Aaron Curry Learns a New Language
After his Combine, the journey to which we covered in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry got ready for a short American tour, and prepared for some visitors to his home campus. At Wake Forest's Pro Day on March 23, 41 representatives from all 32 NFL teams showed up to watch Curry and his teammates in action. Curry stood on his 4.52-40 time and 25 bench press reps from the Combine, but he impressed in agility drills, cementing his status as the "safest pick in the draft".
Curry had pre-draft visits scheduled with the Lions, Chiefs, and Browns. The Seahawks actually canceled their visit with him -- it seems they'd seen enough to know what they were going to do -- and Curry spent the next month talking with most every team with the opportunity to draft him. There was no question that his talent and versatility was going to put him up in the draft as the first Top-4 linebacker taken since Penn State's LaVar Arrington was selected second overall in 2000. The only question was, where?
The perception was that because he played 98 percent strong-side linebacker at Wake, he'd be a better fit in a 4-3 defense, but Curry negated that notion when he spoke to the media at his Pro Day. "I'm an inside or an outside in a 4-3 or a 3-4," Curry said. "I have film of putting my hand in the dirt and rushing from the defensive end spot (as we detailed at the end of Part 2). I don't really have just one position where I feel like that's where I need to be. I just need to be anywhere on the defense and just be an impact player."
Still, one had to wonder how the Chiefs and Browns, the 3-4 defenses in the mix, would pony up somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million guaranteed for a possible inside linebacker. The Lions, looking to redefine their 4-3 defense after an 0-16 season with a new coaching staff and mindset, flirted heavily with the idea of Curry as the first overall pick even as they were negotiating with Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford. Head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham envisioned Curry joining a linebacker corps consisting of Ernie Sims and Julian Peterson, after Peterson had been traded from Seattle for defensive lineman Corey Redding.
As it turned out, Curry wouldn't play with Peterson -- he'd replace him.
Three years after his mother was evicted from her house, and had to convince her son to stay in school instead of coming out early to support the family, Aaron's mother Chris sat with her son, Aaron's two brothers, and 12-year-old Bryson Merriweather, a leukemia survivor he'd met during a mid-April visit to St.Jude's Research Hospital in Memphis. After tossing a football around with the young man, Curry began thinking about the draft, and how he could make the fact that he was one of nine players planning to travel to New York City for the event, more special. Curry arranged for Merriweather to share the day with him.
"It meant a lot to me and Bryson both, that entire experience," Curry recently told me. "Bryson, with his cancer in remission -- he was able to come up to New York and just enjoy the draft. To be able to share my experience with him was just amazing."
Things were about to get even more amazing for Curry as he sat in the Green Room in Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his name to be called. Stafford to the Lions was a fait accompli, as the two parties had agreed to terms the night before. Most experts expected Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith to go second overall to the Rams, and that's just what happened. The Chiefs balked on Curry and selected LSU defensive lineman Tyson Jackson with the third overall pick, which left the Seahawks, the team that had canceled their visit, to send their card to the podium.
That card had Curry's name on it. Curry broke into tears as his name was read, hugged his family very tightly, and walked onto the stage that marked the next chapter of his life. What did he tell his mom, after all the family had been through?
"I told her, 'Thank you,' and 'We made it!'"
So now, after one long telephone interview a month before, this Seattle resident got to head out to the Seahawks facility and see Aaron Curry as he took his first NFL steps. For Curry, everything was new again. "It's fun to be a freshman again," he said, laughing after Saturday afternoon practice. "The only rule I see is just to fly around and play fast. You're going to make mistakes, but if you continue to play fast, it'll be okay. The coaches do a great job of coaching us up."
While Seattle's 4-3 zone-heavy defensive scheme was familiar to Curry from his college days, the language barrier was fairly extreme. He got a copy of his playbook a week before the first practice, but it's going to be an uphill climb in that respect. "It was a lot of help," he said. "It was still like reading Chinese -- I still had no clue what was going on -- but I learned some basic terminology, as far as when to be in my drops and my run sets, but you never really learn anything until you get out here and start flying around."
Playing with fellow linebackers Lofa Tatupu and the newly resigned Leroy Hill made the Seattle situation especially attractive to Curry. Tatupu has long been regarded as one of the most cerebral defenders in the game, and Curry's versatility would allow Hill to do what he does best -- rush the passer and stop the run.
"Lofa and Leroy are definitely helping me stay relaxed, and getting acclimated to the defense," he said after practice. "Just fitting in. You know, I didn't realize [how good they are] until I watched the film, and it's just amazing. Seeing the plays that Leroy and Lofa make, and I can see that their expectations of me as a linebacker -- just to match their intensity and their mental toughness."
How else have they been helping him? "Just making sure I knew what I had to do. I've done a good job of listening, but everything's different when you're moving around outside. They've just done a good job of putting me in the right direction, and just reminding me to play fast. Play fast, play fast, and they'll coach me up later."
He may have been unfamiliar with the terminology, but judging from what I saw at his third practice as a pro, the Seahawks are very familiar with what Aaron Curry can do. Though these were basically non-contact drills with the most basic formations, Curry showed flashes of excellence in several roles. He was precise and exceedingly quick when he took a false step forward at the line and backpedaled in a zone blitz look five yards back. His side-to-side speed and agility is amazing enough on film, but it really hits home when you're watching him outstride the defenders around him at his size -- he's half a head taller and definitely bulkier than Tatupu and Hill.
I've always felt that because he spent so much time playing in space at Wake Forest, Curry got short shrift as an edge rusher. But I don't believe that will be a problem at the next level. Curry showed all the attributes you'd want from a pass-rushing "endbacker" coming off the edge -- tremendous first-step burst, nice body lean and speed around the tackle, and a frightening ability to zero in on the quarterback. His short-area speed is startling. Dropping back in zone coverage was where you saw the unfamiliarity in his new system -- Curry appeared hesitant at times -- but his coverage ability was a prime attribute in college. He simply has to learn a new language, and his determination to do so is obvious.
Curry's next journey is just beginning.
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