Combine who will be worth a look. Jacoby Jones (WR, Lane College), David Ball (WR, New Hampshire), Ben Patrick (TE, Delaware) are names to remember, but it's the offensive line prospects -- the hogs up front who receive little attention whether they line up for Texas or Texas St. -- who seem to have the most immediate and lasting impact at the next level.

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