Z, good point that busy hands may be difficult to teach. I'm not sure if that's the case, but English is definitely known for having strong, violent hands.
Considering that Barwin was a Big East basketball player, and a tight end, I'm assuming he has the natural coordination to greatly increase the odds of him developing great hands, even if they may not now or ever be quite as strong as English's.
You're also right that QB pressure is our top need right now.
However, even in English's four years in the MAC, he hasn't developed a reputation as an exceptional run stopper. In one year at defensive end in the Big East, Barwin was considered a strong run stopper. From cbssportsline/NFLDraftScout:
"Run Defense: He needs to continue working on his hand usage at the point of attack, but he does a nice job of locking on and shedding the lead blocker when playing the ball in his area. He has above-average balance needed to make plays in pursuit, showing good knee bend. He will get covered up and contained by bigger blockers when he runs right into the pile, but while he is still a work in progress as a stack-&-shed type, he does a very good job of stringing out plays and playing off blocks on the move. He makes quite a few plays in pursuit and shows the hand strength to shed and make plays while defending the tight end's low blocks. He has very good balance, but must continue to be active with his hands in order to wear down blockers. For a player his size, Barwin has shown very good strength taking on blockers in 2008. He might lack the "sand in his pants" that you look for in a defensive end, but coming off the edge, he has shown steady strides in holding his ground at the point of attack. Still, he is best when making plays on the move."
Definitely click on the link if you haven't read that scouting report. They break his game down into some 15 different categories, and provide detailed analysis about each one, as well as game analysis of every game. They didn't write one on English, which is unfortunate.
But it would appear that Barwin is at least English's equal in run defense, and we saw from the linebacker drills that Barwin moves far better in space, making him not only a safe bet for coverage, but potentially one of the best cover 3-4 linebackers in the league.
English has no experience as a linebacker, and has basically come out and said he wants to play DE for the Bears. Barwin on the other hand has expressed great interest and confidence in his ability to play linebacker.
As far as lack of experience, I think we need to count his experience as a tight end as worth something, if not a lot. He knows the route running tricks of the tight ends he'll be covering downfield, to a far, far greater extent than English does. And when it comes to hands for making the interception, I'll put all my money on Barwin over English.
As a tight end and basketball player, Barwin has been developing his extremely impressive ability to move in space, change direction, and react and anticipate balls being thrown from a distance, judge the depth and trajectory of the ball, and make the instantaneous footwork and positional adjustments to put himself in a position to catch or deny the ball.
English has absolutely no experience doing this, despite his four years at DE, doing something completely different and highly specific.
You can tell from watching English in the 3 cone and linebacker drills at the combine that his agility and lateral quickness are very limited, despite his exceptional straight line burst.
I think that English will always be a liability in coverage, although he will improve in it over the years with increased training, and because he seems intelligent. One could argue that most 3-4 linebackers are liabilities in coverage so it's not a big deal.
Barwin is also 2 inches taller, and has a 5.5 inch andvantage in vertical leap, and their arm lengths are about the same (Barwin 33, English 32 3/4).
This gives Barwin an advantage of some 7.5 inches when going up to knock down passes, and given Barwin's TE experience, basketball experience, and proven reflexes, it's no wonder he knocked down so many passes and blocked so many kicks.
I think Barwin is a significantly safer bet to make the transition to a 3 down OLB, and far from being at an experience disadvantage to English at OLB, it is English who has less experience doing things that apply to this brand new position, OLB. As a tight end for three years, Barwin was learning how to trick and gain position on linebackers and safeties in practice and games every day, experience and knowledge that will help him greatly when covering TEs. English was merely refining his pass rushing skills, and becoming an adequate but not exceptional run stopper.
English is at square one when it comes to learning how tight ends think, what tricks they use, and how to react and position yourself for a thrown ball.
I do agree with you that English is the safer bet to immediately succeed as a 3rd down rushing linebacker. I'm not convinced he will be the better long term rusher, but it is possible.
I do think that Barwin is the better immediate and long term prospect as an all around 3 down linebacker, and we do have Colvin on the roster as a promising 3rd down rush linebacker.
I'd be happy with English as a consolation prize, but I wouldn't take him first by any means. I think Michael Johnson is both a better pure pass rusher than English, and also a better prospect for eventually becoming a complete 3 down linebacker.
I also think Barwin has plenty of 4-3 versatility. 255 with room to gain more. Just like English, though less refined at the moment.
It's entirely possible that Barwin ends up being as successful as Aaron Curry, the only linebacker prospect who compares to Barwin in athleticism and versatility.
And who knows, in a year or two we could be pleasantly surprised to see Barwin able to cover a couple of the taller, slower WRs in the league.
Not to mention TE and special teams.