By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007
The Washington Redskins entered the second day of the NFL draft yesterday hoping to address depth at linebacker after failing to develop youngsters at the position in recent years, and used their first two picks to do precisely that.
As Washington's second pick in the draft approached yesterday afternoon, in the fifth round, the team targeted a trio of linebackers, sources said, and ended up selecting the highest ranked of the bunch, Dallas Sartz (Southern Cal). Privately, team officials hoped that one of the other linebackers -- Rufus Alexander (Oklahoma) and H.B. Blades (Pittsburgh) -- might manage to slip to the sixth round, and when Blades did fall, Washington took him 179th overall. The Redskins used their final two picks on Texas-El Paso quarterback Jordan Palmer (sixth round), brother of Cincinnati star quarterback Carson Palmer, and Michigan tight end Tyler Ecker in the seventh round.
This coaching staff has been aiming to cultivate quality young backups at linebacker for three years, but the Redskins failed with several late-round picks. They only had five NFL-level linebackers entering the draft, and there are concerns about the status of two key linebackers, Marcus Washington (hip) and 2006 second-round pick Rocky McIntosh (knee), both of whom will be monitored closely. Linebackers are also usually the lifeblood of special teams, and with veterans Warrick Holdman and Jeff Posey departed, Sartz and Blades could make their first impact on those units.
"We were short on numbers at linebacker, and that's one of the things we had highlighted," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We were kind of holding our breath there [in the sixth round], because there were a couple of linebackers we thought could make the team."
Sartz was part of a USC program that has cultivated some of the top talent in the country and won back-to-back national titles. He has good size (6 feet 5, 235 pounds) but must add weight. He displayed good power as an outside linebacker and was a prospect for the 2006 draft, but missed much of that season with an injury and was granted another year of eligibility. Last season at USC, Sartz, whose grandfather was a Golden Gloves boxer and professional hydroplane racer, had 70 tackles and led the Trojans with seven sacks.
The professional environment at USC will prepare Sartz well for the NFL, he believes.
"We've been to five BCS [bowl] games the last five years," Sartz said on a conference call. "We won two national championships and had three Heisman Trophy winners and had all the publicity around us and the media and everything. I think that everything at USC prepares you for the next level."
Blades has been immersed in football his entire life. His father, Bennie, was a standout defensive back and the third overall pick in the 1988 draft, and his uncle, Brian, was an NFL wide receiver. H.B. Blades lacks the size of many NFL inside linebackers (5-11, 237), but believes he can excel. The Redskins would be thrilled if Blades could back up free agent linebacker London Fletcher and possibly replace him one day.
"I'm very happy and very exited," Blades said during a conference call. "I can't wait to get into minicamp next weekend and show Coach Gibbs and everybody else that they made a great pick."
Palmer (6-6, 231) has a football pedigree as well, with his brother Carson a teammate of Sartz's at USC. Palmer was mistake-prone in college and his decision making was questioned, but did produce behind a weak line. Ecker (6-6, 269 pounds) was injured much of his senior season.M. Washington Update
Gibbs said that Marcus Washington, a former Pro Bowler, should be cleared to begin running soon after undergoing hip surgery, but there is no set timetable for when he will be cleared for full contact. "It might take him a while," Gibbs said. . . . There have been repeated rumors among NFL scouts and execs that the Redskins might shake up their scouts and personnel department, all the way up to vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato after the draft, but Gibbs quashed the notion. "I felt like it's been a pretty smooth operation, so I don't know where the rumors come from."