ROCKET FUEL NEEDED
TO: Raghib (Rocket) Ismail
FROM: NFL Scouts
The draft is still four months away, but by this time of year we usually have a pretty good indication of which collegian will be the top pick. When there is no clear-cut No. 1, there is at least a short list of leading candidates that everybody agrees on. Well, here's how the 1991 draft is shaping up: If it were conducted today, somebody named Mike Croel might well be the first player chosen. "I'm glad I don't have that top pick," says Seahawk player personnel director Mike Allman, "because I don't know who the hell it would be."
"The top 10," says Redskin general manager Charley Casserly, "is going to be dramatically less [talented] than the top 10 of a year ago."
The prospect of a weak draft seems appropriate, considering that the first selection probably will belong to 1990's cursed franchise, the 1-13 Patriots. Barring an influx of a number of top-drawer juniors into the player pool, this draft looks so meager that New England can neither expect to get the franchise player who comes with the No. 1 pick, nor use the choice as trade bait for a veteran player or two who can provide help that can't be found in the draft. League sources say the Pats have Croel, a speedy and punishing outside linebacker who was a second-team All-America at Nebraska, atop their draft board. However, he's the type of player who should go, say, 12th, not first. New England personnel chief Joe Mendes won't say whom he favors.
A few juniors, like Virginia wideout Herman Moore and Georgia Tech safety-linebacker Ken Swilling, probably will come out and bolster the top of the draft. Five of the first seven players selected in 1990, including No. 1 choice Jeff George, were juniors, but the only junior who could make the first pick in '91 attractive is Ismail, Notre Dame's wideout-return specialist. "If Ismail comes out, he'll be this year's Jeff George," says one player-personnel director.
When George left Illinois a year early and wowed NFL scouts with his passing skills in workouts last spring, he immediately made the Falcons a rich team. Atlanta owned the No. 1 pick and auctioned it to the highest bidder, the Colts, for two starters, All-Pro tackle Chris Hinton and promising wideout Andre Rison, and two draft picks.
Ismail has said that he will return to South Bend for his senior season, but some scouts think that without Lou Holtz as his coach—rumors persist that Holtz has eyes for an NFL job—and with familial prodding because of the threat of a rookie wage scale in 1992, Ismail may declare himself eligible for the draft by the Feb. 1 deadline.
GET THE BROOM
Updating some messy situations around the league:
Cleveland. "Yeah, I've never been through a season this bad," says Art Modell, owner of the 3-11 Browns. "But this team is not the Titanic. Am I getting out? No way. Am I selling? No way." Here's what Modell is doing. After the season, interim coach Jim Shofner will get a friendly boot upstairs to become director of player personnel, a position that Modell will create for him. Shofner will be the third set of football eyes in the front office, joining the beleaguered brain trust of executive vice-president Ernie Accorsi and director of pro personnel Mike Lombardi. Accorsi won't have much say as to who will be the coach, because two years ago he pushed hard for Bud Carson, who was fired nine games into this season. This hire will be Modell's call. "It's not important whether he's an offensive or defensive guy," says Modell. "He's got to be a guy who's had command experience, preferably at the NFL level, and he's got to be a communicator and a teacher." Best guess: Illinois coach John Mackovic, who previously coached the Chiefs.
New England. As SI went to press, the Pats were waiting to see if University of Miami athletic director Sam Jankovich would accept owner Victor Kiam's offer to come aboard and begin reconstructive surgery on the organization, but what the Patriots really need is an infusion of on-field talent. Mendes will be at the Japan Bowl in January to scout Croel, as well as Tennessee tackle Antone Davis and Notre Dame cornerback Todd Lyght. The Pats also are searching for a quarterback, but no signal caller who's coming out is worth a No. 1 pick. New England might look for Southern Miss comer Brett Favre or Miami's Craig Erickson to be available in the second round.
Tampa Bay. The 6-8 Bucs want Bill Walsh. Sources say he's struggling to decide whether to return to the NFL as a coach and general manager. He's weighing big money opportunities—Walsh makes $650,000 in this, the last year of his contract as an NBC analyst but could earn much more than that in Tampa Bay—and whether he wants to stay in California. Bet on Walsh to remain with the network and in California.
Indianapolis. Bob Irsay, owner of the 6-8 Colts, likes his coach, Ron Meyer, so much that he had him over for Thanksgiving dinner. Last Friday, Irsay told Meyer in a private meeting that his job is secure.
Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletary is getting his first taste of life as an NFL assistant coach by helping defensive coordinator Vince Tobin break down film on Monday afternoons. Next year, which he vows will be his last as a player, Singletary is going to determine if the coaching life is right for him. In additon to assisting Tobin on Mondays, Singletary will spend Tuesdays, usually the club's off-day, helping prepare game plans.
"I love playing, and I feel I can do what I do for four more years," says Singletary. "But God has been gracious to me. I want to make sure I don't get greedy. I want to make sure I'm playing well when I leave."
Singletary has a sophisticated video system at home and he has extended an open invitation to his teammates to use his house for film study whenever they want. Still, he's not sure he wants to be known as Coach Singletary. "That kind of responsibility is kind of scary," he says. "It will come down to whether I think I can have an impact on kids' lives."
If Singletary chooses the coaching life, it is likely that he'll be a member of Mike Ditka's staff. The fire-breathing coach of the Bears is in the last year of his contract, but he and club president Mike McCaskey should soon be in agreement on the terms of a new pact of at least three years' duration. "I hope to coach a few more years, the Good Lord willing," Ditka says.
THE END ZONE
Former Bronco coach John Ralston, a scout for the World League of American Football, returned to the U.S. last week after touring Europe in search of 40 players for the new league, which will begin play in March. He can't stop talking about one athlete.
"Of all the places I was—and I was everywhere west of the Soviet Union except for Norway—I was most fascinated with the East Germans," says Ralston. "There was one athlete running sprints who I just couldn't take my eyes off of."
The athlete: 5'9", 167-pound Martina Hellmann, the gold medal winner in the women's discus at the Seoul Olympics. "God, can she run," says Ralston. "She could be a wide receiver. But we didn't sign her. I'd really worry about a serious injury."
Nebraska's Croel tops the Pats' list of No. 1 prospects in what looks to be a weak draft.
Moon was super on Sunday, but he wants to have a Super Sunday.
In '92, Singletary may be calling signals on the sidelines.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
A FULL MOON OVER TAMPA NEXT MONTH?
The temperature at Arrowhead Stadium was 38°, a light rain was falling and the wind was blowing 6 mph—a perfect day for an incompetent run-and-shoot performance by the streaky Oilers. Then Warren Moon went out and threw for 141 yards in the first quarter. And 72 in the second. And 227 in the third. And 87 in the fourth. When it was all over, Moon had 527 passing yards, and Houston had a 27-10 win over the Chiefs. "Yeah, it's shocking," said Kevin Ross, K.C.'s Pro Bowl cornerback, afterward. "Embarrassing, too."
Moon's performance—second only to Norm Van Brocklin's NFL-record 554 passing yards, in a 1951 game—left him 684 yards short of breaking Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,084. The Oilers, who share the AFC Central lead with the Steelers, have two games left, at home against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. "People tend to say Super Bowl quarterbacks are the great ones," said Moon of his place among the league's premier passers. "If I get there, I don't think anyone could argue with my play."
MUST BE POWERFUL WATER, DARRELL
Since being baptized in teammate Darrell Green's Jacuzzi on Dec. 1, Redskin running back Earnest Byner has rushed for an NFL-high 427 yards, including 149 in Washington's 25-10 win over New England last Saturday in the driving rain.
BEWARE THE 'BOYS
Before the Cowboys' 41-10 win over the Cardinals, Dallas running back Emmitt Smith said, "Cowboy fans are looking for me to replace Tony Dorsett. They've been looking for a lot of things ever since their great players left the game." Smith then had the first four-touchdown day by a Cowboy since Duane Thomas and Calvin Hill each did it during the 1971 season. Smith also gained 103 yards to push his season total to 842. He needs 166 yards and two scores to break Dorsett's team rookie records for rushing and TDs. After the Phoenix game, Cowboy pro personnel director John Wooten said, "The similarities have come to reality."
NEGATIVE FALCON NOTES OF THE WEEK:
•After losing their seventh straight game, 13-10 to the Browns, first-year coach Jerry Glanville's team is 3-11. That's the same record Atlanta had after 14 games in 1989 and in '66, the franchise's first year.
•Deion Sanders, who had three home runs and eight steals for the Yankees in 1990, has two interceptions and 12 fair catches this fall in the sport he's supposed to be good at.
•The last time the Falcons won on the road, on Nov. 20, 1988, Mark Gastineau was leading the Jets in sacks.
ORDEAL OF THE WEEK
An eight-day battle with a kidney stone ended for Giants coach Bill Parcells when he painfully passed the final three fragments of the stone only 15 minutes before the kickoff of New York's 17-13 loss to the Bills.
DIPLOMAT OF THE WEEK
It's Eric Dickerson. He rushed for 117 yards in the Colts' 29-21 victory over the Jets and didn't say anything bad about his teammates in the locker room after the game, even though most people in football think he wants out of Indianapolis. "I just want to win, and I'm enjoying playing with these guys," Dickerson said. Then he was asked if he was happy. He laughed. "No comment," he said.
STATS OF THE WEEK
•After pitching an eight-yard touchdown pass in the Eagles' 31-0 win over the Packers, Philly running back Keith Byars—three completions in three attempts for 35 yards and three TDs on the season—has a quarterback rating of 154.9. That's 61.6 points better than Randall Cunningham's.
•Bucs quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who runs the 40 in a lumbering 4.86 seconds, outrushed every running back in the league on Sunday, except Dickerson and Bo Jackson, who also gained 117 yards. Testaverde scrambled for 105 yards, including one dash of 48 for a touchdown, in Tampa Bay's 26-13 defeat of the Vikings.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Raiders at Vikings. In the seven games he has played in domed stadiums, Bo Jackson has rushed for 623 yards on 86 carries. That's an average gain of 7.2 yards on fast-track artificial surfaces like the one in Minnesota's Metrodome. Here's another Bo note: He has had eight runs of 40 yards or longer in his 36-game NFL career, while the Vikings' Herschel Walker has had five in 74.
Dolphins at Bills. Two things to remember about this game, which likely will decide the home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs: 1) If Miami loses, it cannot win the AFC East and will have to play a wild-card game; and 2) this series is 25 years old, but it is the first time that the Dolphins, a fair-weather team, have played in Buffalo in December. "I'd much rather stay home [in the playoffs] than go to Buffalo," says Miami coach Don Shula. "I think a lot of people feel that way. You're more apt to get a good day in Miami. There's no telling what you'll get there."
Cowboys at Eagles. Philadelphia has lost to the Colts and to the Cardinals, and in their first meeting with Dallas, the Eagles turned a 14-6 lead into a 20-14 deficit in the last 10 minutes before rallying behind Randall Cunningham to win 21-20. "We never have problems with the big teams," says Philly tight end Keith Jackson. "It's those little teams. If I could figure why, I could make a lot of money."
Patriots at Jets. With every other NFL team either in the running for a playoff spot or playing against teams that are, the 4-10 Jets, losers of five straight, continue an inconsequential December. New York's final four opponents: San Diego, Indianapolis, New England, Tampa Bay.