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Thursday, January 27, 2005
Bartell, Broughton hang with the big boys

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

MOBILE, Ala. -- If they played as if they came from Division I-AA schools, The Citadel running back Nehemiah Broughton and Howard defensive back Ronald Bartell wouldn't have been invited to the Senior Bowl in the first place. A collection of the best college football seniors in the country normally wouldn't dip into the Southern Conference or the MEAC.

But Broughton and Bartell stood out, not necessarily because of what they did in college football, but because of what the NFL talent gurus believe they might be able to accomplish in the pros.

Ronald Bartell
Ronald Bartell's size and speed have NFL scouts intrigued.
Bartell's 13 pass breakups and two created turnovers last season aren't nearly as interesting to the scouts as the fact that he broke up those passes as a 6-foot-2, 198-pound presence in the secondary. His combination of size and quickness is highly sought after.

Broughton rushed for the 793 yards and five touchdowns last fall, and had one 1,000-yard season as a collegian. But at 5-11, 252 pounds, he has the build to be a fullback. That is where the interest of the NFL lies.

Broughton hasn't played fullback since early in his collegiate career. He has to change the way he thinks. He can't look for the flash of daylight in the line. He's the one in charge of creating it. His crash course in blocking reveals new information on every snap.

"You can't attack on the wrong side of the guy you're blocking," Broughton said. "You can make great contact, and they can slide off of you and make the play."

The Tampa Bay coaches recognize the effort Broughton has put forth.

"You can tell there are some things that he hasn't done before," running backs coach Art Valero said. "But he doesn't block like a runner. He blocks like a guy who has got a chance to be a better blocker."

"Everybody in a two-back set is looking for fullbacks, including us," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "He'll get a chance to carry the ball in the game. A lot of people want to see him at the point of attack."

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, the former head coach at The Citadel, recruited Broughton to the Charleston, S.C., school.

"One of my greatest recruiting jobs," said Johnson self-mockingly, who attended the South team's practice on Wednesday. "I signed him as a nose tackle with a chance to play fullback."

Johnson described Broughton's worth to the Bulldogs in concise, compelling detail.

"My third year (2003), we started out 5-2," Johnson said. "After the next game, he got hurt and we ended up 6-6. Without him, everything changed. Our running game dissipated."

The attitudes that Broughton and Bartell brought to the Senior Bowl reveal as much about them as their play on the field. Broughton answers questions "Yes, sir," and expressed some initial astonishment at being on the same field as the national stars.

"Coming to play with all the big boys," Broughton said, letting his voice trail off. "Then you realize if you couldn't play, you wouldn't have been invited. If I want to jump to the NFL, this is my chance. A lot of people don't get the chance."

Bartell has the bravado that is a trademark of the best defensive backs. Being on the field with players from the Oklahomas and the Michigans of the world didn't widen his eyes at all.

"I didn't have any questions. I know other people did," Bartell said. "I wanted to show people that I could play with anybody. I hope a lot of people question me. You have a lot of doubters, coming from a small school. Nobody here is a finished product."

In a game that takes pride in its ability to spot the small-school talent, Broughton and Bartell hope to add their names to a list of small-school breakout stars such as Mark Gastineau of East Central (1979), Neil Lomax of Portland State (1981 Senior Bowl MVP), Terrell Owens of Chattanooga (1996) and Brian Westbrook of Villanova (2002).

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.