NFL combine: Virginia Tech’s James Gayle hopes to showcase his adaptability


(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

INDIANAPOLIS – As he prepares for the next chapter in his career, Virginia Tech pass-rusher James Gayle sees versatility, flexibility and growth as keys to a successful NFL career.

A defensive end in a 4-3 scheme for the Hokies, Gayle recorded 138 tackles and 22 sacks over his four-year career. He measured out at 6 feet 3 inches and 255 pounds here at the combine, however, a body type more typically suited for an outside linebacker in the NFL.

Fully aware of this, Gayle spent the last week training in Orlando and preparing to perform linebacker drills Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I’m definitely making sure I’m prepared because there are a lot of 3-4 teams looking at me as an outside linebacker,” Gayle said.

There were times when Gayle rushed the passer out of a two-point stance, and he did drop back into coverage every now and then. But overall, he remains inexperienced in that department. Gayle believes he has the skill set to make the transition if necessary, however. He also said he has studied linebackers Terrell Suggs, Clay Matthews and Ahmad Brooks.

“I feel I can do both,” said Gayle, who is projected as a fifth-round pick. “Obviously, I probably need to gain a couple pounds to play defensive end, but I can easily do that. I played at 270 in college. I feel like right now I can play outside linebacker. I feel comfortable.”

Based on conversations with his uncle, Shaun Gayle, who played in the NFL for 12 years, as well as his own college coaches and NFL coaches and scouts at the Senior Bowl, James Gayle understands the importance of constant improvement.

In 2011, he had a breakout campaign as a sophomore and led the team with seven sacks. But in the two seasons following, he recorded five and six sacks, respectively, and never managed to make the big leap that analysts and scouts expected. Now as he readies for a higher level of competition, Gayle also has spent the offseason trying to learn additional countermoves so blockers find it more challenging to stop him.

“In the NFL everybody’s good,” Gayle said. “You’re not going to get the ‘sorry’ tackle that you might happen upon in college. I just have to continue to make strides in my game and continue to work.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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Mike Jones · February 22

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