Offensive-minded Rams head day for the defense

Team's 2000 collapse leads to makeover with 5 defensive picks

Nfl Draft

April 22, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Cleveland Browns bluffed their way to the best defensive tackle in the draft.

The San Francisco 49ers ran a reverse to secure perhaps the pure pass rusher.

On a day devoted to defense, though, the team that made the boldest moves was the St. Louis Rams, winners of Super Bowl XXXIV but first-round playoff losers in 2000.

The Rams started the 66th NFL draft yesterday with a defense that was trashed for an NFL-high 471 points last season. They ended it with three new starters in the secondary, a reshaped defensive line and the hope, at least, of a return to the Super Bowl.

In short order, the Rams acquired former Pro Bowl cornerback Aeneas Williams in a trade, then used a bonanza of three first-round picks to take defensive tackles Damione Lewis of Miami (Fla.) and Ryan Pickett of Ohio State, and strong safety Adam Archuleta of Arizona State.

They also drafted two Florida State linebackers, Tommy Polley of Dunbar and Brian Allen, in the second and third rounds.

Williams, Archuleta and former Ravens safety Kim Herring, signed in free agency, figure to replace three of the Rams' four starting defensive backs.

Coach Mike Martz underscored the addition of Williams, who was acquired for second- and fourth-round picks before the draft started yesterday.

"I think Aeneas will affect the defense much the same way as [MVP running back] Marshall [Faulk] did two years ago," Martz said in a TV interview. "He is as committed to winning as anyone in this organization."

Lewis is a 297-pound tackle who runs 40 yards in 4.84 seconds and collected 15 1/2 sacks in 42 career starts at Miami. He was taken with the 12th pick of the first round, acquired when the Rams shipped backup quarterback Trent Green to the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday.

Archuleta was the 20th pick, Pickett the 29th and Polley the 42nd.

There was plenty of defense to go around yesterday. Seven of the first 13 picks were defensive linemen, a run that traced its roots to the Ravens' defense-inspired Super Bowl championship.

The Browns started that run when they took Gerard Warren of Florida with the third pick. They previously talked about taking a linebacker, wide receiver or running back.

Butch Davis, Cleveland's new coach, called Warren a concession to the number of big backs in the AFC Central.

"The division we play in, there's tons of running backs," Davis said. "We've got to do a great job stopping the run."

The Cincinnati Bengals tapped defensive end Justin Smith with the fourth pick, and after the New England Patriots grabbed defensive tackle Richard Seymour with the sixth, the 49ers made their move.

General manager Bill Walsh had indicated a strong preference to move down from the ninth pick in the first round, but traded up instead to the Seattle Seahawks' seventh spot to get defensive end Andre Carter, son of former Denver Broncos standout tackle Rubin Carter.

"To me, he's light-years ahead of a lot of linemen playing in the NFL today," Walsh said. "I think he can come in and start, and be an outstanding player."

The 49ers were one of four teams that traded up yesterday to get the player they wanted. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded up seven spots to grab offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker, the New York Jets moved up three to get wide receiver Santana Moss, and the New York Giants jumped eight to get cornerback Will Allen.

That, of course, was one day after the Atlanta Falcons leaped from the fifth position to the No. 1 pick to get quarterback Michael Vick. The Falcons gave first- and third-round picks this year, a second in 2002, and kick returner Tim Dwight to the San Diego Chargers for the chance to take Vick.

Atlanta will explore ways to get the former Virginia Tech star on the field this season while they prepare him to replace veteran Chris Chandler. Falcons coach Dan Reeves, who brought quarterback John Elway into the league 18 years ago in Denver, indicated Vick's baptism may not take long.

"The fact he is so competitive will help him play and play quickly," Reeves said.

The Chargers used Atlanta's fifth choice to take TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson, but also drafted quarterback Drew Brees of Purdue with the first pick of the second round.

A run of six first-round wide receivers started with Michigan's David Terrell (to the Chicago Bears) and North Carolina State's Koren Robinson (to Seattle) at the eighth and ninth picks.

Two of the round's biggest surprises involved the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints. The Steelers, trading down to the Jets' 19th pick, chose defensive tackle Casey Hampton of Texas, a need pick. Hampton had second-round grades, but was swept into the first round on the wave of big tackles.

The Saints followed their board, though, when they took running back Deuce McAllister of Mississippi with the 23rd pick. McAllister had dropped from a prospective top 10 pick because of his injury-plagued senior season.

What made the pick more noteworthy was that two years ago, the Saints, under then-coach Mike Ditka, traded their entire draft for running back Ricky Williams. The addition of McAllister seems to indicate the Saints are growing impatient with Williams' distractions.

"It gives you some flexibility," coach Jim Haslett said of the pick, "and Ricky has been hurt the last couple of years."

Draft today

What: Rounds 4 through 7

When: 11 a.m.-approximately 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; ESPN2, 1 p.m.-conclusion

Time limit per team: 5 minutes

Ravens' picks today: Fourth round, 126th; fifth round, 161st; sixth round, 194th; seventh round, 231st

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