North Carolina State DT Tank Tyler ran a full workout in Indy and proved to be the Combine's best at the bench press
(More than 320 standout college players put their skills on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. On the weekend of April 28-29, the vast majority of those players will hear their names called in the 2007 NFL Draft. During the months of March and April, Buccaneers.com will take a closer look at some of those names from the combine, and the stories behind them in our "Road to the Draft" series. These features are not meant to pinpoint the very top prospects in the draft, nor to reflect the Buccaneers' opinions or draft strategies. Any mention of draft-board status or a player's strengths and weaknesses are from outside sources, not the team's own scouting work. Currently featured: North Carolina State defensive tackle Tank Tyler.)
DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler, currently in the midst of the most important job search of his life, has an excellent resume. It's his reference list, however, that really shines.
Tyler knows the organization he wants to work for, if not the specific branch. And just a year ago five of his fellow trainees got in on the ground floor, ready to make an immediate impact. Now it's his turn, and he figures that those employers who valued his friends will see the same promise in him.
See, just two seasons ago, Tyler was on the same North Carolina State defense as Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, John McCargo, Stephen Tulloch and Marcus Hudson. Together, they propelled the Wolfpack to the nation's number-eight defensive ranking, and Tyler, Williams and McCargo turned the defensive line into the nation's sixth-best at collecting sacks.
Then the National Football League draft came calling in April of 2006 and Williams, Lawson, McCargo, Tulloch and Hudson all left the Wolfpack to start their professional careers. Tyler, the enormous nose tackle anchoring that unit, played well again in the fall of 2006 but couldn't alone keep the Wolfpack defense at the top of the rankings (it slipped to 97th).
"I guess they left me behind to clean up everything," said Tyler wryly at the 2007 NFL Scouting Combine last month. He's joking, mostly; Tyler was a junior in 2005 but that wasn't his strongest campaign at N.C. State. A better 2006 improved his own draft stock and now he is ready to leave after his senior season, unlike Williams, McCargo and Tulloch, who jumped to the NFL a year early.
"It was a big difference not playing with them; they were great players," said Tyler. "But I learned a lot of things from them, and it was a lot of motivation to see them go high in the first round. I guess I had to try to prove myself and do well without them."
He hopes he's shown enough to rate as highly as his former teammates; Williams, Lawson and McCargo all went in the first round while Tulloch was a fourth-rounder and Hudson came off the board in the sixth.
"They give me a lot of confidence, because I played with those guys and we had the same goals and ambitions, the same dreams," said Tyler. "I have the same work ethic as those guys, and they made it. I'm pretty confident in myself that I'll make it."
Williams, in fact, was the first player taken overall, despite a league-wide infatuation with USC running back Reggie Bush and Texas quarterback Vince Young (they went second and third). McCargo was just the third defensive tackle selected, and Lawson was the fifth linebacker in an opening round absolutely loaded at that position.
A year later, Tyler figures into the conversation regarding the most coveted defensive tackles. Projected in some mock drafts to be a high second-rounder, he's trying to jump into the first with such other coveted DT prospects as Michigan's Alan Branch, Louisville's Amobi Okoye, Tennessee's Justin Harrell and Ohio State's Quinn Pitcock.
Tyler won't match Williams' lofty draft position and he may not catch those of Lawson (22nd overall) or McCargo (26th), but all of that becomes irrelevant the day after the draft anyway. Once he's joined his former 'Pack in the pros, Tyler will be able to prove he once again belongs in the same group.
"I don't want to say who's the best player [among the N.C. State defenders], but we all worked together and worked hard, and we were pretty good," said Tyler. "I talk to them a lot, all those guys. They're great guys and we try to keep in touch. We don't have any bets [about who will go highest]. We just want to see everybody make it."
Tyler didn't hurt himself at the combine. Though he was dealing with a slight hamstring problem, he ran through all of the drills, including the 40-yard dash. Of course, as a squat and powerful nose tackle type, he wasn't expected to put up the event's top 40-yard dash time or highest vertical leap. However, he is considered a very strong player capable of taking on double teams and collapsing the pocket, and that opinion was only strengthened in Indianapolis.
When it came to the bench press exercise, in which players see how many consecutive times they can lift 225 pounds, the 6-2, 320-pound Tyler was off the charts. His 42 reps was the most for any defensive lineman, or any player at any position, for that matter. The next highest total, by a pair of offensive linemen, was 40 reps. The next highest total among defensive linemen was 34 reps.
Like most of the players gathered in Indy in February, Tyler professed his willingness to play whatever role he was assigned. He said he felt comfortable playing in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 front, and believed he could excel either at the nose or in the three-technique spot. It's telling, however, that he said he "likes" to play nose tackle; many players favor the potentially more glamorous three-technique spot and its emphasis on speed and backfield penetration. Clearly, Tyler understands that many teams see the value in an immense and immensely strong man clogging up the running lanes and occupying multiple blockers in the trenches. He heard as much at the Senior Bowl in January.
"I had a couple coaches say that I'm a pretty good nose tackle, that I have a pretty good build for it," said Tyler. "A couple of coaches down at the Senior Bowl told me that my body is real good for a nose tackle. I like to be over the center. But I feel comfortable in both positions."
Still, Tyler shed some pounds before heading to Indianapolis in order to show some of his potential suitors that he can handle a different role.
"A couple teams are looking at me for their nose position," he said. "A couple teams want me heavy and a couple teams want me light, so I kind of fluctuated my weight for the Senior Bowl.
"I've been focusing on my quickness. In the last three or four weeks I've been focused on dropping a couple pounds, just to show the teams that I can get up some or I can get down to whatever they want me to be. I've been focusing on my quickness and my strength."
Tyler is sure that he's a defensive tackle of some sort. The Wolfpack coaching staff experimented with Tyler at offensive guard during the spring practices that followed his freshman season, but he wasn't comfortable with the move. He was asked which side he wanted to play on and responded: "Yeah, I'm a defensive lineman."
That was the end of that experiment. It was brief, but not a waste of time. Tyler believes it helped in his development back at his natural position
"While I was over there, I used it to my advantage," he said. "I practiced the footwork and kind of felt the strengths and weaknesses of an offensive lineman, then carried that back over to the D-line."
He is about to make another significant transition, but this time he won't be looking back. Tyler knows quite a few former co-workers who did the exact same thing a year ago, and he speaks with them frequently in the days leading up to his own draft weekend.
"They just wished me all the best of luck and told me to come out here and do my best," said Tyler. "That's what I'm here to do, and wherever I end up I'm just ready to play some football."