Like a hurricane, Miami storms into NFL

Ruler of first round again is loaded

its talent-laden practices a `mini-combine'

Pro Football

April 21, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Death, taxes and Miami's annual draft party?

Few things in the NFL draft - or life - are as certain as the University of Miami's stunning first-round success in the past decade.

There have been 13 Hurricanes selected in the first round of the past three college drafts, 21 picked over the past nine.

The list of first-round picks during that period reads like a Pro Bowl who's who. It includes Warren Sapp in 1995, Ray Lewis in 1996, Edgerrin James in 1999, Dan Morgan and Santana Moss in 2001, Jeremy Shockey and Ed Reed in 2002, and Andre Johnson a year ago.

No wonder Ravens college scouting director Eric DeCosta calls Miami's pro-day workouts "a mini-combine," after the NFL's scouting extravaganza.

When Vernon Carey was asked at the league combine who was the best defensive lineman he faced, the Hurricanes senior guard singled out teammate Vince Wilfork.

"I mean, that has always been the thing at the University of Miami," Carey said. "The practices are tougher than the games. When I was the right tackle my junior year, the toughest guy I faced was right in front of me, Jerome McDougle, the defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles now.

"At Miami, we try to make practice harder than the game so when you get to the game, it's easy."

Where else could you find a matchup as tantalizing as tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. against free safety Sean Taylor? What was a daily tete-a-tete in Coral Gables may be a seasonal treat in the NFL.

"We get physical," Taylor said. "We go at it. I think he's the best tight end and he thinks I'm the best safety. That's the way it is. We practice against each other just like that. When we walk off the field, we're buddies."

Taylor likely will be the first defensive player chosen in Saturday's first round, no later than the sixth pick. Winslow, who had 117 catches the past two seasons, might not last to the sixth pick. The highest a tight end was ever drafted was in 1957, when the Green Bay Packers took Ron Kramer with the fourth pick overall.

At least five Hurricanes are expected to be first-round selections this year. Wilfork probably will be the second defensive lineman picked. Linebackers Jonathan Vilma (inside) and D.J. Williams (outside) are rated as the best at their positions.

Then there's Carey, who could sneak into the bottom of the first round. Six first-rounders by one team would set a record (the Hurricanes had five in 2002).

Miami has had at least one first-round pick in each of the past nine drafts.

That is the product of a feeder system that restocks itself. Vernon Hargreaves, the team's linebackers coach since 1998, has watched the system churn out stars at a number of positions, including his own.

"The attitude here, in terms of what the expectations are, is being the best," he said. "It goes back to the late '80s, all those good teams. The tradition has been passed down.

"Clinton Portis [of the Washington Redskins] has been a great player in the NFL, but he wasn't highly recruited. Ed Reed [of the Ravens] wasn't a highly recruited guy. But those guys really worked, put out the effort and had a burning desire to succeed."

Taylor and Winslow, meanwhile, were two of the most sought-after recruits when they chose Miami. If they uphold the tradition, they'll return to campus in the future to help tutor the next generation.

"A lot of guys come back, a lot of guys try to give us a wakeup call for what the NFL is going to be like," said Vilma, who, at 233 pounds, is an undersized middle linebacker like Lewis was before joining the Ravens in 1996.

With Lewis and Reed on his roster, Ravens coach Brian Billick can appreciate that phenomenon as well as anyone.

"I think the biggest thing is they have developed a culture of their former players," Billick said. "Not to take away from the coaches, but I don't think there's another school in the country where former NFL players nurture, interact and help mentor the new players coming into the league. There's something special about that."

With five national titles and 36 first-round picks since 1984, the Hurricanes are the closest thing to a sure bet when it comes to the NFL draft.

"I think the program's visibility is such they're able to recruit the best players," DeCosta said. "When they get there, those young players feed off the older players.

"There haven't been many busts at the University of Miami. When we spend time there, they all act the same way, have the same profile and a similar personality. They carry themselves with a lot of confidence. They always believe they're going to win the game."

Miami's first-round projections

The most familiar presence in the first round of the NFL draft, the Miami Hurricanes project five more first-round picks on Saturday with an outside chance at six.


Player Pos. Class Ht., Wt. range Skinny

Kellen Winslow Jr. TE Jr. 6-4, 250 3-6 Prodigious receiver with an attitude

Sean Taylor FS Jr. 6-2, 230 3-6 Skills of a corner, but hits like Ronnie Lott

Vince Wilfork DT Jr. 6-1, 323 12-15 Comparisons are to Warren Sapp

Jonathan Vilma MLB Sr. 6-0, 233 15-21 Undersized, may move to weak side in NFL

D.J. Williams OLB Sr. 6-0, 250 15-21 Ability to make big plays all over field

Vernon Carey G Sr. 6-4, 335 33-40 Has experience at guard and tackle

First-round champs

Miami has had 13 first-round picks in the past three drafts, more than twice the number of the school with the second most. Here are the leaders the past three years.

School First-round picks

Miami 13

Georgia 5

Florida 4

Texas 4

Arizona State 4

Penn State 4

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