Thursday, April 10, 2008

Draft Prospect Profile: Quentin Groves

With the NFL Draft now almost here, the Steelers are beginning to bring in prospective draft choices to their South Side facilities. If you look back at past first round Steelers draft choices, almost all of them (Simmons, Polamalu, Roethlisberger, Miller, Timmons) visited with the team prior to the draft. The lesson here is that the Steelers first round pick will almost assuredly be someone who comes into Pittsburgh for a visit. With that said, over the next few weeks I will be providing brief profiles of those players who will most likely be picked in the first round and come into Pittsburgh for a visit. Chances are, one of these players profiled will be the team's first round selection in April. Today, it's Auburn defensive end/outside linebacker Quentin Groves, who according to the Post-Gazette has already visited with the Steelers.

Player: Quentin Groves, DE/OLB, Auburn

Height/Weight: 6'3'', 250 lbs.

Overview (courtesy of NFL.com): An athlete blessed with incredible quickness coming off the edge, dislocated toes did what no other offensive lineman could do in 2007 - stop Quentin Groves. Those who witnessed his performance in the South Florida game last year realize that this is a player that needs to be unleashed on the football field to get maximum production from his tremendous athletic ability. Drawing comparisons to Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, Groves will probably shift to outside linebacker in the professional ranks. He received a crash course at that position late in his senior campaign and even earned a start at left outside linebacker in the Tennessee Tech game. With his tall, muscular physique, excellent speed, outstanding change of direction agility and superb body control as a pass rusher, NFL quarterbacks will soon have to contend with one of the most disruptive backfield penetrators in the 2008 NFL Draft. Groves is an affable sort, frequently smiling and cracking jokes.

But the Auburn defensive end does have one group of guys he just doesn't care for: quarterbacks. "I just really don't have a liking for them," Groves said. "You can't hit them in practice. You have to stay off them. They don't do too much running. "I don't like quarterbacks, period. I don't know why." Luckily for him, his primary job for the Tigers the past four seasons has been to harass and hit opposing quarterbacks. And that's something he has done well enough to earn All-American and All-Southeastern Conference honors as he went on to tie Auburn's 22-year-old career record of 26 sacks held by Gerald Robinson.

Groves enrolled at Auburn in 2003, seeing brief action in the season opener vs. Southern California and vs. Western Kentucky before he was redshirted. He finished that year with three tackles (2 assists). The following season, Groves earned Freshman All-American honors from The Sporting News, Rivals.com and the Football Writers Association. Despite sharing left defensive end duties with Doug Langenfeld and Stanley McClover, Groves led the team with 7.5 sacks and 10 stops for losses as a reserve left defensive end. He posted 23 tackles (19 solos) in 13 games, adding four quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles. What made those figures even more impressive was the fact that he was nursing a right high ankle sprain that he suffered in fall camp. His performance earned him team Most Improved Defensive Lineman honors.

In 2005, Groves started three of 12 games at right defensive end, picking up third-team All-Southeastern Conference accolades. He registered 21 tackles (8 solos), ranking third on the team with six sacks and fourth with eight stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also caused a fumble, deflected a pass and returned a kickoff 13 yards. The 2006 off-season was one that Groves would just as soon forget. He was placed on probation after he was in a car accident with no auto insurance and a suspended license. He was also arrested after police responded to a domestic dispute call. Back on the football field, he started all 13 games at right defensive end, picking up All-American third-team and All-SEC first-team honors. As a junior, Groves led the Tigers with 9.5 sacks and ranked second on the squad with 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He totaled 35 tackles (24 solos) with seven quarterback pressures and also caused three fumbles.

Groves, who is married and has already graduated, opted to return for his senior season after being projected as a likely middle-round pick in the NFL Draft. The chance to move up in the draft and land a big contract had plenty to do with the decision. There were other motivations, too. "It was a money thing, and I wanted to win a championship with my teammates," Groves said. "I felt like if I came back here, we had a good chance to go to Atlanta and compete for an SEC title." Named to Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Hendricks Award preseason watch lists, Groves was having a banner 2007 campaign until he suffered dislocated toes on his right foot in the season's fifth game vs. Florida. The injury cost him two games of action and when he returned, he was used mostly in a reserve role before starting at left outside linebacker vs. Tennessee Tech after playing left defensive end in the Tigers' first five contests. He also closed out his career by starting vs. Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl at left end. In 11 games in 2007, Groves registered 38 tackles (23 solos). He had three sacks, seven stops for losses and led the Southeastern Conference with a career-high 23 quarterback pressures. He also caused a pair of fumbles, including one that a teammate returned for a touchdown. In 51 games at Auburn, Groves started 23 contests (16 at right end, six at left end and one at left outside linebacker). He registered 120 tackles (75 solos), tied the school career-record with 26 sacks for minus-169 yards and had 36 stops for losses of 194 yards. He was credited with 38 quarterback pressures, caused eight fumbles and deflected one pass.

Wannstache: The NFL is a copycat league. So when teams saw the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII with a relentless pass rush, you can bet that organization’s around the league are going to try and stock their defense with skilled pass rushers, much like the Giants did with guys like Umenyiora, Strahan, Kiwanuka, and Tuck. The Steelers are no different, which is why they brought in Groves for a visit and will likely give him strong consideration with their first round pick. Their starting OLB’s for next year are set, with Harrison and Woodley. Behind them, though, there is little depth. Add in the fact that you can never have enough pass rushers, and the interest in Groves is probably warranted.

At 6’3, 250 lbs, Groves best fit is probably as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He could probably contribute as a 4-3 defensive end, but all reports seem to indicate that he would be a better fit standing up. However, that versatility is probably very appealing to Tomlin and company, who could be looking to implement more of a 3-4/4-3 hybrid style of defense. Groves had a very good junior season, notching 9.5 sacks. He struggled in his senior year, though, in large part due to the fact that he was playing with dislocated toes. Near the beginning of the offseason, he was considered as a 2nd round pick. Then, the combine came, where Groves tore it up. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57, faster than some running backs and receivers, and put up 30 reps on the bench press. For comparison purposes, DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys ran the 40 in 4.56 and had 27 reps on the bench press, while Shawne Merriman of the Chargers ran the 40 in 4.66 and had 25 reps. After his performance, Groves vaulted himself solidly into the late 1st round picture. So how would he fit with the Steelers should they take him? In his first year, he’d probably be a situational pass rusher who could spell Harrison and Woodley. He would provide great depth, because right now, if either of the starting OLB’s go down, the next man up would be Arnold Harrison. Not exactly the ideal scenario, which is why the Steelers have visited with a number of mid-round OLB prospects as well. In the long run, after Farrior’s time with the club is done, the team could conceivably shift Harrison over to Farrior’s position, and insert Groves into the vacant ROLB spot. A starting linebacking corps of Groves-Harrison-Timmons-Woodley would be downright nasty, and could harken back to the days of Lloyd-Brown-Kirkland-Greene.

At this point, Groves has a better than average chance of being available at pick #23. Washington at pick #21 could be another landing spot for him, but assuming they pass, it’s up to the Steelers to decide whether they want to spend another premium pick on a linebacker after spending their first two in the 2007 draft at the same position.

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