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pakowitz 01-18-2003 10:56 PM

Saints working combine for key picks in NFL draft
Saints looking to plug holes

Thursday January 16, 2003

By Darrell Williams
Staff writer

MOBILE, ALA. -- In the 2002 NFL draft, the Saints selected two players -- guard LeCharles Bentley and cornerback Keyuo Craver -- after watching them participate in Senior Bowl practices for a week.

In this year's draft, the Saints may wind up with more. Team personnel director Rick Mueller likes what he sees in a handful of players in particular. The Saints have two first-round picks this year -- No. 17 and No. 18, from the Ricky Williams trade to Miami -- and have five of the top 90 picks.

New Orleans will be in position to get players who can help fill needs. Mueller said he has been impressed by the play of UCLA tight end Mike Seidman (6 feet 4, 268), Oklahoma defensive back Andre Woolfolk (6-1, 191), and offensive tackles Brett Williams of Florida State and George Foster of Georgia. Hawaii guard Vince Manuwai, Miami defensive end Jerome McDougle, Tennessee defensive tackle Rashad Moore and TCU linebacker LaMarcus McDonald also have caught his eye more than most of the others.

"Some of them are guys everyone has known are good players, like Brett Williams," Mueller said. "Some of them, such as Manuwai, have really helped themselves in practices, and for some, Saturday's game will be big for them in terms of showing how well they can play against this level of competition."

However, the Senior Bowl talent is thin at middle linebacker, the position the Saints are calling their biggest need. College football's best player at that position, Maryland's E.J. Henderson, the Butkus Award winner, is not participating in the Senior Bowl.

Mueller and offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy said Seidman could solve the team's problems at tight end. Seidman is not particularly fast, but Mueller said he wouldn't label him as slow. McCarthy agrees.

"Seidman does a lot of things well," McCarthy said. "He's 268 and looks like he weighs 245. He's athletic and can block and help you in the passing game."

Woolfolk, a big defensive back who has played cornerback and safety, has the attention of many scouts. Teams know they won't have to do as much shuffling with nickel packages on passing downs with a player of his size and skill.

"He's a guy we will have to spend time" watching on film, Mueller said. "He's really athletic."

The Saints have said they're also looking for a defensive tackle. Moore, 6-3, 322, is said to be very quick for his size as well as strong. Mueller questions his consistency.

The Saints are set at defensive end, with Darren Howard and Charles Grant, two young players the coaches say will be good for a long time, barring injuries. However, with part-time starter Willie Whitehead a free agent, the Saints could pick one in the draft. Nebraska's Chris Kelsay, 6-4, 270, is known as a high-intensity player who is good against the run and the pass. McDougle plays like Orioles's Adalius Thomas and Pittsburgh's Jason Gildon, who can rush the passer or drop into coverage.

One player the Saints would like to have probably will be gone before they can select him because of all the team's priority needs. Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace has been compared favorably to Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El, a former college quarterback. However, McCarthy said he's looking at him as a quarterback because backup Jake Delhomme is a free agent who may get a chance to start for another team.

Other players to remember are Rutgers tight end L.J. Smith, who is considered to be an excellent blocker and a fast receiver, Nebraska defensive back DeJuan Groce and Tennessee defensive back Julian Battle. Smith pulled a hamstring and is out of the game.

L.J. "is a guy we really wanted to see," Mueller said. "He has been a consistent player, and he's very competitive.

"Battle is another guy with great size (6-2, 205). I'd like to see if he can be physical as a safety and whether he has closing speed as a cornerback. Groce is similar to Keyuo. We think he's a good cover guy."

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