- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

INDIANAPOLIS Middle linebacker is a hot position in the NFL, thanks to Ray Lewis' dominating performance last season for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

By winning defensive MVP of the regular season and MVP of the Super Bowl, Lewis embodied the position at its pinnacle and, in the process, likely re-established the University of Miami as "Linebacker U." Furthering that argument and capitalizing on Lewis' success is Miami senior Dan Morgan, the consensus top middle linebacker in April's draft.

What team wouldn't want a sideline-to-sideline star like Lewis, one with enough speed to be considered for an outside position and a history of playing through exhaustion and pain? Probably none. And that's something Morgan is picking up on here at the NFL Combine.

"You can tell they're interested in you," Morgan said yesterday. "The Ravens proved [it] this year. If you've got a defense that dominates and a dominating linebacker that chases down players, that's a big plus."

Washington Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer spoke to Morgan this weekend, but he is less than certain to select a middle linebacker with his top pick, 15th overall. Other positions need to be addressed wide receiver and guard, particularly and Schottenheimer is interested in re-signing unrestricted free agent Derek Smith.

But the Redskins might not have the salary-cap room to sign Smith until the June 1 free-agency period, when they are expected to cut at least one high-priced veteran. By then, Smith, a four-year starter who has spent the past two seasons in the middle, might find a deal elsewhere. The initial signing period starts Friday.

Washington also might use its top pick on a defensive tackle or a safety because Dan Wilkinson and Mark Carrier are top candidates for post-June 1 releases. The most discussed draft scenario has the Redskins picking a receiver first, but a deep pool of wideouts likely would yield an attractive player in the second round.

The second-round strategy also might apply to middle linebackers, with the position providing solid though not necessarily first-round prospects in Vanderbilt's Jamie Winborn, Georgia's Kendrell Bell and Oklahoma's Torrance Marshall.

But Morgan clearly is the standout. His size (measured at 6-foot-2, 241 pounds here) and speed (he hopes to run below 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash in Thursday's individual workout at Miami) have teams thinking of Lewis-type potential and a reprise of Brian Urlacher's rookie-of-the-year, Pro Bowl effort last season for the Chicago Bears.

The Redskins' only problem might be that Morgan could be gone by the 15th pick. If he's available, they'll have to consider selecting the Hurricanes' defensive lynchpin, who last year won the Butkus, Nagurski and Bednarik awards.

"We call him 'Super Dan.' He's like the Energizer Bunny," Miami safety Al Blades said here. "He keeps going and going. We watch tape of him, and he's flattening offensive linemen. Fullbacks don't want to block him. He's instinctive. He's a great player."

Morgan, 22, played on the weak side his first three seasons at Miami before increasing his weight about 10 pounds (to 238-245 range) and moving to the middle this year. He expressed no preference for either position, having decided to let his prospective team settle the issue.

"Different teams like me at different spots," Morgan said. "Some like me in the middle because of what I did this year, but others like me on the outside because of my athletic ability. I like both positions. I feel good at both."

Wherever Morgan ends up, he'll continue a lifelong practice of mapping out goals for each season. He started writing such aspirations in a notebook during Pee Wee ball when the entries included "score 40 touchdowns this season" and he maintains the same notebook.

Morgan already has started writing goals for his rookie year in the NFL, but he wouldn't reveal them yesterday. All he would say was that the comparisons to Lewis, which are helping inflate his draft stock, have merit.

"[We] both just have great speed in chasing down ballcarriers," Morgan said. "If I played with Ray Lewis, we'd be fighting for every tackle. We'd have bets going."

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