- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The Washington Redskins' draft wish list has gone through some kind of metamorphosis over the last two months.

First the Redskins were in need of a wide receiver (until they signed Laveranues Coles to a seven-year, $35 million contract). Then they were coveting a defensive tackle (until they signed restricted free agent Jermaine Haley to a four-year, $4 million offer sheet).

Now, with the NFL Draft three days away, Washington finds itself with a new No. 1 priority: safety.

The situation still could change, especially if the Miami Dolphins decide to match the Haley offer by Friday's deadline, but for the moment the Redskins' biggest need is likely a strong safety. It's one of only two starting positions, along with tight end, that remain open even at this relatively early date.

The Redskins return three safeties who will be in the mix for playing time in 2003: Ifeanyi Ohalete, who started 10 games in 2002; Andre Lott, a fifth-round selection last year; and David Terrell, who yesterday signed his one-year tender offer of $600,000 to stay in Washington.

Club officials are not overly enamored with any of the three, though, and are looking hard at the draft's safeties, the best of which could still be on the board when the Redskins' second-round pick finally comes up.

Safeties traditionally don't draw much attention on draft day; only four have gone in the first round over the last four years. With that in mind, either of the consensus top two safeties (Ohio State's Mike Doss and USC's Troy Polamalu) might well be available for Washington with the No. 4 overall pick. Each is viewed as a potential rookie starter, and each provides some intriguing possibilities.

Doss, the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year, is an explosive hitter and a smart player who helped lead Ohio State to a national championship. Somewhat undersized at 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds, he's not known for his pass coverage but more than makes up for it in instinct and speed (he runs a 4.55 40-yard dash).

"My desire to win is at a high level," Doss said. "I'll do anything it takes to win. I hope [NFL teams] see the performances I've had in my career. I hope that will go into the evaluation."

A native of Canton, Ohio, who grew up in the shadow of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Doss as a youngster idolized a pair of hard-hitting safeties from the West Coast: the San Francisco 49ers' Ronnie Lott and the Oakland Raiders' Jack Tatum.

"I wanted to be known as a hitter," he said.

Doss was a four-year starter for the Buckeyes whose physical style would be a nice complement to the rest of the Redskins' speedy secondary: cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot and newly acquired free safety Matt Bowen. He said he hopes his commitment to remain at Ohio State for his senior season does not go unnoticed by NFL scouts.

"I hope spending four years to develop and accomplish that does give me a little advantage," he said, "but as a player, you know that everybody weighs talent. I hope they weigh character after talent."

There is no questioning Polamalu's talent; the 5-foot-10, 206-pound safety of Samoan descent is widely considered the best safety to come out of USC since Lott in 1980.

A rare combination of speed and power who ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds and can squat 600 pounds, Polamalu is a polished player and is expected to start his rookie season. His physical skills speak for themselves, but those who have watched Polamalu play also rave about his love for the game.

"I'm very passionate about what I do," he said. "I like to hit. A lot of football players lose their passion as they get older, but mine is growing."

Various draft experts and club personnel directors project Doss and Polamalu anywhere from late first-rounders to early third-rounders.

The pool of safeties dwindles considerably after those two, with N.C. State's Terrence Holt (brother of Rams receiver Torry Holt) and Arkansas' Ken Hamlin (who brings some character questions with him after being arrested twice for DUI) the best of the rest.

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