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Browns focus on Arrington, Brown with No. 1 pick










Chris Mortensen
Thursday, March 30
Call it the Peter principle

This is a trap. Most personnel men can see it and smell it, yet they fall for it.

They spent all last year watching college spring tapes, then they studied the game tapes from the fall, bowl games and all-star games. They evaluated the game's greatest college players when they were in shoulder pads and helmets, and now they try to get really smart.

Peter Warrick
Peter Warrick's 40 times may be questioned, but no one doubts his talent.
"Yeah, now the process is not how they play, but how the numbers match up," said Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf in a sarcastic tone. "We establish value in a player on the fact that his vertical jump doesn't measure up, or whether his 40-time is off a half-tenth of a second. It's idiotic, but you still get caught up in it."

Peter Warrick has been caught in this trap. In his 40-yard sprint last week, he ran anywhere from 4.54 to 4.61 seconds, depending on which scout checked in. He privately complained of the conditions because he was wearing track shoes for the scheduled outdoor run. Poor weather moved the workout indoors on a gym floor, and Warrick didn't deliver an impressive run.

Warrick ran for the Washington Redskins on Tuesday and reportedly turned in a 4.48-second 40. If Warrick decides to cancel another workout scheduled Friday for league scouts, his Tuesday run will be met with cynicism. Are the Redskins, who have shown lukewarm interest in Warrick, trying to raise his stock again in order to get Cleveland's attention with the first pick in the April 15-16 draft?

Under this scenario, the Redskins' motive is to cool the Browns' heels on the men of Penn State -- defensive end Courtney Brown and linebacker LaVar Arrington.

If that's the case, the Redskins wasted their time.

It's Arrington or Brown at No. 1
The Browns have definitely zeroed in on Arrington or Brown as their No. 1 choice. In fact, Cleveland has assigned Arrington a slightly higher grade than Brown (8.5 to 8.4), which really makes the Redskins uncomfortable because of their desire for Arrington.

It's not that the Browns don't regard Warrick as an elite player.

"We just watched film on him again this week, and he's an awesome player," Browns GM Dwight Clark said. "He's Barry Sanders at wide receiver."

But this draft is deep with receivers. It is not so deep with franchise defensive ends and linebackers, such as Brown and Arrington. The Browns will go with the impact defensive player and find a bookend receiver for Kevin Johnson at the top of the second round.

Warrick figures to fall to the No. 4 slot, where the Cincinnati Bengals select. The Bengals are unlikely to trade out of the spot because they envision Warrick as a terrific complement for last year's No. 1 pick, quarterback Akili Smith. If Warrick doesn't become a star, it will surprise those who have evaluated him.

"All I know is that he plays fast," Redskins coach Norv Turner said. "All you have to do his watch the game tapes. There's plenty to watch."

That is precisely the point. Warrick dominated the college game as a receiver and returner. He has been the best offensive player on the best team in the nation. He showed up big in big games.

"This is a four-year player who was a marked man for three of those four years," Wolf said. "He chewed up everyone that came out of the conference, and anybody else he played."

So while we approach this draft, let's leave it at this: It is no shame to be the fourth player chosen by an NFL club. It is no shame to run 4.5 seconds in the 40, or even 4.6, if you're a receiver.

Let me throw four names at you: Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Michael Irvin and Keyshawn Johnson. Those receivers ran their 40 between 4.55 and 4.7. There's a rumor that they can play the game pretty well, just as Warrick has done at Florida State.

Samuels is solid
Despite the Redskins' interest in Warrick this week, they appear to be locked in on Arrington or Brown and Alabama left tackle Chris Samuels as their preferred choices.

Why Samuels? The 320-pounder solidified his elite status Tuesday with what has been described as a "terrific workout," including a 40 time between 4.9 and 5.0 seconds. Several coaches and scouts have told me that he is not quite as polished as Tony Boselli was coming out of college, but that he has more physical tools and better potential than Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden. It's tough to pass on that kind of impact player at left tackle.

Johnson deal still possible
When Jets coach Al Groh released a statement Tuesday saying they are not entertaining offers for Keyshawn Johnson "at this time," it seemed to leave the door open for a pre-draft trade. One personnel man picking in the top 10 said, "That's our impression, anyway."

Johnson has clearly drawn the line in the sand. He spoke with Groh and ex-coach Bill Parcells last week and informed them he is unlikely to report this year without a new contract. The Jets also understand that Johnson has decided to conduct his offseason workouts in Los Angeles, rather than New York.

However, Johnson has never given the Jets a price tag, despite recent reports that he's seeking a $10 million-per-year average with a $15 million signing bonus. Certainly, the signing bonus is in the range of an impact player who carries marquee value such as Johnson, and chances are we're nearing an era where the game's elite players will make $10 million annually.

Groh hinted strongly that the Jets won't renegotiate Johnson's contract with two years remaining on the six-year contract. There's no question Groh is concerned about the team's salary-cap structure and wants to stay firm on team policy that currently won't renegotiate until a player has one year left on a contract.

Jets owner Woody Johnson is no doubt concerned that his first legacy could show him losing Parcells and Bill Belichick, raising ticket prices, asking for a new stadium and then trading his star player in Johnson.

Yet, Johnson may still be on the block, and you can bet the Baltimore Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be paying attention as the draft nears.

A replay of replay?
There's a lot of speculation that instant replay is in for another battle when the league owners meet next week in Palm Beach, Fla. However, chances are it will barely survive on a close vote that will retain the system for one year.

Even the Buccaneers, who endured more problems with replay than any team in 1999, are likely to cast a yes vote. Bucs coach Tony Dungy has noted that it makes no sense to invest $10 million in a system and throw it away, only to know that it certainly will be kick-started again with the next controversy.

Dungy did get one concession at the recent competition committee sessions. The rule constituting a reception will be clarified, so that the league's officials understand that the ball can touch the ground and still be a catch if the receiver has clearly secured possession before he falls to the turf. Referee Bill Carrollo got little support for overturning Bert Emanuel's catch late in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay's NFC championship defeat to the St. Louis Rams.

Despite various propaganda spewed by savvy league officials at the time of the controversy, the rulebook simply states that the ground cannot assist a receiver in making a catch. Emanuel's catch was not assisted by the ground.

Not everyone who voted for replay a year ago will embrace it this time around. Colts president Bill Polian is still sore over the Dan Marino play in which Marino arguably fumbled when officials ruled he had attempted a feeble pass, costing the Colts their first game with Miami.

As for the Buffalo Bills, nobody is really expecting them to support replay. If nothing else, the Bills appear set to file a negative vote as a protest over its contention that the Tennessee Titans advanced to the Super Bowl because of a bogus forward lateral on the infamous kick return in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

Mort shorts

  • Most of Steve Young's friends returned from the 49ers quarterback wedding in Hawaii convinced that he will retire as soon as he returns from a six-week, around-the-world honeymoon trip. One associate does give Young some wiggle room to change his mind, especially if he could persuade the 49ers to give him a shot to play for the Denver Broncos.

  • Marshall QB Chad Pennington is a real possibility as the Denver Broncos' 10th pick. That means Brian Griese has not completely sold coach Mike Shanahan that he's a franchise quarterback. Other teams showing interest in Pennington include the Steelers, 49ers and Seahawks.

  • One GM identifies eight can't-miss players in the draft: Penn State's Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington, FSU's Peter Warrick, Alabama OT Chris Samuels, Virginia RB Thomas Jones, New Mexico LB Brian Urlacher, FSU DT Corey Simon and Tennessee RB Jamal Lewis.

  • Michigan State WR Plaxico Burress is getting very mixed reviews, despite the obvious matchup problems he creates with his 6-foot-53/4 height. His 4.57 time in the 40 was actually faster than scouts anticipated, but he had enough drops in college, along with attitude problems, that likely will cause him to slip some. You can pretty much rule out the Ravens taking Burress with the fifth pick; RB Thomas Jones is a real consideration there if they don't make a trade.

  • Florida WR Travis Taylor's 4.43 clocking in the 40, combined with his size (almost 6-1, 200) and capable hands, makes him a near certain choice to go between the 10th and 20th picks.

  • The Green Bay Packers have persuaded Ross Verba to move from left tackle to left guard, swapping with Mike Wahle, whose strength is pass blocking. That's a notable change for Verba because he surely comprehends that left tackles have more dollar value in the NFL. But there seems to be little dispute that the move will make the Packers stronger along the front.

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