Interest declining for former Lion Hunt

Posted: April 25, 2007

Like a politician surveying the surprising results of an election he sat out, Tony Hunt may some day rue his decision not to run.

The moment the Penn State running back chose not to be timed by scouts in the 40 at February's NFL Combine, his popularity among that fickle electorate began to slip.

Once considered a possible late first-rounder, Hunt, Penn State's second-best all-time rusher with 3,320 yards, now appears destined to go in the second, or even the third, a decline that, warranted or not, would cost him millions.

"Has a good short area burst," reads an NFL.com assessment, "but not the sustained speed to threaten in the deep secondary."

When, three weeks later, Hunt did run a pair of 40s at Penn State's Pro Day, he was timed at 4.65 and 4.75, pedestrian by the standards of the league's breakaway backs.

Still, there are a number of old-school coaches, scouts and draft experts who see more than a lack of downfield speed when they look at Hunt, a three-year starter at Penn State.

The 6-foot-11/2 233-pounder is a bull in traffic. He runs low and hard. He doesn't go down easily. He waits for blocks to develop. He catches passes. And he blocks.

"He's certainly one of the better backs we've had," said Joe Paterno of Hunt, who is fifth in career rushing at the school, behind Curt Warner. "He's a solid runner. He's a complete back. He's really a good receiver. And he's an excellent blocker. And he's 230 pounds. He's a big-time football player."

For some teams, that size, strength and versatility will negate concerns about Hunt's speed, especially those looking for a big back in a draft dominated by smaller runners like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch.

"Tony Hunt is the best inside runner in this draft," said Ron Rang, NFLDraftScout.com's senior analyst. "If he can get himself into the right system, he could end up being one of the most effective backs in this entire draft."

That's certainly the scenario Hunt and agent Alvin Keels are trying to sell. So far, the most likely buyers for the back's services seem to be Denver, St. Louis and Green Bay, though the Eagles have expressed at least a mild interest.

Hunt believes that any NFL team, regardless of who they have at the position now, could use a running back.

"It's just one of those positions that's so rough you have to have more than one back," he said. "A back can get hurt any play, any moment. You have to have a capable back able to come in and play."

In terms of style, Hunt sees himself as more Duce Staley than Brian Westbrook.

"At Penn State, that's the kind of backs they demand," Hunt said. "We didn't hide ourselves back in pass-blocking. We did a lot of receiving out of the backfield. We worked on everything. We were expected to be able to do everything. It's not like we had certain backs to play in certain situations. I played the whole game. I had to be able to catch the ball, run the ball, block, protect the quarterback. I had to do everything."

In his Penn State career, Hunt caught 87 passes for 792 yards - although 39 of those receptions came in 2004, when the then-woeful Nittany Lions didn't have a wide receiver they could trust.

Last season, with a new and often-struggling Anthony Morelli at quarterback, Paterno asked Hunt to carry the bulk of the offensive load. And he did.

Hunt averaged better than 20 carries a game, rolling up 1,460 rushing yards and 11 TDs on 277 carries for the Nittany Lions (9-4).

"We did that a lot this year," Hunt said, "pound the ball out and get into the fourth quarter. And if we got a little lead, we'd just run the ball, run the clock out and control the game."

He caught 27 passes for another three TDs and 259 yards. And he kept opposing pass-rushers off Morelli.

Hunt was the MVP in his final Penn State game, the Outback Bowl win over Tennessee. Afterward, Vols coach Phil Fullmer described the tailback in terms that Hunt hopes opposing NFL coaches will be using next season.

"He's a really fine back and one of the more underrated backs that I've seen as far as what we thought of him versus the accolades he had gotten," Fullmer said.

Even if he didn't run the 40 in Indianapolis.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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