- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

The Washington Redskins love the quality of defensive tackles in this weekend's NFL Draft. Too bad every other NFL club does, too.

The Redskins' first selection, 18th overall, is probably too low for them to select one of the four interior line players projected as impact starters Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth and John Henderson, North Carolina's Ryan Sims and Wisconsin's Wendell Bryant.

All four are expected to go among the top 14 picks, meaning the Redskins likely would have to trade up to fill the vacancy created when right-side starter Kenard Lang signed with the Cleveland Browns last month. There are several other defensive tackles who might go in the first round, but opinions about their potential vary greatly.

Redskins vice president of football operations Joe Mendes revealed little about individual prospects during a news conference yesterday. But of the defensive tackles in general, he said, "There's early depth at that position."

The tight-lipped executive also didn't mind referring to defensive line as this draft's premier position. However, he wouldn't comment on whether the players rated outside the top four Notre Dame's Anthony Weaver, Washington's Larry Tripplett and Alabama-Birmingham's Eddie Freeman are worthy of the Redskins' top pick.

Since Lang's departure, Washington has signed Renaldo Wynn, a standout defensive end and tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars in recent seasons. But Wynn appears likely to displace Marco Coleman at left end. Coleman, in turn, would be asked to renegotiate his contract and compete in a rotation with Wynn and Bruce Smith or face getting released after June1.

That leaves defensive tackle as one of the Redskins' two clear starting vacancies, along with guard. A starting-quality guard certainly could be found at No.18 but might not be worth the selection. Whereas defensive tackle is considered a premium position in the draft, guard is one that teams feel more comfortable filling with a middlle-round pick.

Mendes understands the league's conventional wisdoms, particularly with regard to defensive line prospects, but he also is wary of reaching for a player. His main focus, oft-stated, is to maximize the value of each of Washington's picks.

"I think if you go back and look at the mistakes made in the draft, there have been a lot of mistakes made with defensive linemen, because people were hoping to I don't necessarily want to say 'manufacture' [a player] but there is a great need for defensive linemen and for big people," Mendes said.

At best, the Redskins' choices among the top four interior linemen would be limited if they don't trade up. Haynesworth and Sims almost certainly will be gone, while Henderson or Bryant would remain only if one unexpectedly slips.

Haynesworth's stock rests in his potential and large and athletic frame (6-foot-5, 320 pounds). The junior entry's concern is consistency and maturity. Sims (6-4, 311) is considered by many to be the premier defensive tackle after solid all-star games and postseason workouts. He is quick and powerful and unlike North Carolina teammate Julius Peppers, an end projected to go second or third overall he is known to play hard every down.

Henderson's stock fell during an injury-plagued senior year. The enormous (6-7, 306) player racked up 12 sacks en route to the 2000 Outland Trophy but battled a high ankle sprain last season. Some teams also are concerned about his back, and health is a key reason he might fall to Washington.

Bryant (6-4, 308) is a lighter, quicker player who projects as an NFL pass-rusher who could perhaps play some downs at end. He might be available at No.18 because of his frame; if some teams believe he can't thrive at tackle in their system, they might pass on him.

As far as the Redskins' system goes, it remains a bit unclear what type of defensive tackle is being sought by new coordinator Marvin Lewis. He employed massive, gap-consuming tackles on his outstanding Baltimore Ravens defenses, but he said it was the athleticism of those players, Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, that made them so special.

"Athletic defensive guys all across the line. That's what you want," Lewis said. "[Adams and Siragusa] happened to be big. I want guys who can run and stay on their feet."


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