Positional Versatility Helps SirVocea Dennis Stand Out at NFL Combine
If there’s one thing you should know about SirVocea Dennis, it’s that he wants that little, green dot on his helmet at the next level.
He doesn’t care if he’s playing Mike or Will linebacker in the NFL, but he wants to be the one who calls the plays, who communicates directly with the coaches.
That isn’t a surprise if you’ve followed Dennis for any length of time during his Pitt tenure. He’s able to slip seamlessly between Pitt’s three linebacker positions, but maybe more importantly, he’s a leader. He may not like the “coach-on-the-field” designation, but that’s what did during Pitt games last season.
As Pitt broke in two new starters at Star and Money linebacker last season, Dennis was the constant in the middle. He marshaled the troops, flying to the football to rack up tackles for loss and sacks. If you look up leader in the dictionary, well… I’ll spare you the cliche. Dennis is the guy.
And while Pitt will miss his reassuring presence in the heart of the defense, he couldn’t pass up the chance to make the jump to the NFL.
Dennis put together a solid week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile last month, but he wasn’t able to compete in the game after injuring his foot. The foot is feeling better now as he prepares for a week of drills and evaluations in Indianapolis this week at the NFL Combine, but his No. 1 priority isn’t showcasing his on-field ability.
“(I) just really to show my knowledge of the game,” Dennis said Tuesday at the NFL Combine. “I take the knowledge piece of the game very serious. It helps me on the field, so showing that is very big for me.”
So, any chance he gets, he’s going to try to show NFL teams that he’s not just a 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker that’s cut his body fat percentage to just 7% since the end of the 2022 season. Whether that’s interviews, meetings or just in passing.
Dennis’ intelligence, his ability to connect with teammates and coaches and truly understand the game of football flash constantly. There likely wasn’t a smarter player in Pitt’s locker room last season.
Of course, it is hard to miss Dennis’ prowess on the field, too. He’s a missile, sometimes maybe even a bit too eager in his pursuit, but he hits hard — and often. He led Pitt in tackles in each of the last two seasons, racking up a combined 22 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions along the way.
And perhaps even more impressively, according to Pro Football Focus, he missed less than 5% of his tackles in 2022. He graded out as one of the top-ranked linebackers in college football last season, leading Pitt in run defense and tackling ratings. But it’s that added versatility that has landed him on NFL radars.
“A lot of (teams) have been telling me learning a different position can make a spot for me anywhere,” Dennis said. “The more you learn, the more you can do, so we’ve definitely been talking about multiple positions.”
If you can be adaptable and coachable, it opens opportunities on perhaps any team in the NFL — if you have the talent. Dennis’ emphasis on not just his physical conditioning but his knowledge of the game — dedication to learning multiple positions in the defensive schemes — helps to open the door.
NFL teams are eager to see more from Dennis this week, as he’s let himself recover following the Senior Bowl trip, and while it’s the on- and off-the-field versatility that has attracted the attention of NFL teams, it’s about seeing more of who he is as a player and a person.
And believe it or not, Dennis’ versatility doesn’t stop there either. He was an avid athlete growing up, notably getting into lacrosse as a third or fourth grader. But he was able to turn down the urge to light someone up with a hit.
“I played since I was in, I want to say third or fourth grade, all the way up to around high school,” Dennis said. “So, in lacrosse, you actually have to tone it down a bit, and I didn’t know that. So, I got a lot of penalties, a lot of getting kicked out of games and stuff like that. I guess you have to turn it down a lot, but I never did.”
Dennis may have come close to a targeting call or two during his senior season, but he was never thrown out of the game. It’s ruthless aggression, but it’s controlled and calculated. It’s also fun. It’s very, very fun to play football.
Having fun is the big picture. It’s what he preaches, maybe in part because that’s what he’s always heard from linebackers coach Ryan Manlac, too.
“Me and coach Manny have a great relationship,” Dennis said. “He just tries to make sure I’m using my head with certain things and just tells me to be myself. And just have fun really, that’s what this is all about, just being yourself and having fun and showing the teams who you really are.”
As of Tuesday morning, Dennis met informally with a number of teams, with formal meetings coming later in the day, but out of respect for those teams, he didn’t want to disclose which teams those were. Regardless, the interest is there. And he’s making sure he can do everything in his power to ensure it stays — including additional work in coverage.
For all that Dennis does well on the football field, coverage is the one area of his game where he’s still lacking. And he’s working on ways to improve constantly.
“Definitely eye disciple, sometimes your eyes can get you in trouble,” Dennis said. “Especially in coverage. That’s what we like to do as athletes, find not the easier route but the shortcut or something, and sometimes you bite cheese, you get your neck snapped like a rat.
“You gotta really understand what the players want to do, or schemes or coaches on the other side, and when you also have that mental knowledge of the game, your eyes help you as well.”
Dennis was able to work across from Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett in practice for a number of years, working on ways to stop the future first round selection in the air even then, and while there’s a chance they may face off again one day once again, it was nothing but love as Dennis prepares for the draft.
“Kenny Pickett just wished me luck,” Dennis said. “He also told me you already know what to do, just be yourself, be true to yourself and have fun while being humble.”