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Achin' not to be 'Akin Who?'


On draft day, he was "Akin Who?" Now, he's the player some believe will turn out to be the prize pick of the Jaguars' 2002 draft class.

Akin Ayodele's name wasn't even on the Jaguars' radar screen when the draft turned into the third round this past April. The Jaguars had their sights trained on Kansas State linebacker Ben Leber. He was the perfect fit for the Jaguars' specific need at strongside linebacker.

But San Diego selected Leber five picks ahead of the Jaguars' spot in the third round, and that sent coach Tom Coughlin into what many thought was a panic mode. Coughlin, apparently dissatisfied with what was available to him, traded down three sports with Cleveland and added veteran middle linebacker Wali Rainer. Then, Coughlin traded down 10 more spots with Washington before finally settling on his pick, Ayodele.

What took so long? What was it about Ayodele that caused him to be the 11th linebacker selected in this draft?

"That 'tweener' thing gets you," Ayodele said with a smile. "That size (thing), not being a real defensive end, and not playing linebacker. I played linebacker (as a junior), but they didn't have film on me."

Yes, Ayodele is the classic "tweener;" a player who's not big enough to play defensive end but not natural enough in pass-coverage to be considered a linebacker. But he's athletic enough to have even played H-back at Purdue.

Nobody's using the "tweener" term now. Very quickly in this training camp, Ayodele established himself as a player of immense athletic ability who offers the kind of pass-rush and play-making potential reserved for the game's star defenders. All of a sudden, Ayodele began drawing comparisons to Jevon Kearse.

"In no way am I close to being a Jevon Kearse, but I'm athletic enough to think I can make the same kinds of plays he makes," the soft-spoken and personable Ayodele said.

The Jaguars envision him as a pass-rush specialist in his rookie season. They believe he will eventually be developed into the strongside linebacker for which the team was searching on draft day, but, for this season, they will have to find ways to take advantage of Ayodele's raw talents.

"If it comes down to coming in on blitzes, I'll be ready. I'll play elsewhere, on special teams. I want to be in the action," he said.

There is quiet mention Ayodele could become a star. Last year, Kendrell Bell emerged as a rookie star for the Steelers, even though Bell was a two-downs player. There is quiet hope Ayodele could be to the Jaguars what Bell was to the Steelers.

"Eventually, I would like that," he said of the star role, "but I'm not ready. I'm going to be honest about it. It's going to take time."

Jaguars Director of Player Personnel Rick Reiprish was taken by Ayodele's skills. Then, linebackers coach Steve Szabo went to Purdue, where Szabo sat with Ayodele and reviewed Purdue game tapes.

"He's the only coach who asked me if my coaches at Purdue pushed me and if I can push myself. I know he won't let me slack, which will make me a better player," Ayodele said of his relationship with Szabo, a demanding, old-school assistant coach who, during one tape-review session, admonished Ayodele for something less than a total effort during a play.

Szabo will make Ayodele a special project, mostly because it's plain to see Ayodele has special talent. He has star quality.

"Usually in college you just go make the play. It was basically just go get the ball. Now you have to take on two people or plug the hole," Ayodele said.

"He will have multiple responsibilities. We'll use him as a pass-rusher, but he's got to learn that (strongside linebacker) position, too," Coughlin said of Ayodele.

If he does nothing more than sack the quarterback, he will have made a name for himself.

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