Sunday, April 25, 2004

Three Buckeyes selected in first round

By Andy Resnik
The Associated Press

Will Smith is headed from the Buckeye State to the Bayou. Some of his former Ohio State teammates also are moving to favorable locations.

New Orleans selected Smith with the 18th overall pick in the NFL draft Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 267-pound defensive end should immediately help the Saints, who had the league's 27th rushing defense last season by allowing 140.1 yards per game.

Buckeyes cornerback Chris Gamble went to defending NFC champion Carolina with the 28th pick in the first round and, with the next selection, wide receiver Michael Jenkins was given the chance to catch passes from Michael Vick in Atlanta.

Ohio State tight end Ben Hartsock was picked in the third round (68th overall) by Indianapolis, and Buffalo picked defensive tackle Tim Anderson with the 74th pick. Green Bay took punter B.J. Sander with the 87th pick, and Baltimore chose defensive end Darrion Scott with the next pick.

Miami of Ohio quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the first Ohio college player selected when he went 11th overall to Pittsburgh. Two picks later, Buffalo selected Bedford native and Wisconsin wide receiver Lee Evans.

It could be a big weekend for the Buckeyes, who have a chance to set the record for the most players taken in a seven-round draft. As many as 15 Ohio State players could be selected before the draft ends Sunday. The Miami Hurricanes set the record two years ago with 11.

The Buckeyes had three first-round picks for the first time since 1999, when David Boston, Antoine Winfield and Andy Katzenmoyer were selected.

Smith had 10 1/2 sacks and 49 tackles, including 20 behind the line of scrimmage, in a 2003 season that saw him earn second-team All-America honors and the Big Ten defensive player of the year award.

He's confident the Saints' defense will be better now that he's a part of it.

"We had a real complex scheme where I blitzed a lot or dropped into coverages. I did a lot of different things for Ohio State and I think that kind of made me a complete player," Smith said.

Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher dismissed concerns the Steelers were taking a risk by selecting the 6-4, 242-pound Roethlisberger, who only has four years of experience (one high school, three college) playing quarterback. The Findlay native forfeited his senior season to enter the draft.

"If you have an opportunity to get a good, young quarterback who has a tremendous upside, it's too golden of an opportunity to pass up," said Cowher, who can afford to have Roethlisberger spend a season on the sidelines learning the game from starter Tommy Maddox.

Roethlisberger had his poorest performance of the 2003 season in the opener against Iowa, throwing four interceptions in a 21-3 loss. The RedHawks then reeled off 13 straight wins behind their quarterback, who finished with 4,486 yards passing and 37 touchdowns.

He dismissed the notion that playing in the Mid-American Conference helped him pad his stats.

"Randy Moss, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich," Roethlisberger said, referring to the former stars at MAC-rival Marshall. "They're not doing too badly in the NFL."

Gamble, a key contributor on offense, defense and special teams to Ohio State's 2002 national champions, joins a Carolina secondary that has lost three of its top five players since the Super Bowl loss to New England.

"I feel I fit in very well at cornerback," Gamble, who skipped his senior season, said in an interview on the Panthers' Web site. "I have learned a lot since my sophomore year. The only thing I really need to work on is tackling, but everything else I feel comfortable handling."

Jenkins, who seemed to make every big catch for the Buckeyes the past two seasons, was excited about working with the NFL's top young quarterback in Vick.

"Michael probably doesn't know it, but he hosted me on my visit when I came out to Virginia Tech and I did not end up going there because I did not think he would stay there for very long. But to be paired up with him and (wide receiver) Peerless Price on the other side is an awesome feeling," Jenkins said on the Falcons' Web site.

Smith will be reunited in New Orleans with former Ohio State players LeCharles Bentley and Cie Grant, a national championship teammate.

Now that he'll be living in a city known for its restaurants and Cajun cuisine, Smith said he's looking forward to finding out whether Bentley is the cook he claims to be.

"When he was at Ohio State he used to always talk about what he cooked, but nobody actually ate the food," Smith said, drawing laughs from reporters on a conference call.

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