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    Talented tackles are abundant -- and coveted

    Talented tackles are abundant -- and coveted
    NFL teams will select plenty of first-round offensive tackles for the second year in a row.
    By CHIP SCOGGINS, Star Tribune
    Last update: April 21, 2009 - 5:48 AM

    Andre Smith was entering seventh grade and just really starting his football career when he asked his father what is the highest-paid position in the NFL. Left tackle, his father said.

    "The ball got rolling after that," Smith said.

    He soon will have a better appreciation of how much NFL teams covet offensive tackles. Six likely will be selected in the first round of the draft on Saturday. A record eight were taken in the first round last year.

    Smith, a left tackle from Alabama, could join Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Baylor's Jason Smith as top-10 picks. Those three should be long gone by the time the Vikings select at No. 22 overall.

    Many draft followers believe the Vikings will use their first-round pick to upgrade their right tackle spot. Mississippi's Michael Oher, Arizona's Eben Britton and Connecticut's William Beatty might still be available.

    Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel, said he expects another run on tackles. A number of mock drafts predict the Vikings will select Britton at No. 22 -- the fifth tackle taken.

    "You can tell those guys are a premium," Spielman said of tackles. "And if they're any good, they're going to come flying off the board."

    The top two: Monroe and Jason Smith

    It's an eclectic group for sure, one that includes a former rodeo performer (Jason Smith); a creative writing major whose grandmother, Estelle Parsons, won an Oscar for her role in "Bonnie and Clyde" (Britton); a success story whose difficult upbringing became the subject of a book (Oher); the youngest in a family of 16 children (Monroe); the son of two pastors (Beatty); and a player who probably cost himself millions with his bizarre antics at the NFL Scouting Combine (Andre Smith).

    "I think there are a lot of great players in the group, a lot of athletic players, myself included," Oher said. "It's going to be a great year for us."

    Monroe and Jason Smith likely will be selected in the first five picks, and the Detroit Lions reportedly have considered both in evaluating whom to take at No. 1 overall. Monroe is the prototypical left tackle: Ideal size (6-5, 315 pounds), long arms, good footwork.

    "I think over my career at Virginia I've proven I can block anybody," he said. "I have the determination to improve my game and the ambition to succeed and I never stop."

    Jason Smith might be the most athletic of the tackle class. He began his college career as a tight end and is extremely quick and agile for his size (6-5, 300 pounds). He also competed in team roping in college until it became evident that football, and not the rodeo, would be his future profession. He served as the "header" in team roping, which is the person who ropes the front of the steer.

    "It's something I adapted when I was younger," he said. "Team roping's actually safe. It's not one of those events where you can get hurt. When [Baylor] Coach [Art] Briles first came in, he said, 'You gotta quit riding horses.' I was like, 'Yes, sir.' I've got a pretty big quarter horse. Ol' Gray's pretty big."

    Smith ties up defensive ends instead of steers now. He is quick to note that he did not give up a sack last season.

    "I'd say, first of all, put on my film from Baylor and you'll see that I'm the best," he said.

    How far will Andre Smith fall?

    The other Smith -- Andre -- might have been in that same discussion had he not thoroughly botched the combine. The 6-4, 335-pound Smith showed up out of shape, did not work out and abruptly left the combine without informing officials.

    His actions, coupled with the fact he was suspended before the Sugar Bowl reportedly for improper dealings with an agent, caused his stock to drop, although it remains to be seen how far. Even so, Smith remains a dominating presence, and his combination of size and talent is alluring.

    "My father always told me be the nicest player off the field but on the field be the meanest, most tenacious type guy that you ever could possibly be," Smith said.

    Oher's incredible story

    Oher's life story is a testament to tenacious perseverance. His mother was addicted to drugs, his father was murdered and he essentially lived a nomadic existence, moving from school to school as a kid until a wealthy Memphis couple brought stability to his life.

    Oher's upbringing was chronicled in a 2006 book entitled "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis. The book is being made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw.

    "I grew up poor and was homeless a lot growing up," Oher said. "I just worked hard and came through a lot of adversity. I just kept working. I was taken in by a family that helped me get to college and pushed me. That's why I think I'm here today at this level."

    And with the 22nd pick ...

    Britton and Beatty are rated slightly below the top four tackles, but they are both solid first-round targets. In particular, the 6-6, 310-pound Britton is a physical run blocker who could fill the Vikings' need at right tackle.

    Spielman declined to discuss Britton specifically, but he acknowledged the importance of drafting that position.

    "It's a premier position," he said. "You have to almost draft guys because there is very rarely going to be an offensive tackle in his prime that's going to get out there on the open market."

  2. #2
    r8rh8rmike's Avatar
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    Re: Talented tackles are abundant -- and coveted

    Wow, Jason Smith a steer roper and a major motion picture being made about Oher. Very interesting read. Nice find Nick.


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