Job sharing, possible deals, youth a few of the subplots

The Baltimore Sun

If the daily whirling of the NFL's world is the ultimate reality TV show, as Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian has suggested, then the draft is pro football's version of American Idol. Some young star winds up as No. 1 and everyone else who follows is elated or deflated, depending on their expectations going in.

But once that question is answered in the first few minutes of the draft - or even before as was the case last year when the Houston Texans signed North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams on the eve of the big day - there's still a whole slew of story lines that weave through the weekend.

Here are a few:

Job sharing: It used to be that the powerhouse running backs coming out of college envisioned careers as so-called "feature backs," the types of ball carriers whose number was called 20 to 30 times a game.

However, with the NFL trending to rotations in the backfield, as both Super Bowl teams did last season, college players don't just accept such a role but seem to embrace it.

"I think it's better on the tailback as opposed to years ago where you had guys who came in right away and played but they wouldn't really last too long," Penn State running back Tony Hunt said at February's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "I think it's a better system and I think it'll work out for the better for the running back and the teams."

Florida State running back Lorenzo Booker echoed Hunt.

"I've got an extensive background of sharing the ball," Booker said. "Again, a lot of guys might look at it as a bad thing, but it can only help. It keeps the guys fresh and gives you a one-two punch. ... When you have a guy like the New Orleans' Saints' Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, as a defensive coordinator, you're pulling your hair out."

Ravens coach Brian Billick said the move toward backfield rotations in the NFL is a function of personnel.

"A few years ago, we had a void at the quarterback position after [Dan] Marino, [Steve] Young and [John] Elway retired," Billick said. "You knew that void would be filled, and it is today. I think there is a void at running back right now. You could ask yourself to name the top five running backs in the league right now. [The San Diego Chargers'] LaDainian Tomlinson, and you may have a second, but then you're going to pause."

While saying he thought the Ravens' newest running back, Willis McGahee, was capable of rushing 300 to 350 times a season, Billick said that as long as the dearth of truly outstanding running backs continues, backfield rotations will continue.

Brother, can you spare a dime: The Ravens' draft brain trust, headed by general manager Ozzie Newsome and director of college scouting Eric DeCosta, came up with a steal a year ago in fifth-round safety Dawan Landry, who muscled his way into the starting lineup.

In this year's draft, Dawan's brother, LaRon, also a safety, is expected to be a top 10 selection overall, which means he'll be making millions more than his big brother.

LaRon Landry is faster than his brother and is advertised as a big hitter, but for all that cash he's sure to get, he'll be hard-pressed to match Dawan's rookie productivity of five interceptions, including one returned 101 yards for a touchdown.

Wise beyond his years: Amobi Okoye, a 19-year-old defensive tackle from Louisville, will become the youngest player in the NFL when his name is called during the first round, but few doubt his maturity to handle the adult world he's about to enter.

Even his reported admission to NFL teams during the scouting combine that he used marijuana a few years ago was seen not as a character flaw but as refreshingly honest.

A native of Nigeria, Okoye tested into the ninth grade when he was 12 and graduated from Louisville in 3 1/2 years with a degree in psychology.

"I never really felt younger than everybody else," Okoye said at the scouting combine. "I always felt I was in the right grade, right place. It's always how I carry myself, a credit to my parents, I guess, and my family. They did a real good job bringing me up. Hopefully, I can do just as good a job as they've done."

Swap meet: Unlike last year when having the No. 2 pick meant that New Orleans was sure to get a great player - it turned out to be Bush - having the second spot is a lot trickier this time around. After LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell (the Oakland Raiders have the No. 1 selection), there's no consensus regarding how the next four or five picks should go.

And who's on the hot seat but the Detroit Lions and their much-criticized president, Matt Millen, whose drafts have generally ended in smoldering ruins. So what's the smart move for the most unpopular guy in Detroit?

Trade, trade, trade.

There's no one player at that position that helps the Lions - or so the smart money says - so trading down for roster depth is probably the thing to do.

The Washington Redskins are another trade candidate. Historically, the Redskins have treated high draft picks as if you could get a rash from them. But this year it makes more sense than usual for Washington to get rid of its No. 6 overall for more bodies deeper in the draft. After their first-round pick, the Redskins don't have another until No. 143, in the fifth round.

So who's likely to trade up. Well, there was some chatter, perhaps idle, that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would like to move up from No. 4 for wide receiver Calvin Johnson ("Paging Mr. Millen"). Or someone who lusts after Brady Quinn may make a bid to scoot higher and snatch the Notre Dame quarterback.

Heisman hype: Getting the Heisman Trophy can be a little like winning an Oscar: It's not always the key to a long and successful career.

Bush won the Heisman last year and Matt Leinart the year before that, and those two did all right. But in 2003, it was Oklahoma quarterback Jason White, whose knee injury history never allowed him a decent shot at an NFL career.

This year, the Heisman standard-bearer is Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, whose NFL credentials have been questioned because of his height. He's 6 feet, and most of the top-rated passers are 6-3 and taller.

"The height thing, I can't do anything about it," Smith said at the combine. "Whether I was 6-5, I would still be scrutinized for something. It's not going to end."

Smith had one of the best lines of the combine when, after repeatedly being asked about his height and its possible disadvantages, he said: "You make it seem like being 6 feet is a disease or something."

Some information for this article came from transcribed NFL scouting combine news conferences.

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