- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Just because “Chevy” Troutman didn’t make it past the first day of the Redskins’ rookie minicamp doesn’t mean it was a bad idea to invite him. Basketball players-turned-tight ends are all the rage in the NFL, so why not check out a 6-foot-6, 240-pound power forward who starred on some pretty fair University of Pittsburgh teams?

Ever since Kent Stater Antonio Gates hopscotched from the Elite Eight to the San Diego Chargers to the Pro Bowl in just three years — without the benefit of college football — NFL clubs have been combing arenas for power forwards, particularly those who lack the altitude to play in the NBA.

Gates and Troutman fall into that category. So does Wesley Duke, a 6-5, 235-pound banger from Mercer who’s going to give tight end a whirl with the Broncos. Also being eyed, according to reports, is Cortney Scott, recently seen throwing his 6-6, 260-pound body around for Oakland University in the NCAA tournament. The Redskins, in fact, are one of the clubs that has contacted him.

“When the Redskins called,” Scott told the Detroit Free Press, “I said, ‘Who is this? Washington? From where?’ ”

Not that this is anything new, especially as far as tight ends are concerned. Heck, the NFL’s first great tight end, Ron Kramer of the Lombardi Packers, scored 20 points a game for the Michigan hoops team in the ‘50s. Then there’s Joe Senser, one of a handful of tight ends to rack up 1,000 receiving yards in a season (1981). Before Senser worked the middle of the field for the Vikings, he patrolled the paint for West Chester State, leading Division I in field goal percentage two years running.

And while nothing ever came of it, the Chiefs drafted David “Big Daddy” Lattin as a tight end in the 17th round in 1967. Kansas City’s Hank Stram was obsessed with size, and the muscular Lattin had played center on Texas Western’s ‘66 national championship team. (A couple of years later, Stram came up with a tight end prospect even bigger than Lattin — 6-10 Morris Stroud from Clark College in Atlanta. He even got Stroud to bulk up to 255 from his basketball weight of 218, but he couldn’t do much about the kid’s hands. They were awful.)

Yup, coaches have been dreaming of giant basketball players frolicking in NFL secondaries for a looong time. Stram once tried to talk Wilt Chamberlain into playing football, but Wilt apparently had 20,000 other things to do. Al Davis was equally enamored of Rick Barry after watching him run patterns and snag passes at a Raiders practice.

“If I could just have a guy like that!” he said. “A 6-7 receiver!”

And let’s not forget John Havlicek. The Browns not only drafted him in the seventh round in 1962, they actually got him to come to training camp after he finished up at Ohio State.

“They gave me a contract for $15,000 and a Chevy Impala as a bonus,” Havlicek recalls in “Tall Tales,” Terry Pluto’s oral history of the early NBA. “But the Browns cut me” — after he’d played in just one preseason game — “and then Red [Auerbach of the Boston Celtics] wanted to sign me.”

At least he got to keep the Impala. After he joined the Celtics, he says, Bill Russell helped him shop around for a stereo for it.

(I, for one, have always wondered what kind of tight end Wes Unseld would have made. If you could be a dominant center in the NBA at 6-71/2, 245, wouldn’t you think you could handle yourself pretty well on a football field? I remember Wes, during his coaching days, breaking up a fight by casually flinging Pistons toughie Bill Laimbeer into the first row. He could have done the same thing to Dick Butkus, I’m sure.)

In olden times, when drafts were 20 or 30 rounds long, clubs could afford to pick a basketball player for fun. The Cowboys, for instance, took Lou Hudson in 20th round in ‘66 and Pat Riley in the 11th in ‘67 — both as wide receivers. Later in the ‘67 draft, the Saints selected Jimmy Walker, Providence’s All-American guard, as a safety. And two years after that, the Lions made Ken Spain, Elvin Hayes’ 6-9 running mate at the University of Houston, their 16th-round choice. Thought he’d make a swell defensive end.

All of them, of course, stuck with hoops, but who’s to say they couldn’t have wreaked havoc on the gridiron?

The current draft, with its seven rounds, allows for no such frivolity. So teams bring in Troutman, Duke and the rest as free agents. Somewhere in the crowd, they hope, is another Gates, somebody who can make the none-too-easy transition from post play to post pattern.

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