For the past three years, Matt Light protected a star quarterback named Drew. He hopes to do the same for the foreseeable future in New England.
Light was a three-year starter at Purdue where All-American quarterback Drew Brees posted record-setting numbers in leading the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 36 years. The 6-4, 311-pound Light had the responsibility of watching Brees' blindside as the starting left tackle for three seasons and allowed a total of eight sacks in 37 games in that role.
The abilities he showed in protecting Brees, who like Drew Bledsoe is predominately a pocket passer, prompted the Patriots to use their second-round choice to get him.
"The Big Ten tackles were all interesting to evaluate because of the quality of pass rushers they've faced during their careers like [former Michigan State linebacker] Julian Peterson and [former Penn State defensive end] Courtney Brown. Matt's very aggressive and versatile and could play inside for us or provide some more depth at tackle."
Both Peterson and Brown were first-round picks in 2000 and Light did a tremendous job limiting the effectiveness of both. But Belichick also liked an aspect of Light's game that didn't necessarily show up on the field. Light is a hard-nosed kid who plays with a lot of intensity and during a practice before a game against Ohio State last season, he wasn't happy with the level of concentration of some of his teammates.
Rather than continue, Light decided to mix things up and challenged his teammates to pick it up. He started running from player to player, grabbing their facemasks yelling and screaming, and then went to a nearby blocking sled and started hitting and moving it by himself.
An emotional 31-27 win over the Buckeyes that paved the way for Purdue to capture the Big Ten title for the first time since Bob Griese was the quarterback in 1966.
"He's very tenacious," said Danny Hope, offensive line coach at Purdue. "He's got a great motor, plays hard and hits hard. He really finishes his blocks and he'll run to the ball. He's a good football player and he did all of those things anyway. I didn't have to beat him into being tough. He puts his pads on every day and he comes out there ready to get it on."
Light started his collegiate career as a tight end and played as a true freshman under Coach Jim Colletto. When Colletto was fired after that season, Joe Tiller came in and switched Light to tackle. Light, who grew up in Greenville, Ohio, just north of Dayton, recalls his early days in the Purdue program and remembers an early conversation he had with Tiller that convinced him to make the move.
"I liked tight end," Light said. "But Coach Tiller came to me and told me I could either be an average tight end or a great tackle and I took his advice and gained some weight, sat out a year for experience and it worked out for the best for me."
After redshirting his second year in an effort to grow into the position, a task that saw him put on 75 pounds, Light stepped in immediately as the starter.
"He was still a bit undersized that first year at about 270 pounds," Hope said. "But he was very scrappy. He was still able to hold up real well against some of the best players in the league.
"We had a guy named Rosevelt Colvin (currently with Chicago) at the time. Rosevelt is the career sacks leader at Purdue and he was a couple of years older than Matt. The first few times Matt went against Rosevelt, he pretty much shut him down and we never had anybody who was even close to being able to match up with Rosevelt at the time."
Hope has spent the better part of the last 20 years as an offensive line coach. During that time, he's seen his share of blue-chip prospects and future NFLers. Despite that experience, Hope feels Light is the second best prospect he's worked with behind a player Patriots fans are more than familiar with.
"I coached Bruce [Armstrong] down at Louisville and Matt's not as gifted physically as Bruce," Hope admitted. "He's not as big and fast as Bruce was at the same stage, but Bruce was pretty special. Bruce was a first-round pick and in my mind a Hall-of-Famer and one of the best players on the nineties. But Matt's probably the second best guy I've been around and I've had some quality guys in between like Roman Oben and some others."
Some scouts project Light to be better suited as a guard rather than a tackle, but Hope believes he has the athleticism to do whatever Belichick feels is best. At 6-4 he's slightly shorter than many NFL tackles, but his mobility allowed him to succeed on the outside at Purdue.
Whether he figures into the future plans inside or outside, Light hopes to earn a living doing what he's always done: protecting a quarterback named Drew.
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 311|
|40 yards: 5.28||Vert. jump: dnp|
|Long jump: dnp||Bench (225): 26|
|Shuttle: 3.08||Cone: 7.3|
Strengths — Tenacity, toughness and great football sense; good self-motivator with high motor
Weaknesses — Needs to continue to get stronger; quickness and athleticism
Personal — Matt's father operates a web site, www.lighthaus.org, which includes an abundance of information pertaining to Purdue football
Comparable NFL player — Pete Kendall, Arizona Cardinals — Left tackle in college and could be a superior guard; could get a chance outside because of pass blocking experience; very well developed
What They're Saying...
"Much better football player than athlete. Has all the intangibles and seems to get it done despite some athletic limitations. Might be a better guard or right tackle at the next level. Could fall in the draft because he will not work out as well as some of the other linemen that he plays better than." - Joel Buchsbaum, author of Pro Football Weekly 2001 Draft Preview