- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

Defensive tackle Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson’s release by Detroit last week, which came after the 12-year veteran hinted he didn’t want to take part in new coach Rod Marinelli’s rigorous training camp, likely ended another disappointing career for a No. 1 overall draft pick.

Wilkinson, who went first to Cincinnati in 1994, wasn’t a bust like running back Ki-Jana Carter (1995), quarterback Tim Couch (1999) and defensive end Courtney Brown (2000), but he wasn’t chosen for a single Pro Bowl.

While quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe (1993), Peyton Manning (1998), Michael Vick (2001) and Carson Palmer (2003), offensive tackle Orlando Pace (1997) and receiver Keyshawn Johnson (1996) have lived up to the hype, defensive tackles who have gone first have bombed. Consider this lackluster list: John Matuszak (1973), Kenneth Sims (1982), Russell Maryland (1991) and Steve Emtman (1992). The exceptions are Bubba Smith (1967), who switched to defensive end, and Hall of Famer Buck Buchanan (1963, AFL Draft).

The track record is better at defensive end with three-time Pro Bowl pick Too Tall Jones (1974), Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon (1976) and sure enshrinee Bruce Smith (1985), so Houston might not have blown it by choosing N.C. State end Mario Williams first overall instead of Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush in April.

Leinart’s angel — Because Cardinals coach Dennis Green had termed Southern Cal quarterback Matt Leinart “a gift from heaven” when the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner unexpectedly slipped to Arizona at No. 10 overall, ex-Trojans guard Deuce Lutui said it was only fair to “draft his guardian angel in the second round.” The Cardinals did just that with the 41st overall pick.

Fans love Trojans — There has been plenty of USC-bashing in the wake of the blown national championship game against Texas, the reports about improper payments to Bush’s family, Leinart’s fall in the draft and his relationship with party girl Paris Hilton. However, fans in Arizona and New Orleans apparently can’t get enough of the ex-USC stars.

Arizona, long the NFL’s poorest draw, sold out for the season — aside from the 3,000 seats that will be sold on a single-game basis in new Cardinals Stadium — after drafting Leinart.

Meanwhile, the Saints, who took Bush No. 2 overall, have set a franchise record with more than 55,000 season tickets in their return to New Orleans after splitting the post-Katrina 2005 season between Baton Rouge and San Antonio. That’s amazing with a fan base still reeling from the hurricane and in the wake of a 3-13 season.

“The way the Saints’ organization has handled things these last few months — obviously with assistance from the commissioner’s office — has just changed the whole landscape of the way the team is received in the community,” said Stephen Perry, co-chairman of the Saints Business Council, a group of local business leaders formed by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to help support the organization. “With all that we’ve been through the last eight months, this is the best turnaround we could have hoped for.”

Tragic wake-up call — Philadelphia guard Shawn Andrews loves to eat. He ballooned to nearly 400 pounds this winter. Andrews was already trimming down when he was back in Arkansas hanging out with a childhood friend in late April. Andrews said goodbye and headed to a nearby Subway and ordered a relatively healthy lunch. He soon received word that his buddy, also 23, had died of a heart attack.

“It was tough,” said Andrews, who dropped 35 pounds in the next month thanks to a strict diet. “I don’t want to die because I’m too fat. Everybody has things they have to work on. Everybody’s human. It’s just one of the things I’ve been faced with for a long time and hopefully I can keep it under control.”

Andrews, whose optimal weight is the 345 pounds he weighed as an Arkansas freshman, wants to come to training camp at 355.

“I definitely have more energy,” he said. “I can get in my stance without my stomach being all in the way, and huffing and puffing. I can fire off the ball like the old me.”

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