October 31, 2000

XFL DRAFT: Coach happy with picks

Criner sings praises of offensive, defensive talent assembled

By KEVIN IOLE - Las Vegas Review-Journal

Las Vegas Outlaws coach Jim Criner sang the same tune for a third day in a row Monday. If he is right, the Outlaws could be celebrating at the end of the first XFL season.

Criner was ecstatic about the Outlaws' haul in the first XFL Draft, which completed with 34 rounds Monday. After making 11 territorial selections and 59 draft picks, the veteran coach said he couldn't believe his good fortune.

"We feel very, very good about the kind of team we have," Criner said. "Starting defensively, it's a very physical group of guys with a lot of big, strong guys to push the pocket and run stoppers who have the lateral movement to squeeze things off. We've got what I consider to be very good team speed defensively and a lot of very smart football players."

Criner heaped similar praise on the offense. The Outlaws drafted a handful of familiar names Monday, notably ex-University of Miami quarterback Ryan Clement and guard Ike Davis, a four-year starter with the Oakland Raiders, but for the most part, the Outlaws passed on big names.

Former Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam went to the Memphis Maniax and ex-Heisman runner-up Troy Davis was chosen by the lasvegas Thunderbolts.

But Criner preferred to concentrate on the players he rated highest and not those with the biggest marquee value.

"The best way to sell this football team is by playing tough, aggressive, winning football," Criner said. "With the players we chose, we've got the pieces in place to do that."

The third day of the draft featured more of an emphasis on skill-position players by the Outlaws, who began the day with just one quarterback and two running backs. But Las Vegas chose three more quarterbacks and got more guys to run the ball than it could possibly use.

Criner is looking for internal competition and believes he got it. He said the Outlaws drafted plenty of speed -- at least four players have run 4.4-second or better 40-yard dashes -- as well as power to rush between the tackles.

One of the players, Tyrone Edwards, a 6-foot-1-inch, 225-pounder who now lives in Las Vegas, played college football at California where he started at tailback and safety.

"He's a guy who can get outside for you, but if you need him to, he can pound it up inside," Criner said. "We wanted to have that ability to pound, pound, pound, and we think we got it. We have a lot of 300-pounders up front, but you won't see any big pot bellies hanging over belts with these guys. They're all great athletes in great shape. So we can line up with a huge line and a big back and really get after you if we want to go that way."

The Outlaws also got two of the three kickers they had targeted. Criner would like to use one player to handle kickoffs, field goals, extra points and punts and believes he found two who can do that in Marcus Williams of Arizona State and Michael Scott of Bakersfield Junior College.

XFL teams will have 38-man active rosters and a seven-man taxi squad for each game, and, with that small of a roster, Criner doesn't want to waste a spot on two specialists.

"Marcus is about a 43- or 44-yard average punter with good hang time, he's accurate on field goals and he can get it inside the 5 on kickoffs," Criner said. "Michael has the ability to get it into the end zone on kickoffs and is also a very accurate field-goal kicker, but he's not as consistent a punter. There was one other guy we liked who wasn't drafted, so if these guys don't pan out the way we thought, this other kid will be there waiting in the wings for us. Because of that, we feel our kicking game is solid, too."