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The Pick-Six LOTTERY
Peter King
April 29, 1996
Tainted back Lawrence Phillips slipped to the Rams' spot in the NFL draft, but that was about the only surprise during a weekend of predictable picks
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April 29, 1996

The Pick-six Lottery

Tainted back Lawrence Phillips slipped to the Rams' spot in the NFL draft, but that was about the only surprise during a weekend of predictable picks

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With his other first-round pick Ortmayer penciled in wideout-kick returner Eddie Kennison, an underachiever at LSU. But as Tampa Bay Bucs coach Tony Dungy said of Kennison, "He enters the NFL as the best return man in the league." St. Louis had Kennison, who has run a 4.9 in the 40, rated as the third-best player in the draft, stunning when you consider that many teams had Kennison ranked no higher than the fourth-best receiver in the pool. Ortmayer used an early second-round selection to take a quarterback for the future, Tony Banks of Michigan State. (Banks was the first signal-caller drafted, marking the first time since 1988 that a quarterback wasn't chosen in the first round.) And when the Rams dealt running back Jerome Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers later on Saturday, Ortmayer had the second-round pick he needed to draft tight end Ernie Conwell of Washington. Everything had fallen into place for St. Louis.

If Phillips had been gone when the Rams' number came up, and as late as last Saturday morning there had been indications he would be, Ortmayer was prepared to take Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka. Last Friday, Phillips spent three hours with Jacksonville president David Seldin, and Phillips's agent, Mitch Frankel, said a Jaguars representative called him the next morning to say Phillips was their man. Jacksonville, however, was merely bluffing in an attempt to entice another team that wanted Phillips into trading up to get him. When there were no takers, the Jags went the safe route, choosing Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy, and the Phillips free fall began.

Phillips faces at least seven more months of court-mandated counseling for anger control, which requires him to attend weekly individual-and group-therapy sessions. "I've kept a lot of anger bottled inside me," Phillips said on Sunday. "I used to think counseling was bad, but everybody can use it. I talk out my anger now. I made a mistake, and it's up to me to repair it."

Dolphins. Here's Jimmy Johnson in his first draft as Miami's coach: He holds the 20th pick, but his two favorite mid-first-round linebackers—Kutztown (Pa.) University's John Mobley and Texas A&M's Reggie Brown—have been selected 15th and 17th, respectively; his most attractive offer for the pick, a trade with Dallas for linebacker Darrin Smith, falls through; and now the Dolphins are on the clock. "Get Daryl Gardener and Marcus Jones on the phone," Johnson says to his scouts as his allotted 15 minutes begins to tick away. Both players arc defensive tackles. Gardener is a 6'6", 325-pound underachiever from Baylor; the 6'6", 283-pound Jones is North Carolina's career sack leader.

Johnson speaks with Gardener. "Listen," he says, "the only way I'm taking you right now is if you move down here full time and dedicate yourself. You meet me halfway, and you'll be a great player. But I'm a hard guy. Don't ever screw with me. Are you willing to come down here and devote yourself to our program?"

"I am, no question," Gardener says.

Without talking to Jones, Johnson selects Gardener. "Jones was the safe pick, but I think Gardener has the biggest upside of any player in the draft," he said. "Really, it comes down to your philosophy. Do you want to be safe and good, or do you want to take a chance and be great?" Johnson has always been one to take chances. He started the weekend with eight picks, and as a result of making three trades, he parlayed them into 12 selections.

Buccaneers. In the 10 previous drafts Tampa Bay had made 23 first-and second-round picks, yet not one of those 23 had ever appeared in a Pro Bowl as a Bucs player. You would think, as high as this woeful franchise had picked over that span, it would have accidentally selected a Pro Bowl-caliber player or two. So you couldn't become too excited about what Tampa Bay did with its first four picks. (For the record: The Bucs chose California defensive end Regan Upshaw and Jones in round 1, took Purdue fullback Mike Alstott in round 2 and dealt their other second-round pick for the San Diego Chargers' first-rounder in 1997.) Even general manager Rich McKay was cool about it. "I don't think we should say anything," he said, "until we win and we prove we're doing the right things."

Director of player personnel Jerry Angelo, who has presided over the Buccaneers draft room for a decade, offered a rare and brave mea culpa about his organization's fortunes. "I've learned the hard way that you've got to take fiber in the draft," he said. "You've got to take guys you know will be in for curfew, guys who don't need contract clauses to do off-season workouts. When the heat has been turned on here, our guys haven't performed."

There's a sense, Tampa Bay staffers say, that Dungy is building a program. Example: With the 41st pick, the Bucs wanted Penn State wideout Bobby Engram. But with Tampa Bay on the clock, San Diego general manager Bobby Beathard called for the third time in a week asking for the BUGS' pick in exchange for that 1997 first-rounder. "Unemotional, logical decision," Dungy said. "We loved Engram, but really, what's better? The 41st pick now, when we've had three picks already, or a first-rounder next year?" Tampa Bay on the right track, on a high-fiber diet? Scary thought.

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