If the Green Bay Packers want a little extra inside information on Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri before the NFL Draft—and heaven knows they need a safety—head coach Mike McCarthy can give one of his former co-workers a phone call.
McCarthy and Vinnie's father Sal Sunseri were on the same staff at the University of Pittsburgh for four years from 1989 to 1992 when McCarthy coached quarterbacks and wide receivers and Sunseri tutored the defensive linemen and linebackers.
There was a fair amount of moving from one location to another for the younger Sunseri as a child but being a coach's son did have its perks.
"A lot of kids are playing with coloring books when they're little and I was drawing plays for my dad growing up," said Sunseri at the NFL Combine. "I'd watch him study film, draw plays, study habits of certain players. That's really helped me out studying film on certain players like Johnny Manziel and other teams."
Father and son were united for one season in 2011 when Sal was the linebackers coach at Alabama and Vinnie joined the team as a freshman. The season ended in success with Alabama winning the national championship as Vinnie carved out a small role as the team's dime defensive back.
The two parted ways in 2012, however, as Sal left to become defensive coordinator at Tennessee. Vinnie, meanwhile, continued to find more playing time his sophomore season at Alabama, playing in all 14 games and starting seven.
In making 54 tackles, six for a loss, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions, Sunseri was a player on the rise and carried that momentum into 2013.
His junior season started off well, grabbing two interceptions in the first two games, returning both of them for touchdowns. But by mid-October injury struck. Sunseri tore the ACL in his left knee and was out for the rest of the year.
While Sunseri was an ascending player, he wasn't a particularly experienced one, having started just 13 games in his college career. So when he declared for the NFL Draft earlier this year, it caught some people by surprise.
Vinnie felt like he had accomplished enough to leave the college game behind, and after consulting with his father, made his choice official.
"He said make your decision," Sunseri said of the advice he received from his father. "Whenever you make your decision, don't look back no matter what. Just keep moving forward. That's what I've done. I've kept moving forward. I've rehabbed really hard. I'm ready to start doing my cutting and straight-line stuff."
Sunseri wasn't able to compete at the NFL Combine, other than doing the bench press (18 repetitions), but did take part in Alabama's pro day Apr. 8, where he reportedly ran 4.48 to 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which would have ranked among the top safeties in Indianapolis. He measured in at 5' 11" and 210 lbs.
Roughly five months removed from surgery, the recovery Sunseri made has been remarkable, although perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise considering his medical group includes famed doctors James Andrew, Lyle Cain, and his therapist Kevin Wilk has gained recognition for helping Vikings running back make his extraordinary comeback from a torn ACL in 2011.
"Andrews already cleared me, said I'm able to do all my stuff," said Sunseri. "I've been rehabbing with Kevin Wilk, who is one of the best rehab guys, up in Birmingham. He's blessed me and thinks I'm ready to go and do everything. Lyle Cain says I have one of the best knees he's ever seen coming off an ACL. I just feel great."
Helping matters is that Sunseri's suffered an isolated ACL tear. There was no torn MCL or meniscus or any other ligament damage.
The rehab will continue throughout the offseason, and the goal for Sunseri is to get back to the same level he was playing when he was paired with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the Alabama secondary early last season.
A team like the Packers could use some help at safety, now that last year's starter M.D. Jennings has moved on in free agency to sign with the Chicago Bears. Left on the team's roster are only three true safeties: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo, although the team is considering moving Micah Hyde to the position but has yet to make a firm commitment.
Sunseri figures to be a Day 3 draft choice, but he's ready to contribute in any way possible.
"I'll play whatever a team needs," said Sunseri. "I played nickel, dime, strong and free for Alabama. I'll definitely be a contributor on special teams."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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