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Pats hope for late-round gem

New England Patriots' rookie tight end Jabari Holloway (49) keeps a firm grip on the ball as Patriots' rookie linebacker T.J. Turner, right, applies pressure after Halloway caught a pass during rookie minicamp in Foxboro, Mass., Saturday, April 28, 2001. The New England Patriots welcomed 10 rookie free agents and 10 draft choices to the minicamp on Friday.
New England Patriots' rookie tight end Jabari Holloway (49) keeps a firm grip on the ball as Patriots' rookie linebacker T.J. Turner, right, applies pressure after Halloway caught a pass during rookie minicamp in Foxboro, Mass., Saturday, April 28, 2001. The New England Patriots welcomed 10 rookie free agents and 10 draft choices to the minicamp on Friday.

Seventh round picks in the NFL are always a crapshoot. Finding players at the tail end of the draft with the talent to compete at the professional level is difficult. But the Patriots may have found themselves just such a player in linebacker T.J. Turner out of Michigan State.

Turner is a big, fast, physical player with the tenacity to compete in the NFL. A shoulder injury ended his senior season after just four games, and as a result Turner may have fallen off several teams' radar screens.

Another factor in his late draft status is his growing size. At 273 pounds, Turner's weight has increased gradually to the point where some scouts question whether he can effectively continue to play linebacker.

"[His weight] would scare me if I were making the call," said Bill Sheridan, Turner's linebackers coach at Michigan State. "But he's able to play at 250 pounds and still have less than 10 percent body fat and run in the low 4.6s in the 40. He's done that the last two years."

Not only has Turner done that, but he's done it effectively. In his first three years with the Spartans he was a standout playing all three linebacker positions. Sheridan believes he's best suited for the inside, but when Julian Peterson, a first-round pick for San Francsico last year, graduated in 2000, Turner made the move to the strong side spot.

Unfortunately a dislocated shoulder ended the experiment after just 12 tackles in parts of four games. Despite the limited action, Sheridan feels Turner is more than talented enough to compete in the NFL.

"I thought if Julian Peterson was a first-rounder, then I thought T.J. Turner could be as well," Sheridan said. "But based on two years ago when Julian was a senior and T.J. was a junior, I thought T.J. was just as or nearly as productive as Julian was."

Turner racked up 150 tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons and added five interceptions. He possesses tremendous football sense and savvy and understands the game. He does tend to lose focus at times, a factor that Sheridan believes also scared potential suitors away. In fact, he was suspended for two games in his junior season for breaking unspecified team rules.

"Physically, he has all the potential in the world," Sheridan said. "He's big, fast, strong, agile and when he puts his mind to it can really play football. If he goes up there and stays in shape mentally and physically, there's no doubt he can make an impact."

HSTJTurner
T.J. TURNER, LB, MICHIGAN ST.
Selected by the New England Patriots in the seventh round, 239th overall

Strengths — Very few shortcomings physically; powerful, quick, good ball skills, great hands

Weaknesses — Can be stiff at times; too much of a straight line guy who doesn't bend or change directions well

Personal — Averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds as a senior point guard on the Hillsboro (Ohio) High School basketball team

Comparable NFL player — Jeff Herrod, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts — Bigger, more productive linebacker

What They're Saying...

"Size makes him somewhat intriguing. Might be tried on the defensive line if he stays this big. Will need to improve his ability to read and react if he remains at linebacker."

-Joel Buchsbaum, author of Pro Football Weekly's 2001 Draft Preview

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