Branden Albert: Ready for the Big Time

Branden Albert: Ready for the Big Time

When the offensive linemen put their skills on display at the 2008 Scouting Combine, Virginia guard Branden Albert will be one of the most intriguing prospects. Though the underclassman has excelled on the inside, there are those who believe he's ready to start transitioning to tackle -- the first step in his dream of being the pointman on an NFL offensive line.

It's safe to say that the NFL Draft is as much about opportunity as it is about talent. Teams will go on late-round runs at a certain position, and better players sometimes slip through the cracks and into a later round. The 2008 running backs class went from "blah" to magnificent when a horde of underclassmen, eager to get their hands in with a chance that might not be there next year.

So it is with Virginia guard Branden Albert, who came out of Al Groh's offense after his junior year and immediately rocketed to the top of a very iffy guard class. Evaluators who have seen him believe that not only is Albert the best guard in the draft, but that he might wind up in the middle of a very strong tackle class. Some think that with his speed to get to the second level and pulling ability, the 6-7, 315-pound All-ACC first-teamer would project very well outside. He is that intriguing combination of athleticism and nastiness that gets pro scouts thinking.

On Thursday, Albert was thinking about the circumstances that made him decide to declare for the draft a year early. Raised at the college level on Al Groh's pro-style offense, he has a head start when it comes to the next level. But as he told the media, it was just as much about an established group of guards without a discernible top man.

Oregon State's Roy Schuening, Tennessee's Eric Young and Pitt's Mike McGlynn all have potential, but there are also debits that keep them below the first round. Albert knows that with his upside, and a good Combine, the sky's the limit.

“I just felt like it was the best situation for me this year. I just looked at the situation, the draft class, the guards and whatnot," he said. "I just felt like I could make a strong, competitive effort by coming out.”

However, he's not limited in his own mind to guard in the NFL."I am also comfortable at tackle. Wherever a team wants to draft me, either position, I feel comfortable playing.”

Albert played left tackle in high school, and his basketball background reveals an agility not always seen at his position, but he was relegated to guard at Virginia by the presence at his old position of D'Brickashaw Ferguson, one of the more acclaimed college offensive linemen in recent memory. For Albert, it was about learning and finding a comfort level at his new position. “I mainly learned off the field stuff (from Ferguson). He’s a good character dude. On the field, he’s a player that is not a trash talker. He just gets the job done and does what he has to do.”

Character is high on the list of requirements in Groh's system, and Albert feels that he's reaped the benefits of that high standard. Coach Groh runs a pretty tight program, it comes from the pro background. That helped me out significantly with this whole process. That made me a tough player, a tough guy. He builds a program that helps you have good character.”

Albert talked to his coach about the decision to come out early, and it's hard to imagine that there could have been too many solid arguments against the idea. Still, the young player knows that there are still things he must work on -- he cited pad level specifically.

He's looking forward to the rest of the Combine process -- " I’ve just embraced it. It’s an opportunity a lot of people don’t get. I’m very thankful. I look at it as something that a lot of people don’t go through. I’m just happy to be here and thankful to get invited.” -- and ready to impress. “I think I’m looking forward to these meetings with teams, showing what type of guy I am, the character I have. I think my athletic ability shows on film, what I can do. Now I just want teams to get to know me as a person, so they know what kind of guy they are drafting.”

Albert believes that his agility will show best in the drills. “(That) and all the position-work, I will probably put myself up there as one of the best. That’s one thing I pride myself on, my athletic ability.”

He's a well-rounded player with a great deal of potential. From the Combine to the draft is where the beginnings of Branden Albert's future position will be decided. The rest is up to him.

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