(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
MOBILE, Ala. – You’d be hard-pressed to find a player capable of better matching his name and position than Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo.
The name, the playing style, the position, it all adds up to a marketing team’s dream. Of course, Rambo has been hearing how “cool” or “appropriate” his name is almost his entire life.
“It’s all right man,” Rambo says, shrugging. “If I had a quarter for every time somebody mentioned that, I’d be rich right now. It’s pretty nice. I guess thanks to my dad for changing it to that. I give all the credit to my dad.”
In other words, after Rambo hears his name called in April’s NFL Draft, he won’t need to go changing his name to draw anymore attention to himself like some of his predecessors in the league.
Instead, Rambo is spending his time now and leading up to that day doing everything he can to improve his draft stock.
As part of a safety class with no one player who stands head and shoulders above the rest of the class, Rambo came to Mobile this week with an eye toward bolstering his position.
Most scouts believe Rambo is a second or third round pick but he believes there’s enough time to push his name up that list and stake a legitimate claim to being the best safety in this year’s draft.
“It’s all of our goal to be the safety taken,” Rambo said. “So you have to do whatever it takes to go out there and be the first safety taken and just go out there and compete.”
For Rambo, making the leap into that upper echelon really comes down to something fairly elementary and quite important to his job description: tackling.
For the Bulldogs, Rambo earned his reputation as a ballhawk, the type of player who can patrol the deep middle of the field, run the alley and find ways to come up with the ball.
But the forthcoming and apparently self-aware Rambo makes no bones about his need for proving capable of being a more complete player this week.
“I have to show that I can tackle,” Rambo said. “I mean, a lot of people question my tackling, angle tackling. People know I have got the ball skills and instincts so I just want to go out here and show people that I can tackle and take good angles tackling.”
That Rambo needs some work on tackling really shouldn’t come as a big surprise considering his limited background playing defense.
Coming out of Seminole County High in Donalsonville, Ga., Rambo split time between quarterback and safety. During his recruitment he was considered an “athlete” but it remained to be seen where he’d ultimately fit at the college level.
Rambo redshirted his freshman year in Athens in 2008, working mostly as a scout team quarterback but in searching for a more stable position entering the next season, he opted to go to safety where he could refine some of the natural skills he said he developed growing up.
“I kind of would have to say backyard football (was where I learned to make plays),” Rambo said. “My friends used to throw it deep and I would run it down and catch it. I used to play baseball and I was pretty good at centerfield so I just have that knack for seeing the ball and just running and trying my best to go get it, doing whatever it takes to go get the ball.”
Rambo loved watching safeties like Sean Taylor and Ed Reed as he was coming up and tried to pattern his game after them as he started to embrace his new position more. Even this week, he’s spent plenty of time watching his teammates at the position and finding ways to incorporate little parts of their game into his.
Rambo played in all 11 games in 2009 and came up with a pair of interceptions but it was 2010 when he first made his presence known. He earned third team All-SEC honors as he posted 82 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.
In 2011, Rambo took his game to an even higher level, making plays all over the field in coming up with an astounding eight interceptions to go with eight passes defended and 55 tackles on his way to All American honors.
Rambo’s penchant for always being around the ball drew many eyes to his rapidly developing ball skills and he credits his time spent at quarterback with helping him read and understand what other signal callers are trying to do.
“I really like to cover,” Rambo said. “I consider myself a ballhawk. I know how to read the quarterback pretty well so that’s something I am already good at but still need to improve in certain areas in that. I just want to improve in every area really and just try to be the best I can be.”
Rambo’s career has taken a few hits along the way, though. He was suspended the first four games of his senior season for failing a drug test in March. He still registered three more interceptions as he finished his career with 16.
Still, Georgia teammate John Jenkins said Rambo learned his lesson and was a positive influence in the Bulldogs’ locker room.
“He helped me out a lot,” Jenkins said. “Bacarri is one of the guys who recruited me who really wanted me here so he was a great player, a team player for us and he always seemed to get the job done.”
Rambo’s ball skills allowed him to stay in center field and play in coverage most of the time in no small part because his teammate Shawn Williams was a polished player capable of cleaning up his messes in terms of tackling.
Williams is also here this week and another player jockeying to be among the top safeties taken in April. Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, LSU’s Eric Reid and many others are hoping to stake their claim to being the top safety in this year’s draft as well.
For his part, Rambo knows that proving himself a capable tackler is the key to opening many NFL doors for himself in the next few months and it all starts with what happens in Saturday’s game.
On the bright side, Rambo makes the salient point that tackling is a skill that can be taught and refined whereas the art of making plays on the ball seems to be more of an inherent skill.
“You either have it or you don’t,” Rambo said. “I feel like since I played quarterback in high school, I had that talent to just read quarterbacks and see what they are thinking, know where they are going and stuff like that.”