Is Ellison next wandering DT to find a home?

August, 20, 2009
8/20/09
12:56
PM ET
 
  AP Photo/Phil Coale
  Atiyyah Ellison (99) hopes he's found a home with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

In Atiyyah Ellison's media guide entry, his year-by-year bio has just a two-word edge on this lengthy transaction history:

TRANSACTIONS: Originally a third round (89th pick overall) draft choice by Carolina in 2005 NFL Draft ... Waived by Carolina on 9/3/05 ... Signed by Carolina to the practice squad on 9/5/05 ... Signed by Carolina to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on 9/14/05 ... Waived by Carolina on 9/24/05 ... Signed by Carolina to the practice squad on 9/27/05 ... Signed by Carolina to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on 10/31/05 ... Waived by Carolina on 9/2/06 ... Signed by Houston on 9/3/06 ... Waived by Houston on 9/7/06 ... Signed by Baltimore to the practice squad on 9/12/06 ... Signed by Baltimore to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on 12/4/06 ... Waived by Baltimore on 9/1/07 ... Signed by Baltimore to the practice squad on 9/2/07 ... Signed by San Francisco off the Baltimore practice squad on 9/5/07 ... Waived by San Francisco 8/30/08 ... Signed to San Francisco practice squad 8/31/08 ... Signed by Jacksonville off San Francisco practice squad on 12/10/08.

He shakes his head and grins when he talks about the 18 moves -- "I've been everywhere," he said -- but remains surprisingly upbeat and optimistic that No. 18 will be the big winner, that he's finally found a home with the Jaguars.

"Being a third-round pick and then getting cut and put on the practice squad, people see that and think, 'Something's got to be wrong with him' or 'Something is up with him' or 'He was drafted too high,' I honestly couldn't tell you one specific thing," Ellison said.

"Every place I've been, nobody's flat out told me, 'You're not good enough for this' or 'You're not good enough for that.' It's just I've got to put everything together and just make a run for it."

 
  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  Tony Brown's skill set brought him to Tennessee.

Ellison is hardly alone. The league features plenty of defensive tackles who've bounced around, tantalizing teams with combinations of height and weight, speed and strength, then not fitting the style of play those clubs seek.

And so they wander, as Ellison and two former teammates in Carolina, Tony Brown and Jovan Haye, have done.

"Really it happens in all positions, but D tackle is kind of a fickle position as far as what exactly you are asking them to do," Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil said. "The body might look the same, but the mind and the feet react differently.

"The biggest thing is that some guys are built to go down the line and take up space and some guys are built to go upfield, be more aggressive and rush. That's two completely and totally different skills sets you are talking about."

ESPN.com's NFC West maven Mike Sando keeps track of starting lineups, and on his list of projected starting defensive tackles he found 21 drafted by one team but playing for another.

They cover a wide range. Baltimore's Kelly Gregg was a sixth-rounder in Cincinnati in 1999, but wasn't an impact guy there or in Philadelphia. Now he's a mainstay in Baltimore. Aubrayo Franklin started only one game in four seasons with the Ravens after they drafted him in the fifth round in 2003, but he is a two-year starter with the 49ers and finished last season on the upswing.

Brown wasn't drafted, but went from Carolina to Miami to San Francisco to a year out of the league to Carolina again to Tennessee.

Others who've been with more than two teams include Detroit's Grady Jackson (six), Miami's Jason Ferguson (three), New Orleans' Kendrick Clancy (four) and Oakland's Gerard Warren (three). And that's not accounting for guys like Ellison, who may not start but can be important pieces of a rotation.

Not every move was because of a scheme issue, but many were.

In Carolina, Brown said he was asked to move laterally and even drop in some zone blitzes. In Tennessee, everything starts with an attacking, rush-the-passer mode. If it turns out to be a run, Brown reacts out of that. Same for a screen. Same for anything.

"Here, they said all we want you to do is attack, attack, attack," Brown said. "As long as you're going 1,000 miles an hour, you can't really mess up. The way we play, everyone has their own gap, but if I go one place, then our linebackers play off us so it really works out well."

Haye started out as an end but became a tackle in Tampa Bay in 2006 and he's watched a lot of interior guys go from roster to roster in search of the right job.

Ellison, Brown and Haye all said bouncing around may not have been good for their confidence, but it did help harden them and exposed them to a lot of teammates and coaching that probably helps them now.

From the coaching end, young tackles can be harder to read or evaluate than players at other positions, Cecil said.

"And it's a day-to-day thing sometime," he said. "Some days they look good and some days it's like, 'Wow, he doesn't know what he's doing,' I think more than anything it's a system thing.

"Those different guys have different things that they do well, and different things that they don't do well. Maybe they come here and we're asking him to do the things that he does well, so he doesn't get exposed on those other things."

As Ellison tries to make his mark in Jacksonville, he hopes to use things he learned from working with Bryant Young, Kris Jenkins and Mike Rucker in previous jobs.

The Titans now consider Brown a mainstay on the interior line and if Haye doesn't start next to him, he'll still get a lot of snaps. The Jaguars are hoping Ellison, who started their first preseason game alongside John Henderson, can turn
out to be a real find.

He knows he will be the easiest player for the team to kick to the curb as it sorts out the position, but he has gotten a lot of positive feedback and could be a nice early down fit for a team with no proven second tackle.

"I'd say I am a pretty stout run guy, I can get off the blocks and am pretty good in pursuit," Ellison said.

If, by chance, it doesn't work out for him, there seems a good chance that his transaction list would grow. After all, how many teams wouldn't like to upgrade their depth and aren't intrigued by a 6-foot-3, 322-pound defensive tackle?

"I think there are not enough football players to go around period," Colts president Bill Polian said. "So you end up trying to do the best you can identifying guys who are football players and then hope that you can fit them into the scheme. But in reality, there is a scheme fit for most everyone."

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