Russell's talent awes scouts Inconsistent? All agree Southern Cal defensive tackle has unmatched ability, but will he show it on every play?

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April 17, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The knock on Darrell Russell is that he tends to relax occasionally, exhibiting a glaring lack of effort.

The rest of the time he is on the field, though, Russell is usually knocking one or more offensive linemen backward in his quest to inflict damage on a ball carrier or a quarterback. At 6 foot 5, 315 pounds, with enough agility to dunk a basketball and enough strength to bench-press 415 pounds, Russell often has his way.

Since Russell, Southern Cal's peerless defensive tackle, figures to be the first player picked when the New York Jets open the NFL draft on Saturday, it seems the league's talent evaluators are convinced enough of his performance and potential to look past lazy moments.

"It's up to Darrell as to how fast he comes on or how good he gets in the long run. There is nothing else to stop him from being a real top player in the NFL," said Dick Haley, the Jets' director of player personnel. "He's got the combination of pass rush and size to play inside. He has no limitations."

Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who has worked out and interviewed Russell, scoffed at the notion that Russell's sometimes-missing game face makes him overrated.

"If you had two equal guys [in talent], you might put some stock in that," Lewis said. "But he is so much better than any other [tackle in the draft], it's not an issue."

Said Russell: "Supposedly, I take plays off and I'm inconsistent. All I can do is step on the field and show I'm not any of that. I'm a guy who plays hard, who enjoys the game and likes to have fun. All I can say to people is that I play football."

As he wound through his junior season last fall with the Trojans, Russell often toyed with unfortunate offensive linemen assigned block him. Double teams were the norm, but not much of a problem, as Russell led the Trojans with nine sacks and 19 tackles for losses.

One of the reasons Russell decided to skip his senior year was that coach John Robinson assured Russell he would face a barrage of triple teams next year.

Russell's body type and his accompanying athleticism border on freakish. A month shy of 21 with a sociology degree nearly in hand, Russell is blessed with a massive lower body, which features 32-inch thighs and 22-inch calves. Blend that with a strong upper body and 4.8-second speed in the 40-yard dash, and it's easy to see why Russell destroys trap blocks and runs down ball carriers with abandon.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda compared Russell with Cincinnati tackle Dan Wilkinson, the first defensive lineman taken in the 1994 draft.

"This kid is a little more physical than Wilkinson. He throws his body around a little more," Marchibroda said of Russell. "He's still young, and he's not going to have the immediate impact that a Jonathan Ogden had. But he's got rare ability."

On a recent visit, Russell spoke with Jets coach Bill Parcells, who is reportedly leaning toward choosing Russell over blue-chip offensive tackle Orlando Pace.

"I learned he is a real hard-nosed guy," Russell said of Parcells. "He basically broke it down and said he is interested in me and Orlando, that we're the two serious prospects he's interested in."

If Russell and Florida State defensive end Peter Boulware are available when the Ravens are preparing to make their first pick at No. 4 -- a most unlikely scenario -- an animated discussion would commence in the team's war room.

Lewis said if he were starting a defense, he would take Boulware because of his big-play ability and immediate impact.

Ravens college scouting director Phil Savage, who said the chance of Russell's being available at No. 4 are "zip," said Russell would be his choice.

"We're such a sack-happy society," Savage said. "If we were starting a team, I would pick Russell. How many defensive

linemen do a dance after knocking an offensive lineman's head off to mess up a trap block? Football is a physical game, and there is a lot of value in destroying the interior of an offense. That's what Russell does."

Ratings of defensive linemen

The top defensive tackles and ends available in the NFL draft, according to Joel Buchsbaum of Pro Football Weekly:


Player, School: 1. Darrell Russell, USC

Ht.: 6-5

Wt.: 320

40*: 4.8

Buchsbaum's comment Has almost unlimited ability and potential

Player, School: 2. Renaldo Wynn, Notre Dame

Ht.: 6-3

Wt.: 288

40*: 4.74

Buchsbaum's comment: Has the speed to play outside; a little short for end

Player, School:3. Rick Terry, North Carolina

Ht.: 6-4

Wt.: 305

40*: 4.86

Buchsbaum's comment: Overpowering and aggressive, but needs to improve pass-rushing technique

Player, School: 4. Nathan Davis, Indiana

Ht.: 6-5

Wt.: 312

40*: 4.68

Buchsbaum's comment: Hot-and-cold player who is more cold than hot

Player, School: 5. Brandon Mitchell, Texas A&M

Ht.: 6-3

Wt.: 288

40*: 4.81

Buchsbaum's comment: Fast, athletic and powerful; very erratic player


Player, School: 1. Peter Boulware, Florida State

Ht.: 6-4

Wt.: 255

40*: 4.61

Buchsbaum's comment: Rare quickness, agility and balance with tremendous range; lacks size and bulk strength

Player, School: 2. Reinard Wilson, Florida State

Ht.: 6-2

Wt.: 260

40*: 4.8

Buchsbaum's comment: Rare strength for his size; undersized and can't get much bigger

Player, School: 3. Jayson Taylor, Akron

Ht.: 6-6

Wt.: 245

40*: 4.65

Buchsbaum's comment: Has the quickness and acceleration off the corner to be a top outside pass rusher

Player, School: 4. Kenny Holmes, Miami

Ht.: 6-4

Wt.: 264

40*: 4.72

Buchsbaum's comment: Durable player who did not miss a game due to injury in four years

Player, School: 5. Trevor Pryce, Clemson

Ht.: 6-6

Wt.: 282

40*: 4.91

Buchsbaum's comment: Stands out at times as a pass rusher and a kick blocker, but lacks pass-rushing technique

-- Time in 40-yard dash

What's ahead

Tomorrow: One more look at the Ravens' needs and a team-by-team overview the day before the draft.

Saturday: What goes on in a draft war room.

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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