High on the scale Orlando Pace: With his huge bulk and quick feet, the Ohio State tackle will draw near-No. 1 interest in Saturday's NFL draft

Nfl Draft Preview

April 15, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

In Sandusky, Ohio, a blue-collar town of 35,000 halfway between Cleveland and Toledo and smack up against Lake Erie, Orlando Pace already is larger than life.

Who among those 35,000 doesn't know of the storybook high school career Pace enjoyed at Sandusky High in the early '90s as a two-sport star and all-around good guy?

Or his legendary, three-year football reign at Ohio State, where he did not give up a single sack his last two seasons as the Buckeyes' left tackle, and only one overall?

Or the fact that come Saturday's NFL draft, Pace will be minted as one of the league's newest millionaires, fitted instantly for a starting job and measured against the greatest tackles ever to play the game?

Still, it's the little things Pace does that draw the residents of Sandusky to their local hero.

"He has done so much for the community," said Larry Cook, Pace's high school football coach. "He's come back countless times, and he'll go to the elementary school and read to the third- and fourth-graders.

"It's gotten to the point where I set up a table and chairs when he comes to our basketball games, and [afterward] he signs autographs for everybody. He handles his success and notoriety so well. He visits all the time, and he always acts like the same young man he was in high school. He's the most popular kid in town."

The town that sent defensive back Thom Darden to the Cleveland Browns and basketball forward Scott May to Indiana University now presents the NFL's best left-tackle prospect since Anthony Munoz.

Larger than life?

At almost 6 feet 7 and a robust 335 pounds, Pace can blot out the sun.

And if sheer size doesn't win you over, his raw athleticism will. Despite all that bulk, he was clocked in under five seconds for 40 yards by NFL scouts. He has a 30-inch vertical leap, bench-pressed 225 pounds for 24 repetitions and was good enough in basketball at Sandusky to get some scholarship offers.

Then there are those nimble feet, the feet that figure to protect the blind side of somebody's quarterback over the next dozen or so years.

"Feet are what it takes to play left tackle in the pros," said Ozzie Newsome, vice president of player personnel for the Ravens. "That's what will get his body in position to block the types of athletes he'll be blocking -- Bruce Smith, Pat Swilling, Junior Seau."

Pace, who had a year of eligibility left at Ohio State, is the third in a remarkable run of outstanding left tackles in the draft, following Tony Boselli (second pick, 1995, to Jacksonville) and Jonathan Ogden (fourth pick, 1996, to Baltimore).

The consensus among scouts is that Pace rates as the best prospect of the three. Newsome won't go that far, but says Pace "rated as high as any of the guys we rated last year."

"Pace is not as athletic as Jonathan, but he's more powerful than both Boselli and Jonathan," Newsome said. "You've got a 330-some-pounder who can run in the 4.9s, and that's unheard )) of."

Nevertheless, the most dominant player in this year's draft isn't expected to be the first pick -- even with quarterback Peyton Manning opting to stay at Tennessee.

That's because NFL teams in general -- and New York Jets general manager/coach Bill Parcells in particular -- aren't crazy about taking an offensive lineman first in the draft. The last time it happened was 29 years ago, when the Minnesota Vikings selected Southern California tackle Ron Yary.

Parcells, whose Jets have a $25 million investment in veteran tackles Jumbo Elliott and David Williams, said that he's leaning toward defensive tackle Darrell Russell of Southern California with his first selection.

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis recently traded up to get the New Orleans Saints' second choice -- and tentatively Pace -- with the idea of protecting new quarterback Jeff George.

"The question is [the relationship between] Al Davis and Parcells," said Carl Poston, a Houston-based agent who will negotiate Pace's contract. "Al Davis is in good position at No. 2. He's said: 'If Pace is there, we're taking him.' Al Davis is confident Parcells is not going to [mislead] him."

How confident is unclear. There were reports late last week that Davis already was looking to trade down -- perhaps over concern the Jets still might take Pace -- or trade the pick to a team that will.

"The bottom line is, I know I have the best player in the draft," said Poston, whose reputation as a tough negotiator was forged on lengthy holdouts by Terrell Buckley in 1992 and Tim Biakabutuka a year ago. "If Orlando goes one or two, it can't be all bad. I'd love for him to be No. 1."

The soft-spoken Pace, 21, caused a commotion at last February's scouting combine in Indianapolis when he declined to participate in the workouts and refused a magnetic resonance imaging exam for his left knee, for which he wears a brace.

There also was concern over Pace's right shoulder after a 1996 arthroscopy.

Mike Jacobs, offensive coordinator and line coach at Ohio State, dismissed all the speculation over Pace's health.

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