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January 25, 2007

South Notes: Booker states his case

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MOBILE, Ala. Lorenzo Booker's final college performance offered hints of what he could have accomplished at Florida State under different circumstances.

Booker hopes the Emerald Bowl also gave NFL scouts a glimpse at his pro potential.

"It was a chance for me to show that I was an all-around back," Booker said of his two-touchdown effort in Florida State's 44-27 victory over UCLA. "A lot of people think I'm a third-down back or whatever, but the fact of the matter is I'm a playmaker."

He didn't quite live up to that billing at Florida State.

The former five-star prospect never rushed for more than 887 yards or four touchdowns in a season while splitting carries - first with Leon Washington and later with Antone Smith.

But a closer look at the numbers provides a guide to Booker's potential as an NFL player.

Booker averaged 5 yards per carry and caught 114 passes in his career, which shows his versatility and breakaway ability. He has displayed those attributes this week during practices for the Senior Bowl while returning kicks, catching passes and doing a little bit of everything.

"He reminds me of Warrick Dunn," said San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who is coaching the South team that includes Booker. "That's a high gauge, but he makes good cuts, and his body structure is the same as Dunn's. He has caught my eye."

Booker joined Dunn as the only players in Florida State history to compile 2,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, but there are a couple of big differences between the former Florida State tailbacks.

Dunn was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round. Booker isn't even certain to go in the first day of the upcoming draft.

Booker also wasn't nearly as productive as Dunn in college. Booker wanted to break Dunn's single-season school record of 1,242 rushing yards this fall, but he finished the year with less than half of that total.

Then again, Dunn played on far more explosive offenses that better utilized his talents.

"Their offensive line was weak, and their quarterback play was abysmal," Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com said. "Add those things together, and you have a guy who didn't have any help. He had poor blocking, and there was no threat to throw the ball. He was seeing eight in the box forever."

Booker also never carried the ball more than 173 times in a season. By contrast, South teammates Kenneth Darby and Kenny Irons averaged at least 222 carries per year each of the last two seasons.

"I love football more than anything in the world," Booker said. "What hurt the most is I just felt like I had so much left to give to Florida State and wasn't able to do that."

Booker now will try to follow the path of Washington, who rebounded from a disappointing senior season at FSU by making an immediate impact as a rookie with the New York Jets.

Both players have enough speed and versatility to compensate for their lack of size. In the Emerald Bowl, Booker had a career-high 117 receiving yards to go along with his 91 rushing yards.

Booker, who is listed at 5 feet 11 and 195 pounds, also points to Maurice Jones-Drew and Brian Westbrook as smaller backs who have succeeded in the NFL.

But his lack of size could prevent him from ever becoming a featured back. He instead may have to serve as a multi-purpose back with the same type of role Reggie Bush filled for the New Orleans Saints while sharing time with Deuce McAllister this season.

"In that kind of setting he could be really effective," Coyle said. "If you're going to hand him the ball 20-plus times a week, he's in over his head because of his size."

Booker is ready for whatever role a team gives him. He sees himself as the type of player who can score from anywhere on the field.

"Whoever takes me, I hope they have a playbook this thick just for me," Booker said as he held his hands wide apart. "I'm ready to move around in the slot or anywhere. Anywhere you need to make a play, that's where I'll go."

Beefing up

Georgia defensive end Quentin Moses is the first to admit his senior season didn't go as planned.

Of course, neither did his junior season, when he became a starter for the Bulldogs for the first time. Two seasons ago Moses emerged on the national scene with a team-leading 20.5 tackles for loss, including a team-leading 11.5 sacks. He earned first-team All-SEC honors and was a Rivals.com third-team All-American.

Moreover, Moses' NFL Draft stock went soaring. He didn't sell, electing to stay in school for his final year.

It would be unfair to say his stock went belly up in 2006. But the outsized expectations weighed on the Georgia native. He was a preseason All-American virtually anywhere you could look, and several scouting services had him listed as the No. 1 senior prospect in the country.

"I was the No. 1 player in the senior class, and it was an honor but it also was a huge surprise to me," Moses said after practice this week at the Senior Bowl. "It put a lot of stress on my shoulders. I was real anxious, and I didn't get off to a good start."

Teams also started to game plan around Moses. He had been so disruptive as a junior that SEC teams had to address him first and foremost when thinking about taking on the Bulldogs. Consequently his statistics dipped noticeably, with 12 tackles for loss and only 4.5 sacks.

At 6-6, Moses' weight has been near 250 pounds. He looks sleek if not a little slight, and he said he's lighter than 250 at the moment.

"I played as high as 258 this season," Moses said. "Right now I'm about 249. I lost some weight between now and the bowl game, and my trainer and I decided to put the weight on the right way and do it slowly."

Because of his weight, there has been some talk about using Moses as an outside linebacker. He says he'd prefer to play end.

"I'll do whatever I have to do," Moses said. "I love to play."

Texas two-step

Longhorns safety Michael Griffin and cornerback Aaron Ross have one last chance to ride into the sunset as first-round picks in the NFL Draft.

The last time two players from the same secondary went in the first round in the same year was 2002, when three Miami Hurricanes (Phillip Buchanon, Ed Reed and Mike Rumph) were among the first 32 names called. They have turned out to be a pretty good group.

Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com has both Griffin and Ross among his top 20 prospects, and neither did anything to hurt his potential first-round status during South practices this week.

"I felt pretty good about the week, it was a fun week," said Ross, the Thorpe Award winner. "We had an entertaining group in the secondary."

Both players admit it was an advantage having each other in Mobile.

"It's definitely a comfort to look back there and know we connect together," Ross said. "If there's anything underneath I know he's got my back, and if there's anything over the top I've got his back."

Griffin and Ross agreed the biggest handful among the South wide receivers this week has been LSU's Dwayne Bowe.

"We made him a part of Texas," Griffin said. "We gave him a pair of Texas shorts and he wears them to bed."

That fact is kind of ironic since Griffin and Ross have given Big 12 receivers many a sleepless night.

Both players enjoyed the week and said it was a valuable experience to get a taste of pro coaching before they'll hit their first rookie camps after the draft.

"They taught me a whole bunch of things," Ross said. "Staying square even in zone coverage, keeping my butt down. I learned a lot this week."

The game plan

South coach Mike Nolan of the San Francisco 49ers joked with a reporter about his plans for Saturday's game.

"We've put in some of Boise State's plays," Nolan said.

The coach then admitted things will be pretty vanilla, for the most part.

"It's a very simple game plan," he said. "We want to let the players play and show their talents. The guys who are here in late January are guys who love to play football, and that means a lot."

SEC's mutual admiration society

Tennessee offensive tackle Arron Sears had a good week according to a few scouts, but he was far from satisfied.

"It was fair, but it could have been better," Sears said. "There's always room for improvement."

Georgia's Moses said he believed Sears was the best offensive lineman he faced.

"He said that? Those are great words," Sears said. "We've played each other a couple of times and had our battles. He's a great player and obviously one of the best defensive ends here."

Injury replacement

Alabama State cornerback Michael Coe practiced for the first time Thursday.

He will play on the South squad, though it's unclear whose roster spot he's taking.

South Carolina cornerback Fred Bennett has been limited the past two days by an unspecified injury.

Click here for more Rivals.com coverage of the Senior Bowl.



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