Commentary

Texas draftees will use versatility

A trio of Longhorns defenders find themselves in new roles in the NFL

Updated: April 29, 2012, 12:40 PM ET
By Max Olson | HornsNation

None of the three Longhorns drafted into the NFL on Saturday are walking into starting jobs, big-time expectations or even paydays above the league minimum.

In fact, if linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho and defensive tackle Kheeston Randall have anything in common these days, it's that nothing is guaranteed and versatility will be vital if they hope to make it in the pros.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Robinson
Patrick Green/Icon SMIKeenan Robinson will be asked to play inside in a 3-4 defense with the Washington Redskins.
Robinson must prepare to make a living as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense with the Washington Redskins, because playing on the outside isn't an option.

Acho better stay well-versed in playing both outside and inside for the Cleveland Browns if he wants to have the breakout rookie campaign his brother enjoyed in Arizona.

And Randall? The more positions he can play, the better the big man's chances are of making the Miami Dolphins' 53-man roster this fall.

Robinson was told throughout the NFL draft process he'd likely project as an outside linebacker at the next level. When the Redskins selected him in the fourth round on Saturday, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett informed him he had other plans.

Haslett doesn't need any playmakers on the edge. He's already got a two-time Pro Bowler in former Longhorn Brian Orakpo, and 2011 first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan racked up 7.5 sacks as a rookie.

So the 6-foot-3, 243-pound Robinson will start his career inside and try to carve out a role on special teams.

"He's a guy who could play both [inside and outside]," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "We like his speed. One of the reasons we drafted him is we had him at the Senior Bowl. He's a quality young man. I just like the way he practices and handles himself. We think he can fit in well."

Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz moved Robinson inside as a senior, so he's no stranger to the role he'll take on in D.C. Still, he made sure going into the draft he was prepared to play at any linebacker spot.

"Training for inside, I focused on using my hands," Robinson said. "You have to work to get off blocks. But for me, I'm already big, already strong, already fast. But I have some things I need to work on."

Acho also joins an organization that doesn't have a need for the position he was projected to play.

Middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson finished No. 2 in the NFL in tackles last season, and the Browns used a fourth-round pick on Nevada linebacker James-Michael Johnson.

So Acho will stick to playing outside linebacker -- the role he adopted in his only year under Diaz -- and provide depth behind returning starters Chris Gocong and Kaluka Maiava.

"Emmanuel Acho, an outside linebacker, is a terrific kid," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "He really is a terrific player, very eager. When I had him on the phone, you could feel like he was going to jump on a flight today and get here."

Acho admits he didn't know why he was taken so late on the draft's final day. The 6-foot-1, 238-pound senior was selected near the end of the sixth round, but some advice from his brother, Sam, helped him get through the long wait.

"My brother told me before the whole draft process that it is not about when you go, it's about where you go and making sure it's the right fit for you," he said. "I think God had a plan for it all. I was never really too upset as much as I was just waiting for that final phone call, and when I got it I was ecstatic.

"I don't know why I fell so low, but I am just going to capitalize on the opportunity that the Browns have given me."

Opportunity is all Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland sees when he looks at Randall, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound tackle capable of playing as a one-, three- or five-technique lineman.

"He's big, he runs really good and he has very long arms," Ireland said. "We got a good chance to see him at the Senior Bowl and he had a good week of practices there. He's smart and he's tough, so we feel very good about Kheeston."

Randall's flexibility is an especially valuable asset right now as the Dolphins transition from a 3-4 defense to a "hybrid" scheme under new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle that will use both 3-4 and 4-3.

Three other Longhorns inked free agent deals on Saturday night in the hopes that a big first impression at minicamps will lead to a chance to play in the pros.

Safety Blake Gideon signed with the Arizona Cardinals, kicker Justin Tucker reached a deal with the Baltimore Ravens while fullback Cody Johnson landed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and safety Christian Scott signed with the Tennessee Titans.

After not hearing a word all day long, Gideon started getting calls from NFL teams midway through the seventh round. He weighed several options before settling on the Cardinals.

"It's a huge load off my shoulders," Gideon said. "Right after the season, everybody starts stressing about this with the preparation that goes into the combine and then Pro Day, and then ultimately leading up to today. It's a huge relief knowing that I can get back to focusing on football and knowing what team I'll be playing for."

One Longhorn hoping to hear his name called in the draft did not agree to a deal Saturday night.

Jerry Marlatt, the agent for Fozzy Whittaker, told HornsNation the running back was unable to reach an agreement because NFL doctor will not clear him until he makes more progress in his recovery from a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee.

Max Olson | email

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