Work in Sports
Everything but the receiver
Jets load up on defense, add QB Pennington
Posted: Saturday April 15, 2000 06:49 PM
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- Stripped of a marquee wide receiver after trading away Keyshawn Johnson, the New York Jets used a record four first round choices to plug in some defensive help, a quarterback for the future and a tight end in Saturday's NFL draft.
But no wide receiver.
The Jets tried to trade up to replace Johnson but coach Al Groh said the price was too high. So New York went in a different direction, choosing Tennessee defensive end Shaun Ellis with the 12th pick and following that with linebacker John Abraham of South Carolina at No. 13.
Then they pulled a shocker at No. 18, selecting quarterback Chad Pennington of Marshall and took West Virginia tight end Anthony Becht at No. 27.
"With our first two players, we had a common formula," Groh said. "We were looking for players with power and speed. Both have excellent potential to be starters. If we stayed at 12 and 13, those are the two players we wanted."
As for Pennington, Groh said the Jets didn't expect to be available at No. 18.
"We were a little surprised to find him at that position," he said. "Pro football is a game of quarterbacks. We gave ourselves an excellent player at the position for years to come. We were able to improve at other positions and ended up with a first-round level quarterback. He was too good to pass up."
Vinny Testaverde, who will be 37 this season and is coming back from a torn Achilles' tendon, is New York's No. 1 quarterback. Ray Lucas replaced him last season, but the Jets felt they needed more protection at the position.
That was fine with Pennington.
"It's a win-win situation for me," he said. "I go into a great football town, where I've got one of the best [position] coaches in Dan Henning being my mentor, and Vinny Testaverde being my teacher."
Pennington said his selection by the Jets "is surprising, because that wasn't the talk." He had expected to be taken by either the 49ers, Steelers or Broncos.
If he was surprised, Abraham was shocked, so stunned in fact that he confused teams, saying that he was anxious to come in and make an impact "for the Giants."
Abraham had 23 1/2 career sacks but he expected to go lower. "It was a shock to me," he said. "It was a total surprise to me. I bring a lot as a pass rusher. I can play."
So can Ellis, who came back after fracturing his hip in a 1998 car accident to post 8 1/2 sacks and 42 tackles last season at Tennessee. He ended his career with six tackles and a sack in the Fiesta Bowl against Nebraska.
Ellis was unsure where he fit in as the draft began.
"I had a good feeling but I really didn't know," he said. "I'm just coming in to do the best I can, pressure the quarterback and stop the run."
Groh said the Jets would have picked Becht at No. 18 if Pennington had not been there. "He does fall into the same category as Ellis and Abraham in that he's a big, tough player," he said. "He's got size and power and demonstrated toughness."
"I'm happy to be a Jet," Becht said. "It's a great opportunity for me."
The Jets would have liked a shot at one of the high-profile receivers like Peter Warrick, Plaxico Burress or Travis Taylor to replace Johnson. But they all went in the first 10 picks, leaving the team to address other needs.
Groh said in the 48 hours before the draft the Jets "talked about a lot of movement. A lot of possibilities were discussed," he said.
In the end, none of them materialized. "The asking price was too pricey," Groh said. So the Jets will find Johnson's replacement elsewhere.
Groh spoke publicly about the Johnson trade for the first time, saying he had hoped to have him for the final two years of his contract and beyond. "Then a set of events, all financial, changed that circumstance," the coach said. Johnson's contract demands caused the Jets to listen to trade offers and they came away with the 13th and 27th picks from Tampa Bay, becoming the first team in history to have four first-round picks.
Groh bristled a bit when he talked about the deal.
"Do you think we traded him because we don't think he's a good player?" the coach asked. "I have great appreciation and understanding of how important and valuable he was to us.
"Do you think I made the trade because it would make me more popular or because I don't want to win? This was not a unilateral decision. A lot of good minds worked on this. This was a `we' decision. I was probably the last one to cast a vote. It was a unanimous decision amongst all the major decision-makers on the team."
There were reports that the Jets had talked to Cincinnati about wide receiver Carl Pickens. Groh was asked if that deal was dead.
"I don't know how dead it can be since it was never alive," the coach said. "Any discussion didn't involve me and was of such superficial nature that it didn't have any life."