MOBILE, Ala. – Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji has emerged in the first two days of Senior Bowl practice as one of the top defensive linemen – and top players overall – in Mobile.
Raji (6-2, 334), a 2008 All-ACC first-teamer with seven sacks, has shown an impressive combination of power and agility in exploding off the line of scrimmage. He dominated heralded centers Alex Mack of Cal and Max Unger of Oregon in one-on-one drills during the North team practice on Tuesday.
"I did OK," Raji said when a reporter asked him about his performance. "I always believe that anything is never as good as you think. It's also never as bad as you think, so there's room to improve. There are always things you can get better at."
Raji played behind Texans defensive end Tim Bulman in 2004 as a true freshman at Boston College. He redshirted for the 2007 season due to academic issues and had shoulder surgery last January, but Raji recovered before the start of the 2008 season and has had no other major health issues since.
Two players that Raji said he grew up idolizing and modeling his game after are the Chicago Bears' Tommie Harris and the New York Jets' Kris Jenkins.
"He's been an explosive player," said Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Raji's coach on the North squad. "I think there's a premium on big guys (at the nose tackle position) who can stay on their feet. That's what clogs the middle is guys who can stay on their feet and draw the blocks. It's not just size; it's based on athleticism, pad level and so forth, and I think B.J., he has those attributes."
South offensive lineman Eric Wood of Louisville, who is training for the draft with Raji in California, expressed some reservations after saying that he looks forward to going against Raji on Saturday.
"Originally, I thought I was going to be on the North, so we thought we were going to be going against each every day," Wood said. "But as I watch the tape, I get less excited about it. He's doing really well. It's a credit to him. He's been working really hard."
Other standouts: Larry English (6-2, 254) is an edge rusher with outstanding burst who had 10.5 sacks in 2007 at Northern Illinois. Some view the versatile English as a linebacker prospect, but he has been impressive in pass-rushing drills from the end position so far.
"I can do a lot of things: rush the passer, play the run, drop back and cover, too," English said. "I'm comfortable in either a 4-3 or 3-4. I played 4-3 end, but I think that I have athleticism and ability to play 3-4."
Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers (6-3, 273), who emerged in his senior season and was named a Tennessee team captain, also has turned some heads in the first two days of practice.
Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry (6-2, 290), a potential first-round pick, was overpowering at times in one-on-one pass rush drills on Tuesday. Scouts love Jerry's nonstop motor but would like to see him develop more pass rushing moves.
From Houston to Mobile: Every year, there seems to be a player or two from a small school who helps his draft stock immensely with a strong performance in Mobile. Defensive end Lawrence Sidbury from Richmond could be one of those players this week.
Sidbury (6-2, 267) earned a late invitation to the Senior Bowl after an impressive week at the East-West Shrine Game in Houston. He continues to exhibit potential as a pass-rushing end.
"I'm just blessed, thankful to have another week against even bigger competition," he said. "I'm going out every day working hard to show what I can do. I want to show them I can rush the passer, hang in there with the big guys and play on the highest level."