Walker Challenges NFL's Tough-Guy Mentality

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He might be the biggest-and nicest-guy at Cal. Even at 6-foot-8, 345 pounds, Langston Walker won't be confused with a menacing member of the WWF roster. His voice isn't overpowering, he doesn't wear a scowl on his face, and he never seems to be angry.

Considering his size, these are pretty admirable traits, except to some NFL executives.

Countless NFL draft gurus have wondered if Walker has the nasty streak that so many look for in an offensive lineman. Walker says he can get the job done, but doesn't have to go Kyle Turley to do so.

"Some guys are naturally like that," Walker says. "I'm the kind of guy who has to turn it on on the field."

That's probably not a bad thing.

This weekend, one of 32 NFL teams will have the opportunity to see Walker flip the switch by selecting him in the 2002 NFL Draft.

Walker's season couldn't have started any worse. Coming off a season-ending broken ankle injury in 2000, Walker was banged up in fall camp.

In the first game against Illinois, he looked rusty from missing full scrimmage time in camp. Walker struggled to deal with the Fighting Illini's pass rush. In the second game of the season, it was more of the same.

As the season progressed, Walker's name became less mentioned, which coincided with his improved play. He overpowered opponents at times just because of his size. But with Cal struggling in most offensive categories, recognition for any member of the unit didn't come easy.

When All-Pac-10 selections were announced, Walker wasn't among them, despite what turned out to be a solid senior season. Considering how the season began, he was happy with his overall performance.

"I finished up as one of the best tackles in the Pac-10," Walker says.

To win postseason honors, players have get their names out and impress nine other coaches. Walker realizes the Draft wont be nearly as complicated.

"All you need is one person to like you," Walker says, noting that if one team likes him, he will be in the NFL.

Leading up to the two-day draft, Walker has worked out for 17 offensive line

coaches. Green Bay, Baltimore, New England, San Francisco, Kansas City and the New York Jets have expressed a lot of interest.

Walker says that coming off a 1-10 season, workouts are especially important. Scouts see all the game tape, but coaches like to see how players respond to position drills specific to their team. Walker has taken advantage and impressed.

An early opportunity came at the Shrine Game, where reports say he had good practices. Walker also went to the annual NFL Combine in Indianapolis, which he described as a "meat market."

"You sort of feel like cattle," Walker says. "You're shuttled from here to there. There's someone watching your every move."

This included being stranded at a hospital for eight hours for a CT scan on his ankle and standing in a large room, dressed in boxers, and reciting his name and school while team doctors inspected him and other prospects from head-to-toe.

Despite low expectations, Walker must have done something right.

"My workout at the combine surprised a lot of people," Walker says.

He ran a 5.28 second forty-yard dash and recorded a 28-inch vertical leap. Both marks kept him in the mix with other top linemen.

Walker was a four-year starter for the Bears, but many feel he has a lot of room for improvement. Some of this improvement will come with more playing time.

He did lose the majority of 2000 with the ankle injury, one that is healed. But it did slow up his progress.

Walker could also get stronger. The average tackle at the combine performed 26 strength lifts-Walker managed 21. He wasn't too far off the pace, but teams will look to increase his strength at the next level.

But Walker has intangibles, such as arms that are nearly three feet long. And no matter what, he's still 6-foot-8, 345 pounds. If a team is going to find a player to groom, why not one with Walker's dimensions.

This fact isn't lost on draft observers.

"If he understands his ability and that he can make a lot of money if he makes the effort," says draft prognosticator Gil Brandt on NFL.com, "He can be very good. This player will block out the sun in the stadium he plays in."


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