Running to success in the Class of 2000

ON THE NFL

October 21, 2001|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

The Ravens wanted a running back who would hold his own with the elite runners in the AFC Central and found him with the fifth pick in the 2000 draft. Jamal Lewis' contribution in the team's Super Bowl season was huge.

The New York Giants wanted a running back to fit their smash-mouth philosophy and took Ron Dayne with the 11th pick.

The Seattle Seahawks wanted a running back to plug into coach Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense and nabbed Shaun Alexander with the 19th pick in the same draft.

Even in absentia, as he rehabilitates his surgically repaired left knee, Lewis remains the big catch in the Class of 2000 running backs. But the other four first-round picks from a year ago all have had their moments, and Dayne and Alexander appear to have a bright future.

The two other first-rounders have had only varying degrees of success. Thomas Jones, selected seventh overall by Arizona, hasn't been able to hold on to the Cardinals' starting job, but nonetheless has more receptions (39) than the other four backs. Trung Canidate, the last pick of the round by St. Louis, has carried only 17 times in his two seasons with the Rams and isn't a conventional running back because of his slight frame. But his speed will allow him to impersonate injured MVP Marshall Faulk today when the Rams face the New York Jets.

"It's a good group," said Ravens vice president of football operations Ozzie Newsome. "Exceptional? They have to play to that level. That's the Class of '83 quarterbacks."

Interestingly, it's the fourth runner taken - Alexander - who's making the biggest waves with Lewis sidelined. Since replacing injured Ricky Watters, Alexander has rushed for 318 yards with four touchdowns the past two weeks. Alabama's all-time rushing leader has averaged 5 yards a carry in those games, proving that looks can be deceiving.

"It doesn't always look like he's trying hard," said Scot McCloughan, the Seahawks' director of college scouting. "You never see that [explosion] in practice with Shaun. It looks likes he's going through the motions. ... And then he goes 60 yards against Denver."

Alexander broke a 60-yard touchdown run in Seattle's 34-21 win over Denver last week, the longest run by any of the five backs so far. His 176-yard game against Jacksonville two weeks ago is the highest in the league this season.

"I'm sure there are some doubters with Shaun," McCloughan said. "[But] he fits our system really well. The guy's a football player. I think he can be a really good pro. I think he can get you where you want to go. He's got a sneaky burst, quick feet and great vision."

Alexander and Dayne each have two 100-yard rushing games (Lewis had seven, including playoffs, a year ago). Dayne, a disappointment as a rookie, has slimmed down and shaped up for the Giants. In the absence of injured Tiki Barber, he has given the Giants what they wanted most - a back who could pound for the tough yards.

Cut off at the pass

Picked off nine times this season, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning says he won't change his approach against New England today, and the Colts won't scrap their modified no-huddle offense.

"I'm not going to be any less aggressive," he said. "I'll throw five [interceptions] if I have to. I'm going to try to keep scoring points. You have to keep throwing the ball."

Four of the nine interceptions this season have been returned for touchdowns. In 52 regular-season starts for the Colts, Manning has had nine interceptions returned for scores.

Two interceptions Manning threw in a 23-18 loss to Oakland last week came when his receiver cut off the route.

McNair off and running

An 0-3 start took the caution out of the Tennessee Titans last week. The team had tried to keep mobile quarterback Steve McNair from running this season to protect his ailing right shoulder. But in a 31-28 overtime win against Tampa Bay, McNair rushed for 54 yards, his highest total in a game since Super Bowl XXXIV.

McNair missed one game this season after being driven into the ground in the opener against Miami. Another hit on the shoulder like that could send him to the sideline for significant time.

"I can't worry about it," he said. "I'm just going to play and hope for the best. We need to do the things we need to do to get on the winning track."

Said coach Jeff Fisher: "You can't go in a meeting and say, `Steve, you need to pull it down and run and make plays.' You have to play the position and just play the game. It was a courageous effort on his behalf. His numbers weren't indicative of the effort he gave. ... But if he's on the field, we're going to use him to the best of our advantage."

Romo won't respond

Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski has his share of enemies as one of the league's most disliked players, and over the years, he has turned in some of his hate mail to league security. But right now, in the middle of the anthrax scare, he says he won't touch the letters he receives.

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