Top prospects look to impress at Senior Bowl

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USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is among the marquee draft prospects at the 2009 Senior Bowl.

MOBILE, Ala. –With the NFL Draft a little more than three months away, the top college seniors in the country have gathered in Mobile, Ala., to showcase their talent at the 2009 Under Armour Senior Bowl.

Texans general manager Rick Smith and his scouting department were among the hundreds of scouts, general managers and coaches from around the NFL at the first Senior Bowl practices on Monday.

For even the most highly-touted of players, such as USC inside linebacker and probable first-round pick Rey Maualuga (6-2, 254), the pressure is on.

"It's nerve-wracking," Maualuga said. "But at the same time, everyone out here is trying to get a job, so everyone's pushing each other, and I'm trying to make the best out of it."

Maualuga, a ferocious hitter who won the 2008 Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive collegiate player, is in familiar company in Mobile. USC is the most represented school at the Senior Bowl with six players, including five on defense and the entire USC starting linebacker corps – Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, Jr.

"It's just comfortable to look in the huddle and you see a couple of 'SC helmets out there," Maualuga said. "We want to come out here and make the best of the opportunity and compete. Coach (Pete) Carroll is always about competing, and it's fun that we all get to be out here to experience this time together."

Monday, the first day of practices, began with a weigh-in for the players. The seniors filed in one-by-one with their shirts off as they were measured for height, weight, hand size and arm length in front of hundreds of scouts and personnel officials from around the NFL.

"When we weighed in, that was like the longest walk I've ever had to do," Maualuga said. "I just put my head down and just made sure I found the exit. "

Rebels with a cause: Two Ole Miss All-Americans hope to use the week to solidify themselves as first-round selections.

Left tackle Michael Oher drew plenty of superlatives from impressed scouts, both for weighing in at a lean 309 pounds for his 6-5 frame and for his footwork and abilities on the practice field. The polished Oher might be the top prospect in Mobile this week.

"I'm just trying to prove that I've got the total package to be an elite left tackle in the NFL," he said. "I'm just trying to show (scouts) that I'm physical, quick, fast, got all the tools."

Oher's Ole Miss teammate Peria Jerry is an athletic defensive tackle who finished first in the SEC with in tackles for loss (18.0) and fifth in sacks (7.0) this season. The pass-rushing specialist is relishing the chance to play against top talent in Mobile.

"It's just not about showing (scouts) about my game, it's just coming out here and competing with the other guys," he said. "I just want to show them that I can compete with the best.

"I'm a player that makes plays, and I've got a motor. I can run down the field and make plays."

Hometown kid: Before he was a record-setting quarterback at West Virginia, Pat White – a college teammate of Texans running back Steve Slaton – was a star at Daphne (Ala.) High School, a mere 9.6 miles from the site of the South squad's practice on Monday at Fairhope Stadium.

"It's fun being home back in Daphne," White said. "I was very fortunate (growing up) that every year my father was able to get tickets, so I was always at the game. I enjoyed them, and it's been a lifelong dream. I'm happy to be here."

White is the only player in college football (FBS) history to lead his team to four bowl victories. The NCAA career rushing leader at quarterback, White also showed off his arm by throwing for a career-high 332 yards in West Virginia's victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Bowl in December.

Seen and heard: ESPN reporter Michael Smith was seen on the sidelines chatting with Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith…Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox also was in attendance…LSU offensive lineman Herman Johnson (6-7, 382) is a jaw-droppingly massive prospect...Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith (5-9, 193) drew some raves for his instinctual playmaking ability after making an interception on the right sideline during the team portion of drills.

Subtraction, addition: Among the elite prospects to remove themselves from the game were Wake Forest outside linebacker Aaron Curry, LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo and Michigan State running back Javon Ringer…late additions to the Senior Bowl lineup included Michigan defensive end Tim Jamison, Purdue running back Kory Sheets, Virginia Tech center Ryan Shuman, Ole Miss wide receiver Mike Wallace and Richmond defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, who had a solid week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game in Houston.

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