Zebrie Sanders (pronounced like “Zebra” but with an “ee” at the end) was the best player on Florida State’s offensive line last year and this year he hopes to take his talents to the NFL. The NFL teams were impressed with him at the combine and after talking to him, I can understand why. Sanders is smart and articulate (two-time All-ACC Academic football team member), he also happens to be a great football player (first team All-ACC) and his size is enough to make a scout drool (6’6, 320 lbs). He was a four-year starter for the Seminolds and his 50 career starts are tied for second-most in school history.
The CFB Girl: Last year because of injuries you had to switch from Right Tackle to Left Tackle [REFERENCE: the offensive line is comprised of a center, two tackles and two guards and on the field from the point of view of the quarterback it looks like LT--LG--C--RG--RT]. What was the biggest difference for you between playing those different positions?
Sanders: It was the same play calls and everything, but I was so used to being on that right side and listening to plays, it took me a while to get used to the stance, the technique and being on the opposite side. People think it’s easy because it’s the same position, just different sides. But it’s actually harder than it looks at first. You have to get into the grove of things.
The CFB Girl: Is it because you hear it from a different ear or what is it that makes it so different?
Sanders: Yeah and when they call plays, we use a number system. Even numbers would go a certain way and odd numbers would go the other way. I was so used to even being my side so in practice I would hear an even numbered play and go the wrong way because I was used to going from the right side. So it took me a while when I heard plays, in my head I had to kind of think about it. After a while you get into the grove of things. It’s weird, it’s not as easy as you’d think it would be, just switching side and playing the same position. It’s different.
The CFB Girl: As it is always a discussion among NFL scouts this time of year, can you explain what makes someone suited to play right versus left tackle in the NFL.
Sanders: A lot of the scouts and what the coaches have told me is that the Right Tackle is stereotypically the bigger, stronger one to take on the D-ends [Defensive Ends] on that side. The D-ends on that side are usually more of the bull rush ["a direct, forceful rush"]. The right tackles are not as quick and not as athletic, but are a lot stronger and can take a lot of pressure. Left tackles are supposedly more athletic, quicker, quicker feet. Can move well. Because the defensive ends on that side are supposed to be the best defensive lineman on the whole line and usually the best player on the defense. And so that tackle on the left side needs to be more athletic so he can move and he can cover him better [S"].
The CFB Girl: What have the scouts told you about which position you’re best suited for?
Sanders: I’ve heard some say right, some say left. Some say other positions. Right now, I’m just trying to get one team fall in love with me [I don't think that will be too hard].
The CFB Girl: I’m sure your response is that you’re happy to play any position?
Sanders: Umm Hmm
The CFB Girl: My favorite part of watching the NFL Scouting Combine each year is watching the offensive linemen. It’s the one time you get to really focus on them as individuals and it always seems that as a group you’re the most supportive—why is that?
Sanders: We’re the first ones to go out and the first ones to go through all the drills. Our leaders for each group that we’re in, the first thing they are telling us is that it is a competition and you’re trying to show up, but at the same time you’re trying to help one another. I guess it’s just that chemistry. And then again, the offensive line is the only position on the football field that has to work as a group with five people—it’s the most people for one unit. So it’s always that chemistry among offensive linemen. Have other people to fight for. Have other people to do what they have to do to get it done. When we’re out there it kind feeds off of each other because we’re used to that.
The CFB Girl: What did the teams focus on at the combine in the interviews?
Sanders: Just seeing what kind of a person I was. And just seeing how well I knew the fundamentals of seeing defensive fronts and seeing how well I can contribute.
The CFB Girl: How do they test your knowledge?
Sanders: Just going on the board. Asking to draw a defensive front, drawing a play that we used in college. And then drawing what the offensive lineman’s assignment is and just seeing what we know in terms of football IQ.
The CFB Girl: The offensive line takes the blame for the sacks and the poor rushing yards, whether or not that’s fair, what do you think prevented you from being more successful as a unit last year [Florida State had the 104th ranked rushing offense and was 110th in terms of sacks allowed].
Sanders: We could have been a little more successful, but I think the injuries kind of hurt us. Going into the year, we had, I think maybe three seniors and a junior. We were all upperclassmen on the line. And it got to the point in the last two weeks of the season, I was the only senior out there and it was nothing but freshmen. So it was a whole new starting line-up and not as much chemistry because not a lot of people had played and had experience. I think they’ll be a lot better this year because they’ll be getting the spring and the whole time to work together and get better. So they’re definitely going to be a lot better this upcoming year.
The CFB Girl: There are always really high expectations for Florida State, but what are your realistic expectations for the team this year?
Sanders: They definitely can compete in the ACC. I feel like they have a shot to win it. And they definitely have a shot to make a BCS bowl game. I feel like every year we have that. But certain things just don’t go our way and it hurts us in the long run. But, if they can get everything situated, get the offensive line right, they have the keys to go far.
The CFB Girl: How did EJ Manuel progress throughout the season and improve for his second year as the starting quarterback?
Sanders: He just got bigger and bigger in the leadership role every week. Before the season, he really wasn’t the starter—it was all Ponder’s thing [Christian Ponder was the 1st player taken by the Minnesota Vikings and 12th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft]. He was a little more quite than usual. And it got to where he was more vocal and showed by example every week. And you can even tell in the game plan, he became a lot smoother. He wasn’t getting nervous and he was really taking control of the huddle. He’s going to be really good this year. I’m definitely going to watch him.
The CFB Girl: Given your size [6'6, 320 lbs in case you missed it the first time], were you always slated to be a football player?
Sanders: Yeah—I was. I was always the biggest one in the group. Always. My mom and dad played basketball, so they wanted me to play basketball. But I switched to football when I was about 14.
The CFB Girl: You’re parents BOTH played basketball [talk about good genes]?
Sanders: Yeah-they did. My mom played for the University of Georgia for a couple years. And my dad went to South Caroiina State and played basketball.
The CFB Girl: So you probably had a ball in your hands by the time you were 6 weeks old?
Sanders: Yeah—I tried every sport growing up because my parents always wanted us to compete and be working and moving. Always moving.
The CFB Girl: I read once that you best attribute is your ability to velcro to a defender? What does that mean?
Sanders: I think just the ability to use my long arms and be able to grab somebody and just stay in front of them and mirror them. I still need to work on that and get better. But that’s just the thing that I think gives me a shot at making a team.
The CFB Girl: On to another game for which you also have skills. As an Eagle Scout [which is the highest rank attainable by a Boy Scout], what skills did you learn that could help you survive The Hunger Games?
Sanders: (Laughing)…wow…I guess being able to just take care of myself in the woods. Knowing what not to eat. Knowing what’s good, knowing what’s edible. And I guess just being comfortable out there (still laughing at my question).
The CFB Girl: Okay, back to football for the final question. What are you looking most forward to in playing in the NFL?
Sanders: Just the competition. Knowing that I can play there. And just trying to get my game better—every day. Going out there and being able to stack up against the best talent. That’s what it’s all about. Just knowing I’m good enough to get it done. I look at it as a great challenge. And I’m always just trying to pick up advice from anyone who’s trying to help and trying to get on the field and show it.
He’s got the right attitude. And Zebrie Sanders has a shot to get chosen on the first day of the NFL Draft on April 26. Stay tuned to find out where he gets chosen and what team “falls in love” with him.
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