Teams still have needs to fill
By Len Pasquarelli
Forty-three choices into the 2003 draft, poised to make their initial selection after having dealt away a first-round pick as compensation for the restricted free agent signing of wide receiver Laveranues Coles, personnel officials from the Washington Redskins confronted a surprisingly vexing but nonetheless pleasant scenario.
Still on the board, as the Redskins had projected (and hoped) he would be, was Ohio State safety Mike Doss, a prospect Washington targeted in the weeks preceding the draft as a potential starter. But also available was Florida wide receiver Taylor Jacobs, a player on whom Washington had a first-round grade, one they might have considered with the 13th overall selection had they not shipped it to the New York Jets in the Coles signing.
While safety was more a priority for the Redskins than wide receiver, the decision was a no-brainer, particularly given the disparity in grades on the two players.
So the fluid Jacobs, who had been recruited by and played for Steve Spurrier with the Gators, became a Redskin and, having enjoyed an impressive minicamp last weekend, is the favorite to claim the No. 3 wideout position behind Coles and Rod Gardner. Safety became a spot unaddressed in the lottery, one where the starting job opposite free agent addition Matt Bowen will be determined in a camp competition among three contenders.
And personnel director Vinny Cerrato was reminded, for about the zillionth time in his career, that sometimes there simply isn't enough spackling putty to patch every hole. To paraphrase Mick Jagger, you can't always get everything you want.
"In our case, we really liked Doss, thought he was a guy who was all football player, you know?" Cerrato said. "But there was no way we could pass Jacobs, who we thought was a first-rounder, and who we were stunned kept falling our way. After we picked (Jacobs), we kept trying to get another choice so we could still take Doss, too, but it didn't happen. But we're comfortable we'll be OK at safety. The way the game is now, with the salary cap and stuff, you simply can't fill every need as quickly as you might like."
Because of cap constraints, and arguably the most shallow free agent talent pool since the current system was implemented, that is the case now more than ever.
As the league heads into its annual lull period, a brief stretch following minicamps and during which most coaching staffs concern themselves far more with putting strokes than personnel moves, plenty of franchises still have one or two areas of need that they were unable to address in the draft or free agency.
In many of those cases, given that there figure to be fewer veterans than usual available in the annual post-June 1 cap casualty period, the problems will not be solved. In others, as is the case with the Washington strong safety position, the answers will come from within the current roster. The starting Redskins strong safety, for instance, likely will come from a trio that includes Ifeanyi Ohalete, David Terrell and Andre Lott.
The good news for the Redskins is that Terrell started all 16 contests in each of the last two seasons, but at free safety, and Ohalete replaced Sam Shade at strong safety in 2002 and logged 10 starts. Lott played some cornerback in college and has "ball" skills. The bad but not tragic news: The team would still like to have had Doss -- who doesn't run very well, isn't very big, but still makes plays -- as part of the mix.
"But you can say that about almost every team," Cerrato noted. "Even after the draft, not everyone has filled every hole, that's for sure."
Indeed, there will still be some roster tinkering in June and July, as teams begin to gird for training camp and decide to patch some needs with veteran players who currently are still in the unemployment line. Here is a look at a few, but certainly not all, of the more significant team needs not yet addressed:
Denver, cornerback: While the Broncos loaded up on defensive linemen in the draft, with four of their 10 choices devoted to the position, they did not choose any secondary prospects. And good luck unearthing a viable cornerback from the picked-over free agent lot. That means a pair of second-year players who both entered the NFL as undrafted free agents, Kelly Herndon and Lenny Walls, will compete in summer camp for the starting spot opposite Deltha O'Neal. There is also the possibility the Broncos could move former first-round pick Willie Middlebrooks from safety to corner, his original position.
Miami, offensive left tackle: The assumption going into the draft was that the Dolphins, who did not have a first-round choice, would either trade up to get a pass protector or take one at their own spot in the second round. As it turned out, Miami couldn't deal up and chose to pass on University of Hawaii tackle Wayne Hunter, and instead used its second-round pick on linebacker Eddie Moore of Tennessee. There aren't a lot of options still available, although the team might consider signing free agent Richmond Webb, but only as a backup insurance policy. For the second year in a row, it appears guard Mark Dixon will line up at left tackle, something he had hoped to avoid in 2003.
Jacksonville, wide receiver: It's a good bet that the wide receiver who lines up opposite Jimmy Smith in the regular-season opener is either currently among the remnant of the free agent pool or still on another team's roster. The Jags did not invest even a late-round choice on a wide receiver and their only veteran acquisition was Donald Hayes, who is already sidelined by a badly sprained knee. Free agent Antonio Freeman is a possibility, as is current 49ers veteran J.J. Stokes, who will be cut next month. Smith isn't getting any younger and, at age 34, could use some assistance. He had 80 receptions in 2002, and the rest of the Jacksonville wide receivers totaled 58 catches.
Dallas, defensive size: The unit inherited by Bill Parcells was constructed for speed, and while The Tuna likes quickness, he covets bulk even more. There was speculation that the Cowboys would move up from the No. 5 spot in the first round for a shot at defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson of Kentucky, but that was more rhetoric than reality, and the club stayed put and chose cornerback Terence Newman. It's difficult to criticize the club for selecting a player who might be the most impactful rookie in the league in 2003. But the fact remains the Dallas front seven is small, and that Parcells will probably be forced to use the scheme of holdover coordinator Mike Zimmer, since it could take a few years to add the kind of bulk he prefers.
New Orleans, cornerback:
The Saints flim-flammed everyone into believing they would trade up for either Newman or Marcus Trufant, the premier cornerback prospects in the '03 draft. Well, they dealt up in the first round, but opted instead for Jonathan Sullivan, the former Georgia defensive tackle. Coach Jim Haslett knows that you've got to stop the run, something New Orleans didn't do very well in 2002, to be successful. But he and the Saints are leaning pretty heavily on veterans Dale Carter and Ashley Ambrose, the latter of whom slipped noticeably in Atlanta last year, at the cornerback spots. Not only didn't the Saints get a corner in the first round, but they didn't draft one at all.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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