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WP: Maske: Udeze, Smith Look to Put On a Rush; Agent Confirms Warner's Release


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Udeze, Smith Look to Put On a Rush

By Mark Maske

Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, April 20, 2004; 11:08 AM

It would have been difficult to imagine when Kenechi Udeze arrived at the University of Southern California in 2000 that he one day would be coveted by NFL teams as a sleek chaser of opposing quarterbacks. He had weighed, by his count, as much as 382 pounds in high school, and it took USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron telling him at a football camp that a scholarship would be waiting for him if he lost 30 pounds by national signing day for Udeze to be down around 350 by the time he began college.

When Udeze showed up at the NFL scouting combine in late February in Indianapolis as the top defensive end in college football, he weighed 281 pounds. He has body fat of around 9 percent, and runs the 40-yard dash in the quick-for-a-lineman time of about 4.7 seconds. He will be rewarded handsomely Saturday when he will be, in all likelihood, the first defensive end selected in the NFL draft, perhaps with a top-10 choice.

"When I lost the weight, not only did I gain a lot of self-confidence on the field when my athleticism started peaking, but as a human being I developed much more socially and became a different person," Udeze said at the combine. "I think the discipline came from my work ethic. When it came down to it, I had a weight problem and USC gave me a chance. I didn't want to let them down."

Udeze represents a valuable draft-day commodity -- a pass rusher who looks as if he will succeed in the NFL. The NFL has become a pass-first league. And with the sport's decision-makers ordering game officials to crack down next season on clutching-and-grabbing tactics by defensive backs, it will become even more important for a defense to have linemen who can get to the quarterback. The two best in this draft, it appears, are Udeze and Ohio State defensive end Will Smith.

"I can't compare myself to anybody," Smith said at the combine, "but I think I can make an impact when I get to the NFL."

So, too, can Udeze, who produced 28 sacks, 14 forced fumbles and 51 tackles for a loss in 37 games at USC. He decided to leave school after a junior season in which he had 161/2 sacks and helped the Trojans to a share of the national title.

"I feel I am the best pass rusher in the draft [and] maybe even the best run stopper at the end position as well," Udeze said. "I feel like I cover both aspects of the game pretty well. I'm one of the more balanced players in the draft. I force fumbles. I create things. . . . I do whatever it takes to help the team out."

The Washington Redskins have told Udeze that they will consider selecting him if they trade down from the draft's fifth overall choice. Some executives around the league have him targeted for the Jacksonville Jaguars with the ninth selection.

He has retained the nickname BKU -- Big Kenechi Udeze -- from his heftier days. He says he weighed about 215 pounds in the sixth grade, and between 330 and 340 as a high school junior before his weight got out of control as a senior at Verbum Dei High in Los Angeles. He was a dominant high school defensive tackle but some colleges -- including Columbia, Brown, Army and New Mexico, according to Udeze -- stopped recruiting him because of his weight.

"When I see my high school pictures, I ask myself why I let it go that far," he said. "I look at pictures and my face is swollen. . . . I had no definition. My body was pretty much a joke."

Then came Orgeron's scholarship offer, and Udeze says he began his weight-loss program that day. He made himself a sandwich for dinner and went outside to jog. He was redshirted his freshman year at USC, and he had lost nearly 90 pounds in all, he says, by the time he got to play in a game in 2001.

"It started falling off of me," Udeze said. "The doctor there saw me and told me I had needed to lose weight. When he saw me on campus, he couldn't believe it. He did a double-take. He pretty much sat down and tested me for steroids because he thought I was doing something. I was laughing. When the results came back, he said, 'You're the first guy who really fooled me.' I never have taken supplements or anything like that."

He studies tapes of the league's great pass rushers -- Jason Taylor, Michael Strahan, Reggie White, Bruce Smith, even all the way back to Hall of Famer Alan Page -- and tries to emulate their moves. When former New York Jets and New England Patriots coach Pete Carroll became USC's coach, he stressed to Udeze to strip the ball from quarterbacks instead of just bowling them over.

Udeze calls Smith, the NFL's career sacks leader who spent the past four seasons with the Redskins, the greatest pass rusher in history. "He's the guy I try to emulate. We're pretty much built the same," Udeze said. "He played the run with great leverage and he had great hands. I think that's one of my best assets, using my hands."

Smith almost certainly will be the second defensive end off the board Saturday after a senior season at Ohio State in which he had 101/2 sacks.

He nearly left school a year early, on the heels of the Buckeyes' national-championship season in 2002, but was talked into staying by his father William and grandmother Nancy, who helped to raise him in Utica, N.Y., after his mother died of cancer when he was 4.

"I thought about it a lot," Smith said. "I wanted to leave really bad. But then I talked to them, and they wanted me to stay another year and finish up school. That's what I did, and I had a really good year."


Udeze and Smith might be the only two defensive ends to be selected in the first round, but one more player at the spot from among Alabama's Antwan Odom, LSU's Marquise Hill and Western Michigan's Jason Babin could sneak in. Odom seems to have the best chance. Hill had a back-and-forth pre-draft adventure, deciding to enter the draft after his junior season, then announcing he would return to school, then saying he already had signed with an agent and would leave. Dave Ball of UCLA, who had 161/2 sacks as a senior, perhaps could come off the board in the third round, but it's more likely that he will join TCU's Bo Schobel, who had 17 sacks last season, among the second-day selections on Sunday. Hampton's Isaac Hilton is an intriguing prospect because of his speed, as he has been timed at a shade under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Teams with a possible first-round need at the position: Washington (No. 5); Jacksonville (No. 9); Houston (No. 10); Pittsburgh (No. 11); N.Y. Jets (No. 12); Buffalo (No. 13); New Orleans (No. 18); Minnesota (No. 19); Cincinnati (No. 24); Green Bay (No. 25); Tennessee (No. 27); Kansas City (No. 30).

Defensive ends who could be taken in the first round: Udeze, Smith, Odom, Hill, Babin.


Agent Mark Bartelstein confirmed this morning that Rams Coach Mike Martz informed the two-time league most valuable player Monday that he likely will be released after June 1.

Executives around the league have been convinced for weeks that Warner would be on the market in June. KSDK-TV in St. Louis reported the team's decision Monday night. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today that Martz informed Marc Bulger on Monday that he would enter next season as the club's starting quarterback. The Rams retained the rights to Bulger when the restricted free agent market closed on Friday without him signing an offer sheet with another team, and St. Louis has opened negotiations with agent Tom Condon on a long-term deal for Bulger.

The Rams would clear $4.75 million of salary cap space for next season by releasing Warner after June 1. Injuries and poor play have relegated him to backup duty the past two seasons, and some league observers question whether he ever will resemble the quarterback who took the Rams to two Super Bowls and won two MVP awards in a magical three-year span between the 1999 and 2001 seasons. But those in Warner's camp insist that all he needs is another chance to play, and Bartelstein said he will seek permission to begin trying immediately to line up a deal with another team. Warner turns 33 in June.

"I think we're going to get permission," Bartelstein said. "There's a process you have to go through, but I think it will happen and we'll get out there on the market. There's going to be a lot of interest. Kurt and I have talked. We've started to go over some teams. There are a number of situations that are interesting, but we have to wait and see what the teams say. He's healthy. He's in great shape, and he's eager to play again."

Chiefs Coach Dick Vermeil said recently that he believes Warner still has some good football left in him, but Bartelstein said he does not envision a Warner and Vermeil reunion in Kansas City.

"Kurt has great respect for Dick," Bartelstein said. "But the Chiefs are pretty well set at quarterback. I don't think that will be an option."

St. Louis signed veteran Chris Chandler last month to back up Bulger, and probably will pick a quarterback in the draft. Tulane's J.P. Losman could be a possibility in the first round if he's available when the Rams select with the 26th overall choice.

"Kurt has mixed emotions about leaving," Bartelstein said. "It's hard to leave somewhere when you've got so much tied up into the place. He had so much success there. He had so many good times. But last year was very tough for him, being healthy and at the peak of his career and not playing. There is some excitement about moving on and finding a new challenge, but at the same time there's a sadness to it for him."

© 2004 washingtonpost.com

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The Washington Redskins have told Udeze that they will consider selecting him if they trade down from the draft's fifth overall choice. Some executives around the league have him targeted for the Jacksonville Jaguars with the ninth selection.

Since its a Maske article, and not a Nunyo job, I think we can believe this one.

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