An unexpected position

Penn State's starting strongside defensive end Jack Crawford comes into the 2009 season without much experience.
Quite literally, as has been well documented since his enrollment at Penn State and throughout this off-season, Crawford is not only the Lions' new strongside defensive end, but he's relatively new to football as a whole... not to mention, the United States.
Luckily for Crawford, as he nears his debut as a key player along the Lions' defensive line, he's had a full year of learning from some of the best.
Whether it was No. 11 overall NFL Draft pick Aaron Maybin, the New York Giants' Maurice Evans or the Philadelphia Eagles' Josh Gaines, Crawford soaked up everything he could.
"That was a huge benefit because they were really down to earth and they'll help you get through the tough times.," Crawford said on media day. "You're not going to be perfect. Nobody is going to be perfect. You're not going to pick up everything straight away. I made so many mistakes. I talked to all of them."
In addition to Penn State's trio of 2008 defensive ends now playing in the pros, Crawford has reached out even further, talking to former NFLer Michael Haynes and even working out with the Kansas City Chiefs' Tamba Hali throughout the summer.
According to Crawford, spending time with Hali was valuable beyond the benefits on the football field.
"That was a huge benefit because he had a lot to share with me. He came over to the country similar," Crawford said. "Tamba helped me out a lot because just working out with him, he showed me so many different ways to pass rush and be effective on the field. He's been such a great help, and I still talk to him today, I still call him up and ask him for advice and help."
It's no surprise that Crawford is still eager to learn.
As a star basketball player in his native England, the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder was given an opportunity to play football while attending St. Augustine High School in New Jersey. He's excelled at it ever since.
To this day, Crawford credits his experience in the sports he played in England to the success he's now seeing on the football field.
"Definitely, basketball and even soccer helped me, just with coordination and footwork," he said. "It's all sports. They're all related and all have to do with reaction and coordination and timing.
"It definitely had a big influence, and that's really what's allowed me to even play this sport. Without those sports, I wouldn't have been able to pick up this game so quickly."
That said, Crawford still has his share of work to accomplish.
While his athletic abilities have been described by some as 'freakish', Crawford said that picking up all of the mental aspects of the game has been the hardest part of becoming a college football player.
"Definitely just picking up all the different intricacies of the game, learning offensive formations, picking up offensive formations and reacting to my key - the tackle or the backs - just reacting quick enough and I'm still learning," he said. "I'm not up to the point of a Maybin or Gaines or Mo Evans now. So, I'm still learning a lot and that allows you to play faster.
With the Nittany Lions' home opener now just a little more than a week away, Crawford is in a position to be a true sophomore starter on the defensive line.
Considering the path he's taken to get here, would he have expected to have such success so soon?
"No, I can be honest and say I didn't expect to be in this position," he said. "And it has been hard. It's just, I always knew I was going to try my best and always try and beat out the person in front of me.
"So even if everybody stayed, I would have always tried and compete and even start this year. Even if Maurice and Maybin had stayed, I had expectations, hopes, to try to start."
If everything goes according to plan next week, against the Zips, he will.