- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2000

ATLANTA During his 27 NFL seasons, St. Louis Rams offensive line coach Jim Hanifan has worked with such great left tackles as multiple Pro Bowl picks Jim Lachey, Mike Kenn and Russ Washington. But Hanifan says his latest protege might just turn out to be the best.

Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace is a 6-foot-7, 320-pound man mountain who hits like a truck and moves like a sports car.

"I believe that a man that big can move that quickly only because I see it every day," Rams center Mike Gruttadauria said.

Said Hanifan: "The sky's the limit for Orlando. The only thing that's going to hold Orlando back will be Orlando, and that shouldn't happen. Orlando had dominated the college game [at Ohio State] and had deservingly received untold amount of plaudits. That can be tough to handle, psychologically, for a kid who's 20 or 21 years old. But Orlando isn't arrogant and full of himself. He takes things in stride. Orlando has the consummate package: power, speed, quickness, smarts. He could be better than any left tackle I've ever coached."

As Hanifan noted, these kind of compliments are nothing new to Pace. He was named an All-American at Sandusky (Ohio) High School on offense and defense. He won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top college offensive lineman as a sophomore and repeated as a junior, when he also won the Outland Trophy as the top lineman on either side of the ball. And when Pace who didn't allow a sack during his last two seasons with the Buckeyes left school a year early, the Rams traded up six spots in the 1997 draft to make him the top pick.

"There was a lot of pressure being the No. 1 overall pick," said Pace, a beach-loving world traveler who's as soft spoken off the field as he is ferocious on it. "They expect so much out of you, but I don't think they expect any more than I expect out of myself. I watched [Pro Bowl tackles] Willie Roaf [of New Orleans] and Tony Boselli [of Jacksonville] when I was in college, but I never tried to pattern myself after certain guys. I wanted to bring my own style. My goal is to be the best offensive lineman in the league."

Pace, just 21 when he made his NFL debut, is nearing that level at 24. In the Rams' 49-37 divisional playoff victory over the Vikings, Pace held Minnesota's eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end, Chris Doleman, without a sack or a tackle. Pace's teammates call him "Pancake Man" for the way he flattens foes. Tennessee right end Kenny Holmes missed the Titans' 24-21 victory over the Rams on Oct. 31 with a sprained ankle. But Holmes knows what he's getting into in Super Bowl XXXIV on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

"Playing against the tackles in the AFC Central like Boselli, [Baltimore's] Jonathan Ogden and [Cincinnati's] Willie Anderson is good preparation for facing Orlando Pace," Holmes said. "He reminds me of Boselli, a big guy with a tight end's feet."

After missing all of his rookie training camp in a contract dispute, Pace broke into the lineup in Week 5 and has been a fixture since. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in 1998 despite the Rams' 4-12 record and was voted a starter this season.

"In college, a big guy blessed with all that power, speed and quickness could dominate a lesser man," Hanifan said. "You can't do that at this level unless you use good technique. Orlando had to realize it's a game of technique. He had to go through that transition. And he had a lot of baby fat. He went from 345 pounds to 320. Now he looks like an NBA power forward with 18-inch guns on him."

Pace said he still has to "fine-tune my game and become a more mature player. You can always get stronger, faster and quicker." But don't tell that to Rams backup defensive right end Lionel Barnes, who has spent his rookie year battling Pace every day in practice.

"Going against Orlando every day is a blessing for me," said Barnes, who gives up three inches and 56 pounds to Pace. "I have my moments against him. That gives me a lot of confidence that I can play in this league. He's big. He's strong. He's intelligent. And his technique is superb. Offensive tackles don't come any more athletic than Orlando."

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