Maryland's Merriman in select company

Defender may go in top 10, is set to become Terps' 1st first-rounder since 1997

NFL Draft

April 22, 2005|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN STAFF

During his junior season last fall, Maryland defensive end Shawne Merriman spent most of his football afternoons deep in opposing backfields.

Tomorrow, he'll be getting deep inside an NFL team's pockets.

Merriman, quick and athletic enough to play linebacker although he has bulked up to more than 270 pounds, has been called a possible top-10 pick in the NFL draft that begins tomorrow at noon. As a first-round selection, he would be the first Terrapin to earn that distinction since defensive back Chad Scott was chosen with the 24th pick overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1997.

Beyond Merriman, a handful of other players with local ties could be scooped up in the draft's later rounds, including Maryland cornerback Domonique Foxworth (Western Tech) and Terps guard C.J. Brooks; Virginia Tech safety Vincent Fuller (Woodlawn) and Navy fullback Kyle Eckel.

Merriman, however, is the one who holds a genuine lottery ticket. For instance, last year's 10th choice overall, Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson, reportedly received a $4 million signing bonus.

"There's a lot of money involved, especially when you're talking about this high in the draft," Merriman said. "Teams are making a big investment, but I think that I've proved that I'm worth it with what I've accomplished."

Playing as a defensive end/rush linebacker, Merriman had a penchant for creating havoc in 2004 with 8 1/2 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles.

"He has a motor that just won't quit," said Maryland defensive coordinator Gary Blackney. "When the ball goes in the other direction, some players are prima donnas and give up. Shawne keeps chasing, and he arrives mean."

In most mock drafts, offensive skill players are dominating the stratosphere slots, but Merriman has been predicted to be selected as high as No. 7, a pick held by the Minnesota Vikings.

Hard to ignore is that Dallas holds the No. 11 pick, and coach Bill Parcells believes a team can never have enough premium linebackers. Merriman said he visited with the Cowboys and talked with Parcells a week ago.

"I wouldn't be discouraged if I went No. 11, although hopefully it would be higher than that," the Upper Marlboro resident said. "But I'd be happy to play for Dallas."

Foxworth has been rising as a draft prospect since he ran a blistering 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine workouts in February.

The 5-foot-11, 184-pound cornerback has had to work to put some beef on his frame, but size is now less of a factor in pro pass defenses since rules changes that discourage manhandling receivers. The shift favors corners who can chase a wide-out shoulder-to-shoulder.

"I'm definitely not a fan of the rule change because it makes my job harder," Foxworth said. "But at the same time, it puts a premium on more athletic and smaller corners rather than big, safety-like corners."

Foxworth also gets high grades for attitude and intelligence.

"He'll do whatever you ask him to do," Blackney said. "That can be rare among today's pro athlete."

Foxworth, his family and friends will sweat out the draft at his Randallstown home. While predictions have varied on where he'll be selected, Foxworth said he's confident he'll be taken on the draft's first day, meaning by the end of the third round.

Likely to be drafted on the second day is Brooks, who at 6-5, 311 helped anchor the left side of Maryland's offensive line. Brooks' senior season was handicapped by a series of maladies, including a cyst on his leg that held back his training last summer and then a stinger and concussion early in the season.

Navy's Eckel rushed for 1,147 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He's smart - an economics major - and at 5-11, 240, he packs the kind of punch the pros like to see in a lead blocker. His military commitment remains a factor, though. Current policy for military academy athletes, such as Eckel, is to serve two years on active duty, followed by six years in the reserves.

Virginia Tech's Fuller, a quarterback when he played at Woodlawn, found his niche at safety as a college senior. He had 51 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble last year, and has run the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds.

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