Cal Football: Does Kuony Deng's Versatility Boost His NFL Prospects?

Both player and coach Justin Wilcox are confident he can play multiple LB positions
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I wonder if Cal linebacker Kuony Deng has ever heard Ted Hendricks.

The Mad Stork, he was called, because he was 6-foot-7, 220 pounds. Hendricks played linebacker for 14 seasons in the NFL, the final eight with the Raiders, and wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In some ways, Deng is cut from the same pattern. He is 6-foot-6 and goes 240 pounds. Just needs a catchy nickname.

Cal coach Justin Wilcox chuckled when I asked if the comparison to Hendricks makes any sense. “He was a good one,” Wilcox confirmed.

Deng is a good one, too. But there are differences.

Most obviously, Deng is an inside linebacker while Hendricks played outside.

“I think he absolutely has potential at the next level,” Wilcox said of Deng, a senior who had 119 tackles for the Bears last season after transferring from Independence (KS) Junior College, known famously for being featured on the documentary series, “Last Chance U.”

“Most people, when you see him, you say, `He’s an outside linebacker,’ because he’s tall and he’s got long levers. But he can really bend and he plays inside well. I think he’ll have some position flexibility moving forward,” Wilcox said.

Jason Dawson, Deng’s coach back at John Champe High in Virginia, called Deng “a once-in-a-lifetime kid,” and asked, “How many humans do you see walking around who are 6-6, run a 4.6 (second 40-yard dash) and are tough as nails?”

It’s a little early for deep-round NFL mock drafts, and Cal won’t play its first game until Nov. 7 against Washington. But Neal Driscoll recently assembled a seven-round mock draft for the Pro Football Network and projected Deng going in the sixth round with the 162nd pick.

Deng has confidence he can any linebacker position, now or in the future.

“I think I’m a guy who can play all four linebacker positions. I think I can play in any scheme, whether it’s four down, three down,” he said. “So, to be honest, I think I’m unique in the way that if Cal asked me tomorrow to play full-time outside linebacker I would be physically capable to do it and do it at a high level.”

Wilcox said using Deng at multiple positions is on the Bears' agenda.

“We’ll use him at times to do some different things, as opposed to just playing inside linebacker,” Wilcox said. “He’s got a bright future in football because he’s got the physical traits but also just his mental makeup.

“He’s a very determined, focused guy. Very, very intelligent. It’s important to him. He lives a really lean life. There’s not a lot that really distracts him from what he’s focused on.”

Deng said he’s so determined he actually works on his pass-rush moves in his living room at home.

“I try not to worry about what NFL teams and scouts are saying about me too much,” Deng said. “But I know there’s a lot of people who are excited about the idea of being able to bring different things and being multiple in your abilities.

“You never want to be a tweener,” he said, alluding to the player who doesn’t quite have a position. “You want to be the type of guy who can do everything at the highest level. That’s what I try to pride myself on.”

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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