Scouts who judge great potential in a linebacker by how fast he runs the 40-yard dash or how high he can jump may not be impressed with Tony Gilbert. Scouts who judge potential by production on the field may believe Gilbert, who led Georgia in tackles three straight seasons, is going to have a long NFL career.
Count Atlanta Falcons supervisor of college scouting Mike Hagen in the latter group.
"I think Tony is going to be a solid pro player,'' Hagen said this week as he continued to prepare for this weekend's NFL draft. "Everybody wants to look for the spectacular, and Tony is the consistent and steady one,'' Hagen said. "He's tough and he plays every week and he's a leader and he has great intangibles.''
The Falcons may be looking for an inside linebacker to play behind starters Keith Brooking and Chris Draft. For Gilbert, a Macon native, the idea of staying home and playing for the Falcons would be a dream come true. "I would love to be in Atlanta, I would just love to be in Atlanta,''
Gilbert said this week. "My thing is I don't have to go in and start. I just want to go in and help the team, with special teams or anything.''
Gilbert and Bailey shared the 2002 team lead with 114 tackles. Gilbert added 15.5 tackles behind the line, including 2.5 quarterback sacks. Gilbert was the sole leader in tackles in 2001 (99) and 2000 (96), making him the first Georgia player since Ben Zambiasi (1975-77) to lead the team in stops three straight years.
Unlike Bailey, Gilbert does not boast the raw athletic skills that boost a player's status in offseason workouts. At the NFL combine, he was clocked at only 4.85 seconds in the 40 and was measured at only 27 1/2 inches in the vertical jump — each below the standards for other top prospects at inside linebacker.
At Georgia's pro day in Athens, Gilbert improved his 40 time to 4.74 seconds.
"A lot of teams said they were surprised I ran real well,'' Gilbert said. "I trained a lot because I knew my 40 speed was a big question. I think I really did well and helped myself.''
Still, some draft experts aren't sold. Projected by some to be picked around the third or fourth rounds, Gilbert may be "a later-round type guy, if that,'' according to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.
"You question if he is just a heck of a college player who will have a hard time making it at the pro level,'' Kiper said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Gilbert is hoping others will see more than below-average workout numbers. "Despite not running as fast as he would like,
I think he makes up for it with his toughness and his instincts,'' Hagen said. "I think he will make a great special teams player in the league.''
Though the wide range of draft projections may make it difficult for Gilbert to relax before he is picked, he said so far he is "still calm and cool.''
"I'm just hoping I can go to a great situation where I can get a chance to prove myself and get a chance to play,'' he said. "I'm feeling real confident everything is going to work out. I've been praying and having faith and really not worrying about what round.''
Added Gilbert: "I look at (former Georgia tight end) Randy (McMichael). He wanted to go that first day. Instead, he went in the fourth round and it worked out so good that he ended up starting (for Miami). "I don't mind proving myself again. I feel I proved myself here at Georgia so I'm going to go out and do the same things in the NFL I did at Georgia.''