Sunday, February 29, 2004

Preparing for draft now a full-time job

By Joe Kay
The Associated Press

Ben Roethlisberger's evening trips to Taco Bell and McDonald's are a thing of the past, just like his classes and textbooks.

Since he left Miami of Ohio to enter the NFL draft, the prominent quarterback has changed his life. He moved to the West Coast, overhauled his diet and started a crash course in his new career.

The draft is less than two months away, and there's so much left to do - refine his body, tighten his throwing motion, take lessons in quarterback protocol.

"I'd say it's more like getting ready for a season," said Roethlisberger, who led Miami to a No. 10 final ranking with his strong arm and accuracy. "I had an idea it would be tough, but I didn't know how tough. I didn't know how much time I had to put into it."

Prepping for the pros is a full-time job nowadays, a reflection of how times have changed.

In its formative years, the NFL took a more carefree approach to sizing up picks. The process was about as intricate as thumbing through a magazine.

That's exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers did in 1956, when they made Colorado A&M defensive back Gary Glick the first overall pick. They saw his name in a magazine's list of top players and figured: Why not?

It wasn't a big deal. Players didn't make much money - Hall of Famer Bob Lilly got a $4,000 signing bonus in 1961, for instance - and plucking them out of the draft was more akin to choosing sides on a playground.

College athletes completed their final season, played their bowl games and waited to see where they'd get picked. Eventually, teams decided to get a better idea of what they were getting by sizing them up in advance.

Still, it was fairly simple.

"Initially when we started this, guys just kind of sauntered in," said Gil Brandt, an NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys personnel director.

It gradually got more complex and took a pronounced turn in the 1990s, when player contracts soared and draft picks realized that bulging muscles could produce a bulging bank account.

Brandt was surprised when lineman Mike Mamula jumped up to the seventh overall pick in 1995 after impressing the Eagles and everyone else with his predraft workouts.

"He was probably the first guy that had done extensive training and came in and just knocked everybody's eyes out," Brandt said. "He was thought to be maybe a third- or fourth-round pick before that."

Now everybody has to keep up. Agents line up clients with trainers and coaches. Players go through preparatory camps, learning how to look good at workouts and come across well in interviews. Nothing is overlooked.

"It's like parents getting their kids tutored to take the ACT or the SAT," Brandt said.

There's a lot more at stake than a scholarship. Last year, first-round draft picks got $210 million in signing bonuses. Moving just a few spots in the draft can mean millions of dollars.

Even a top prospect like Roethlisberger has a lot at stake. He and Eli Manning are expected to be the top quarterbacks taken in the draft on April 24. Quarterbacks get the big bucks and the biggest expectations.

"The stakes for a player like Ben are much higher and the dynamic is different than it would be for a typical player," said agent Leigh Steinberg, who has represented eight No. 1 overall picks.

Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer got $14 million in bonuses last year when the Bengals made him the top overall pick. San Diego gets to choose first this time around.

Picking franchise quarterbacks is a risky business. Most first-rounders don't develop into Pro Bowl passers. If a team guesses right, it has a chance to be successful for years. If it guesses wrong - or puts the pick in the wrong setting - the team will pay for years.

Roethlisberger spent the last two months getting ready to make a good impression on teams looking for a franchise player. Roethlisberger, who was one of Ohio's top prep passers at Findlay High School, moved to Newport Beach, Calif., so he could work out every day in warmer weather.

His daily routine includes an hour of weight training, an hour or more working out with a quarterback coach, then a session at Steinberg's office getting mail and doing interviews. There's another hour-long workout to improve his speed before the day is done.

"There's very little sitting down," said Roethlisberger, who left Miami after his junior season. "Very rarely do I not have any workouts. Sunday is my one day off."

There's also some travel. Steinberg took him to the Senior Bowl to meet NFL scouts, coaches and general managers. He also brought Roethlisberger to Super Bowl week in Houston, helping him get another foot in the door while getting a look at the mass media.

"I was kind of star-struck to see people like Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana, Howie Long, Cris Carter, Warren Moon," Roethlisberger said. "I had posters of these guys."

Roethlisberger worked out at the scouting combine in Indianapolis this month. There will be more workouts in the coming weeks, as teams with top picks narrow their choices.

In the meantime, Roethlisberger's daily schedule is crammed.

"Everything is a little overwhelming, but it's starting to sink in that this is kind of my life now and it's going to be my life," he said.

RAIDERS: Oakland added three assistant coaches to complete Norv Turner's staff, including USC quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian.

Sarkisian will coach Oakland's quarterbacks. Martin Bayless was hired as a special teams assistant and Jeff Fish was named the Raiders' strength and conditioning coach.

Bayless was a defensive assistant for the Carolina Panthers last season. Fish was a strength and conditioning coach at Missouri.

Turner also said John Morton, the Raiders' senior offensive assistant, will coach the tight ends next season.

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