Work in Sports
The defense never rests for these eight rookies
Posted: Wednesday May 10, 2000 08:19 AM
By Jon A. Dolezar, CNNSI.com
Bill Clinton was thinner, more believable and still on the campaign trail the last time defensive players were selected one-two in the NFL Draft.
The Browns and the Redskins hope their new pieces of precious cargo fare a little better injury-wise than the top two players chosen in the 1992 Draft. Washington's Steve Emtman suffered several knee injuries and retired from football in 1997, while Texas A&M's Quentin Coryatt retired for a second time this offseason after battling chronic injuries.
On Monday, CNNSI.com's B. Duane Cross examined the top eight offensive rookies who should make a big impact this season, and now the defensive guys take center stage. Leading things off, of course, is the dynamic duo from Happy Valley who likely will battle it out for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
The can't-miss kid will have enormous pressure on him in Cleveland, as the torchbearer of a defense that ranged anywhere from bad to awful last season. Brown will complement offseason acquisition Orpheus Roye at defensive end, and the two should certainly better the combined 9 1/2 sack for last year's starters, John Thierry and Derrick Alexander.
Brown has been compared to Bruce Smith, but his wingspan, leaping ability and quickness off the ball give him the potential to be more of an impact player than Smith was early in his career. Scary thought, huh?
LaVar Arrington is Part II of the Penn State duo, but no second banana in the minds of most scouting directors. His nose for the ball and nasty attitude on the field have drawn numerous comparisons to Lawrence Taylor. Oh, the sacrilege of comparing Redskins to Giants! And besides, L.T. preferred femurs to punters.
The Redskins have loaded up on defensive help in the offseason, with Arrington joining Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, and possibly Deion Sanders, if he is released by the Cowboys after June 1. New defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes and linebackers coach Foge Fazio are smiling ear-to-ear knowing they have so much more to work with than Mike Nolan did last season. Arrington starred in Washington's recent minicamp, and he may have more spectacular numbers than Brown right away just because of his position, with the potential to have a rookie season as crazy as Jevon Kearse did last year.
Fickle Philly fans are hard to please, but a 300-pound run-stuffing nose tackle should go a little ways toward restoring some of that oft-talked about, but seldom seen, brotherly love. Simon has a starting job waiting for him, and if his shaky knees hold up, he will produce solid numbers.
When God cast "The Chicago Bears Story," Dick Butkus and Brian Urlacher are exactly what He had in mind for middle linebackers. Urlacher doesn't have the mean streak of Butkus, but his athletic ability is far superior to that of the Hall of Famer's.
A converted safety, Urlacher may struggle more than some of the other top picks as he tries to adapt to shedding blockers, but once he gets that down he could be scary good. Urlacher is the high-risk, high-reward pick of this draft, but his effort and raw skills eventually could make him a star in the Windy City.
Thoughts of packaging their four first-round picks never materialized, so the Jets worked on rebuilding their defense with their first two picks. Ellis was thought to be headed to Green Bay with the 14th pick, but Bill Parcells smokescreened everyone yet again in the draft.
Injuries and football intelligence are the question marks with Ellis, but the Jets will probably just turn him loose in a Charles Haley-like pass-rushing role, allowing him to use his quickness upfield.
A versatile 'tweener on defense, the Jets chose Abraham to play linebacker in their system. Former linebackers coach Al Groh was thrilled with Abraham's quickness in rushing the passer in the team's recent minicamp.
Abraham plays a more aggressive style than Jets' 1997 draft pick James Farrior, the man Abraham likely is to replace in the starting lineup.
Mike Shanahan threw a bit of a curveball by picking O'Neal, but after Denver's initial minicamp the media in Colorado already is raving about this speedy cornerback. O'Neal is almost as good of a cornerback as Dale Carter, and he will battle free-agent acquisition Jimmy Spencer for the starting job opposite veteran Ray Crockett.
After having a disastrous all-around season last year, the first of their many holes that the 49ers chose to plug was at middle linebacker. Peterson is an athletic player who will start right away thanks to the 49ers' release of veteran Lee Woodall. San Francisco hopes that Peterson fares better off the field than last year's lone Spartan chosen in the first round, Dimitrius Underwood.
Best o' the rest