Please understand that this is a loose reference, since it is comparing a former Pro Bowler to a second-year player. This does not do justice to either player since they are at different levels, but there are a few similarities that need to be considered between the two of them.
Both players came out of college as a defensive end and came into the NFL to play linebacker.
Bruschi came from Arizona and was 6'1" and 247 lbs, and Veikune came from Hawaii and stands 6'2" and 255 lbs.
Nearly a size match.
Veikune was said to be considered as an outside linebacker during his rookie season, but the transition for him was very tough and he saw hardly any playing time until the end of the 2009 season when head coach Eric Mangini moved Veikune to inside linebacker.
After an off season of preparation, Veikune is no longer bouncing between outside and inside linebacker, and Mangini has told the media that Veikune is now permanently an inside linebacker.
Transitioning from college defensive end to outside linebacker is much easier than transitioning from end to inside linebacker, since an outside linebacker gets to rush the passer in a 3-4 defense—which makes a converted defensive end feel more comfortable, since ends normally put pressure on the pocket.
Moving to inside is a whole different game though, due to being able to cover the inside between the hashes and to bounce outside to make plays, too.
Luckily, Veikune has a high-motor (as reported in his scouting reports pre-draft) and can easily run around like a chicken with its head cut off as an inside linebacker for the Browns.
Bruschi made the same switch from college to the NFL, going from end to inside linebacker, but he was placed inside immediately when he arrived to New England and was under the coaching of Mangini himself in 1997 when he arrived as a defensive assistant.
Bruschi didn't start at inside linebacker until his third season and in his first two years only had a total of 41 tackles, so he seemed to struggle during his transition into the NFL, just as Veikune has in his first year.
Perhaps Veikune can adapt better in 2010, but Browns fans will have to wait and see if that happens.
Mangini has experience in helping convert college ends to linebackers, but Veikune will be going up against a very deep linebacker group that is highly versatile, with multiple players being able to play both inside and outside.
Veikune will need to show that he is indeed learning the position; otherwise he will get buried in the depth chart during his second year, and that is not the way a former second-round pick is supposed to start his NFL career.
At least Veikune has good mentors like coach Mangini and fellow linebacker Scott Fujita to help him through any more growing pains he may have and to get onto the field more in 2010 to make some plays on defense.
(Also posted on Dawg Scooper: THE Cleveland Browns Blog)
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