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Redskins Make Westbrook Their First Catch

By David Aldridge
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 23, 1995

The Washington Redskins aspire to build an offense in the image of the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. So they bypassed defense in the first round of yesterday's NFL draft to take University of Colorado wide receiver Michael Westbrook with the fourth pick overall. They hope he will be a linchpin in the mold of Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin.

With their second-round pick, the 37th overall, the Redskins opted to go for an offensive lineman, taking Wisconsin center Cory Raymer. Raymer was considered the top center in the draft and he was the top-rated player left on Washington's list, ahead of fullbacks Ray Zellars of Notre Dame and Zack Crockett of Florida State and cornerbacks Bobby Taylor of Notre Dame and Jimmy Hitchcock of North Carolina.

In the third round, with the 68th pick overall, Washington went strictly for speed, taking defensive back Darryl Pounds out of Nicholls State, a Division I-AA school in Louisiana. He played free safety there but is projected as a cornerback for the Redskins, who were determined to add another cornerback before the start of training camp. The Redskins like his aggressiveness and hitting ability.

The draft will continue today.

In taking the 22-year-old Westbrook, the Redskins decided not to go for Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp or Florida defensive end Kevin Carter. They thought Westbrook was too good to pass up. Washington got what it hoped is its franchise quarterback last year with Heath Shuler, and the Redskins are equally high on Westbrook, the Buffaloes' all-time leader in receptions and yards.

"Not until after my personal workout {March 16} did I get any idea that they really wanted me," said Westbrook, who will be at the Redskins' minicamp next weekend without a contract. "The Washington Redskins' scouts were there and they talked to me a little bit after and I felt kind of comfortable and they kind of hinted a little bit that they were really interested, and I'm like, that's kind of cool, because I really like Washington."

Said Raymer: "It was a little bit of a surprise. . . . I didn't have the slightest inclination of it. They talked to you at the combine and I believe a couple of times after that, but nothing in the last couple of months, nothing to believe you'd come there and play football. It was a complete shock and a surprise."

The Redskins never wavered from their convictions on their first-round pick. League sources said the day after the regular season ended in December that the Redskins were looking for a wide receiver in the draft. And 10 days before the draft, team sources indicated Washington had decided to take Westbrook if the Redskins couldn't trade with Carolina to get the first pick and select Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter.

But league sources indicated that several teams in the top five -- including Carolina -- had major concerns about Ki-Jana Carter's health. He's already had two arthroscopic knee operations. He missed half of his senior season in high school with a knee injury.

As a junior at Penn State he strained a knee ligament at the Citrus Bowl -- though he played all of last season without a brace and underwent an MRI examination at the combine -- and he missed spring practice last year after dislocating his right thumb.

So the Redskins decided trading up for Carter wasn't worth the risk. And since there was no one else worth trading up for, they kept their picks and took Westbrook and Raymer.

"The big, physical receivers have had an effect in this league," Coach Norv Turner said yesterday. Cornerbacks "will tell you that. They'd be the first guys to tell you that. You can have a guy covered, you can be in great position, and the ball's on top of you and there's still no way to defend it."

But taking a receiver that high is unusual in a draft that usually features quarterbacks, defensive linemen and running backs in the top half of the first round. There only have been three receivers taken this high in the past 15 years -- Johnny "Lam" Jones (taken second by the Jets in 1980); Irving Fryar (first to the Patriots in 1984); and, of course, Desmond Howard (fourth to the Redskins in 1992).

Washington is well aware of what happened with Howard. His first two seasons were ruined by injuries and other problems, and even though he caught a career-high 40 passes last season, the Redskins left him unprotected in the expansion draft and he was taken by Jacksonville. The Redskins don't think there are parallels with Westbrook.

"Let's let Michael Westbrook have his own career," General Manager Charley Casserly said. "You have a situation where Michael Westbrook is a bigger player {than Howard}, and sometimes the size factor is going to make a difference. The other thing to look at is you don't get hung up on the fourth slot."

The Redskins fell in love with Westbrook's size (6 feet 3 1/2, 215 pounds) and speed last fall, but they didn't know him personally until the scouting combine in February and his private workout at Colorado last month. Once they did, they liked what they saw and heard. At the combine, he was the only one of the top wide receiver prospects to work out. He ran between 4.42 and 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine and didn't run any slower at his workout.

"I met Norv Turner, and things just clicked between us," Westbrook said. "He gave me a really good idea that he liked me a whole lot, and I liked him. I'm looking forward to receiving some passes from Heath Shuler."

Now, the Redskins envision a wide receiver corps with Henry Ellard running the intermediate routes and second-year man Tydus Winans doing a lot of the things that Ricky Sanders used to do. Westbrook will be a "move" guy in Turner's offense, running in motion, lining up in the slot and creating mismatches all over the field with his size.

With their second pick, the Redskins were hoping to select either a running back or tight end. They liked Tennessee's James Stewart, bringing him to Redskin Park a week ago, and the University of Washington's Napoleon Kaufman was very high on their draft board. But the Raiders took Kaufman with the 18th pick overall. And Stewart went to the Jaguars, who traded up to get Kansas City's 19th pick.

The Redskins also liked Washington tight end Mark Bruener, but Pittsburgh took him with the 27th pick overall. So they opted for the 6-3, 295-pound Raymer, a consensus all-American (Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, UPI, Walter Camp, the Football News, The Sporting News) and Big Ten first-team selection.

As for Pounds, the 5-11, 178-pounder fills what will likely be a prerequisite for future draft picks at the skill positions under Turner -- he's fast.

Pounds also played special teams for Nicholls State and will make his first contribution for the Redskins on coverage teams. "That's the thing about Division I-AA," Pounds said. "You don't have that little rest going over to the sidelines."

He added that the Redskins "called me during the second round saying they wanted to pick me with that pick in the third round. And then Coach Turner called me and I said, That's it,' and my mom started screaming."

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