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Defensive backs draw attention at Senior Bowl


MOBILE, Ala.- Aside from a running back, perhaps the Texans' biggest need is at defensive back. Six of the 17 players that the Texans placed on injured reserve this season came from the secondary, including star cornerback Dunta Robinson, who might not return until midseason in 2008.

The team could use a big hitter to complement rookie cornerback Fred Bennett. The South Carolina product was drafted in the fourth round and led the team in interceptions with three.

Several Senior Bowl players would line up well across from Bennett, namely Troy cornerback Leodis McKelvin (5-11, 186), who has the Texans selecting with the No. 18 overall pick in their latest mock draft. McKelvin proved to be the South's most aggressive cover corner, batting down passes and getting physical with receivers.

He may hail from a small school, but scouts see him as a starter in the NFL.

"I'm a cover corner," McKelvin said. "I can be physical. I can come up with hits. And I can be the best return guy.

"When I first came in, I had some mistakes and put myself in bad situations. I was getting out of my backpedal too fast. They (the 49ers/South team coaching staff) told me to stay in it. I worked on that the next two days and I came out here the next day and stayed in my backpedal and made a lot of plays."

Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (6-2, 181) played corner in college, but several pro teams are looking at him as a safety. Regardless, Rodgers-Cromartie showcased his speed during individual drills.

His lean physique makes him look like a track athlete on the field and several pro evaluators are concerned that his lower body is too slight for the league. However, his ability to harass in man coverage keeps scouts intrigued.

"It's a great environment," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You've got guys with speed, cover skills and strength. You've got to stay consistent and stay focused. And every rep counts because there are minimum reps."

Indiana cornerback Tracy Porter (5-11, 181) showcased his man coverage skills, keeping up with just about any receiver on the North team. Porter doesn't possess McKelvin's speed, but he appeared to be the best corner on Raiders coach Lane Kiffin's Senior Bowl team.

Right on Porter's heels is Iowa cornerback Chris Godfrey (5-11, 207), who has delivered several aggressive hits on South wideouts this week.

Terrell Thomas (6-0, 200) of USC broke up a pass Wednesday, but he also got burned by Cal wideout Lavelle Hawkins. Thomas needs to find his second gear in order to impress pro teams.

"I think I'm doing a pretty good job," Thomas said. "I'm showing good, fluid hips. I can play the position at my size. Obviously, I would like to make more plays on the ball, but I think I'm doing a good job."

San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan said he was impessed with the defensive backs from both teams, especially McKelvin's potential as a big-time playmaker.

"They've got some good size," Nolan said. "I think a lot of people's eyes are on the guy from Troy (McKelvin) because he is an athletic guy who has made some plays.

"Overall, as a group, there looks like there is a lot of good football players. How good they will be is hard to tell, but it is a good group of football players."

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