The list of linebackers who feast on quarterbacks in today's NFL is a little on the thin side. The Ravens' Terrell Suggs has finished with double-digit sack totals the past two years, but he's the only linebacker who can make that claim.
So where is the next Derrick Thomas? The next Lawrence Taylor?
That role might fall to Darryl Blackstock, an outside linebacker from the University of Virginia. He's a player eager to introduce himself to NFL quarterbacks next fall.
Blackstock, an early entrant into the draft, started all but one game during his three-year career for the Cavaliers and finished with 27 career sacks, the second-highest total in school history. His 11 sacks in 2004 were the most in the nation by a linebacker and earned him second-team All-ACC honors.
Those pass-rush skills have grabbed the attention of pro personnel and could make Blackstock a first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
"My pass rush is well known with every team," Blackstock said.
But since his freshman year, when he led all college rookies with 10 sacks and was named the National Defensive Freshman of the Year by CollegeFootballNews.com and Rivals.com, Blackstock has worked hard to turn himself into a more complete player, concentrating on his run defense and pass coverage.
"I've really taken the time to not just be known as a pass rusher," he said. "I've really prepared myself to take my skills to the next level and really be willing to learn even more."
To help show NFL teams that he is not just a one-dimensional player, Blackstock will take part in the NFL Scouting Combine, which will take place Feb. 23-March 1 in Indianapolis. It's the first step in a long draft process that can fray the nerves of even the most unflappable player.
"I'm never nervous," he said. "I'm a really calm guy. I thank God for having the opportunity to do this. I just want to show that I can fit into anybody's team to be productive and have fun doing it at the same time. I feel like I'm ready and I'm mentally prepared to do what I got to do to be successful."
To get ready for the running, lifting and jumping tests he'll face at the combine, Blackstock has spent the past month with other draft hopefuls at Athletes' Performance, a training center in Tempe, Ariz. It's a process Blackstock hopes will raise his standing in the NFL draft, but it also comes at a price. All the training has kept him away from his 18-month-old son, Savion.
"I check up on him a lot, but at the same time I have to stay focused and understand that I'm out here to conduct business," he said. "I never get homesick, but I do miss my son, miss my family, miss my friends. But I'm out here doing what I have to do so they can be OK and they can kick their feet up. Put all the weight on me."
Making sure his family is OK is of high priority for Blackstock, who grew up having very little contact with his own biological father. Now the chance to take care of his loved ones with a career in the NFL is an opportunity he vows not to squander.
"I'm ready to provide," Blackstock said. "I'm the backbone of my family. I'm not going to let them down -- never have, never will. I'm not going to stop now."
With that strong drive to support his family, Blackstock, a devout watcher of game film at Virginia with a reputation as a football perfectionist, is hungry to join the game's best at the next level.
"I've watched millions and millions of tapes on Lawrence Taylor," he said. "I think I fit that model, being able to do all three phases of the position, to perfect it, and be a tone-setter of the game at the position."