A year ago at this time, there were questions about Larry Johnson.
Would he be able to handle being Penn State’s featured tailback? Would his body hold up? Could he produce consistently in the Big Ten? Now, there are still questions about Johnson, but their tone has changed. Instead of asking where he will fit into Penn State’s backfield, these days, people ask where he will fit in the first round of the NFL draft. Instead of wondering if he can carry the load against Wisconsin and Michigan, the questions’ focuses are Tampa Bay or the Cowboys.
Such is the life of an instant star like Larry Johnson, who went from question mark to 2,000-yard rusher and Heisman finalist in the span of four months.
On Saturday at Madison Square Garden, Johnson will almost assuredly be one of the top 32 picks, making him the first Nittany Lion running back taken in the first round since Curtis Enis went No. 5 overall to the Chicago Bears in 1998.
The 2003 class of running backs is a poor one. With the injury to Miami’s Willis McGahee, undoubtedly the cream of this year’s crop, Johnson has assumed the throne at the top of the tailback board.
There is plenty of pre-draft speculation surrounding Johnson. Most experts place him in the latter stages of the first round, between picks 20 and 30. Two teams that are said to have heavy interest in Johnson are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans.
Each team is looking to replace a bruising yet aging back in Jerome Bettis and Eddie George. Johnson, with a 228-pound frame and ugly demeanor, would fit in well at both spots. The Steelers hold the 27th selection while the Titans own 28.
— Chris Rajotte, The America’s Intelligence Wire “New questions arise over draft status for Penn State’s Johnson”
”You are seeing more and more success stories with veteran quarterbacks who failed at one place and move on to another place, and maybe even another place, and then find success,” said Jerry Angelo, the Chicago Bears’ general manager, who recently signed the free-agent quarterback Kordell Stewart. ”Maybe when I started, if a player ever left a team scarred, that was probably it. Now, that’s not the case any more.”
The 2003 draft class of quarterbacks offers big arms and fresh legs, led by Southern California’s Carson Palmer and Marshall’s Byron Leftwich, who are expected to be the first two quarterbacks selected. California’s Kyle Boller and Florida’s Rex Grossman are also considered potential first-round selections, with Texas’ Chris Simms viewed by some as a possible late first- or early second-round pick.
Other prospects include Dave Ragone of Louisville, Jason Gesser of Washington State and Ken Dorsey of Miami.
Angelo said that the class was eight deep and that ”any one of them could have an opportunity to start in this league.”
For all of their wonderful moments in college, many of them could fade out soon.
— Damon Hack, The New York Times “Quarterback Quandary Complicates Draft Strategy”
Entering the 2013 season, only Palmer (Cardinals) and Grossman (Redskins) are signed to NFL teams.
Strength of early picks in question
Next weekend’s draft marks the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest drafts of all time. It produced, among others, three Hall of Fame quarterbacks — John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
By the sounds of it, there won’t be much nostalgia in 2003 for this edition. At the top, the Cincinnati Bengals first tried to trade out of their No. 1 position but didn’t find any takers. This past week, the Bengals showed they were not totally sold on any of the top prospects by opening contract negotiations with three players, quarterbacks Carson Palmer (Southern California) and Byron Leftwich (Marshall) and cornerback Terence Newman (Kansas State).
The player who was expected to challenge Newman to be the first defensive player taken, Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs, disappointed many with a sub-par personal workout. Miami [Fla.] running back Willis McGahee could have been a top-10 draft pick before tearing ligaments in his left knee.
— Ken Sugiura, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ”Pro Football: NFL Report”
Ask most any NFL scout and he’ll tell you that concern over Willis McGahee‘s health predates the January night when he ripped two left knee ligaments and damaged another while running around right end against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
That lingering concern dates to the previous season, when McGahee, then a redshirt freshman, suffered his first serious knee injury and was forced to sit out four games.
Throw in the fact that the University of Miami running back has clearly fast-tracked his comeback from the latter injury, and it’s easy to see why a lot of teams can’t figure out whether to spend a first-round pick on McGahee in the April 26-27 NFL draft.
“Clearly he’s a guy that, if he were healthy, you’d be asking me if we were going to take him at No. 3 [overall],” Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. “But we have to wait to see where he is [in his rehabilitation].
“It’s just very hard to project where he might go.”
— Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune “McGahee’s Health Among Biggest Story Lines”
McGahee was drafted 23rd overall by the Buffalo Bills. The only other running back selected in the first round was Larry Johnson with the Chiefs’ pick at 27. Johnson last played in 2011. McGahee sat out the 2003 season, but won the comeback player of the year in 2004. He currently plays for the Denver Broncos. He was injured during his 10th game in 2012 and missed the remainder of the year. It was the first year since 2002 that he played less 14 games.
It is time to expound on the Steve Mariucci whispers. Not the ones involving how the Detroit Lions stiff-armed the NFL rules by not interviewing at least one minority as a coaching candidate. They signed Mariucci after he was fired by the San Francisco 49ers.
We’re talking about the ones involving how Mariucci nearly joined the Falcons.
This is how those whispers go: Before Mariucci took his considerable gifts to the Lions in February, he got a call from Falcons owner Arthur Blank. In fact, they huddled in San Diego during this year’s Super Bowl week at the home of Falcons executive Bobby Beathard.
…What did Falcons coach Dan Reeves know about all of this?
“Arthur did tell me that he had a conversation with Steve, but I don’t know if it was at the Super Bowl or what,” said Reeves, owner of the most honest tongue in his profession. Between preparations for the upcoming NFL draft, he spoke freely from a couch in his spacious office.
— Terence Moore, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ”Mariucci Talks No Surprise to Reeves”
Spotlight On: Onterrio Smith, Oregon
On Dec. 31, after finishing his season in the Seattle Bowl against Wake Forest, Onterrio Smith planned to return for his senior season at Oregon. But on Jan. 4, after watching the Fiesta Bowl, Smith changed his mind.
It wasn’t Ohio State’s victory over Miami that caused him to reverse fields. It was the knee injury suffered by Miami’s spectacular sophomore running back Willis McGahee in the game. He was tackled on a swing pass and tore his left anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.
…Smith would have liked to become the first runner in school history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. But the McGahee injury weighed too heavily on his mind. “If I suffered an injury like that, it would be downhill from there,” Smith said. “It’d be my senior year, and I wouldn’t have any more years to make up for it.”
— Rick Gosselin, The Dallas Morning News “Sizing up the running backs for NFL Draft”
Smith was selected in fourth round of the 2003 draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He carried more than 100 times for more than 500 yards in each of his first two seasons. His carried derailed after he was suspended for the entire 2005 season for multiple violations of the NFL drug policy. He was released by the Vikings before the 2006 season and signed with the CFL Blue Bombers but was cut by the team a month later.
He has been unsigned since June 11, 2006.
The National Football League (NFL) recently unveiled its 2003 regular season schedule — a schedule created in conjunction with a new automated scheduling system developed by Sengen(R), a builder of business process efficiencies, using optimization technology from ILOG(R) (Nasdaq: ILOG; Euronext; SICOVAM: 006673), the world’s leading provider of enterprise-class software components.
This new scheduling system is capable of taking into account the numerous “constraints” that impact team play annually over the 256-game schedule and helps create schedules that are optimized to the League’s requirements. The use of this system also enables the League to create and consider a wider variety of outstanding scheduling options in a far more effective manner, prior to selecting the final version.
“The process of developing the regular season schedule had always been, to a large degree, a manual process, and an intensely complex one. This is due to the numerous rules and constraints that must be managed in order to satisfy our teams’ needs, complicated by the logistics of scheduling around stadium availabilities, while providing all of our fans, our network partners and their viewers with outstanding schedules,” said Dennis Lewin, NFL Senior Vice President, Broadcasting and Network Television, who is responsible for overseeing the League’s scheduling process. “Sengen understands our unique requirements and, using ILOG technology, has automated much of the process while factoring in specific guidelines, which we were able to test, continuously modify and refine during the process of creating the 2003 playing schedule.”
— PR Newswire ”National Football League Season Schedule Powered by Sengen and ILOG; Newly Developed System Improved NFL’s 2003 Season Scheduling Task”