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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ohio's 'Big Daddy': Attitude Is the Key

HARTFORD, Connecticut -- Three years ago, Dan Wilkinson was just another 345-pound freshman trying to make the football team at Ohio State. The Buckeyes were so irritated with his weight and his attitude, they redshirted him, burying him on the depth chart at offensive tackle.


Today, Wilkinson is a swift, powerful, 6-foot-3, 327-pound defensive tackle with a muscular nickname: "Big Daddy." He also is universally acclaimed as the best player available in the April 24 NFL draft. So what happened?


"I got me an attitude," Wilkinson said from his apartment in Columbus. "You start to believe in yourself, and you say, `I don't care what they're going to do to me, I don't care who's going to do it, I am going to make the play.'


"You have to kind of be a beast on the field."


San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, one of the shrewdest appraisers of talent, said: "Dan Wilkinson has the right attitude. He wants to be where the action is."


All the great defensive players do, from Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith to Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor to Pittsburgh linebacker Jack Lambert to Chicago linebacker Dick Butkus to Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke.


Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick, who coached Taylor for eight seasons when Belichick was the Giants' defensive coordinator, believes this mean and nasty spirit is largely a defensive phenomenon.


"You see that a lot in the great defensive players," Belichick said. "Jack Lambert. Ted Hendricks. Junior Seau. Andre Tippett. They will sell themselves out to make a play, with no regard for their bodies. Sometimes it takes a guy who's a little out there to be a great defensive football player.


"It's really a defensive thing. Think about it: You have no idea what's going to happen at the snap of the ball, who's coming at you. You react, you go through obstacles, fight through them.


"The offensive guys have a plan and they try to execute it. It takes a different mind-set to be a defensive player. The great defensive players that I've seen are personally a little bit screwed up. They're not normal people."


No one is going to put Wilkinson in that class -- not yet -- but by all accounts, he's no Kenneth Sims, either. Sims, the first pick of the 1982 draft, was a Texas defensive end with all the "measurables" Wilkinson has: size, speed and power. Unfortunately, he didn't have a lick of meanness in him.


"Listen, Dan Wilkinson is no Kenneth Sims," said Mel Kiper, an ESPN draft analyst. "Kenneth was too nice. He visited hospitals and did all the right things off the field. Wilkinson loves physical play, loves to bang heads and stir up trouble. He loves to be viewed as the bad guy.


"It's a tough transition from college to the pros from a physical standpoint, but it's tougher mentally. You walk into the first day of training camp and no one's scared of a first-round draft choice. You have to go 100 mph on every play, and if you don't have a mean streak, you're going to get your butt kicked."


Browns center Steve Everitt, who played opposite Wilkinson twice while at Michigan, said: "The guy is tough."


Wilkinson runs the 40-yard dash in 4.82, has a vertical leap of 30 inches and bench-presses 475 pounds, putting him in a class with NFL players such as Smith and Green Bay's Reggie White.


Wilkinson has led Ohio State with 13 tackles for losses, despite seeing two and sometimes three blockers on each play. The game that guaranteed him All-America status was against heavily favored Washington on Sept. 11. Wilkinson recorded three tackles for losses and led the Buckeyes to a 21-12 victory.