Cardinals lineman Swann draws early rave reviews


HERNDON, Va. -- Buddy Ryan knows defensive linemen.

In his 25-year career as an NFL coach, he has guided such standouts as Alan Page, Reggie White and the late Jerome Brown.

In his second year as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, he said he's coaching another lineman in their class -- Eric Swann.

"He's a great player, he's one of the super greats. I've been around a lot of those guys, and he's as good or better than any of them," Ryan said. "Last year, he was the best defensive lineman in the league. He just wasn't voted to the Pro Bowl."

That oversight might be corrected this year.

Swann got a lot of attention when he collected four sacks in a preseason game on national television against the Chicago Bears.

He's likely to get more attention Sunday when the Cardinals open the season against the Washington Redskins.

He needs no introduction to the Redskins. Two years in a row at RFK Stadium, he has injured the Redskins' quarterback.

He knocked out Mark Rypien in the second game of the 1993 season with a knee injury.

Last year, Heath Shuler suffered a sprained ankle when Swann tackled him. Shuler, who missed the next four starts, finished the game but was intercepted five times.

This year, second-year guard Tre Johnson and veteran center John Gesek will have the main task of protecting Shuler.

"Tre's got a heck of a challenge right out of the gate," Redskins coach Norv Turner said. "He's probably the best defensive lineman in the league right now."

Johnson doesn't sound intimidated.

"You realize he's a good player and everything," he said. "What do you want me to do? Want me just to curl up and die and don't go out there because he's had a good preseason. He still has to come through me. You still have to see what it's like."

Swann is quite a success story. At the age of 25, he's already in his fifth season because he didn't go to college after failing to do well on the Scholastic Assessment Test.

He then opted for semipro ball before the Cardinals gambled and made him the sixth pick in the 1991 draft.

Since Tempe, Ariz., will play host to the Super Bowl this year, Swann said the Cardinals' goal is to be the home team. He's more blase about making the Pro Bowl.

"Once you make the Pro Bowl, then what? You have to make the MVP, then what? You have to make the Hall of Fame, then what? You can go on and on and on," he said. "All I can do is go out and play the best I can play."

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