NFL goes heavily for linemen in draft; basketball trial balloons

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Professional football people are fond of saying that games are won in the trenches. That teams don't simply pay lip service to this notion was clear during this week's National Football League draft, which turned into a veritable ``Who's Who'' of college linemen. The list of first-round draftees was thick with linemen and linebackers, most with names unfamiliar to the spectating public. To wit: Lomas Brown, Ken Ruettgers, and Ron Holmes, to name a trio of Top 10 choices.

Appropriately, the very first player taken was Virginia Tech's Bruce Smith, whose rather ordinary name could not belie his extraordinary ability. Football writers had recognized his achievements last season by presenting him with the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation's best interior lineman.

There was absolutely no suspense surrounding Smith's selection by the Buffalo Bills, who basically only ratified their decision to make the 6 ft. 3 in., 285 lb. defensive end the draft's top choice. Smith was signed long ago.

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With Smith gone, the next choice might have been Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar had he not taken the controversial step of passing up the regular draft to enter a supplemental version later. Though Kosar has played only two college seasons, his anticipated summer graduation has paved the way for an early NFL entry, which it now appears he will make with the Cleveland Browns.

Atlanta dealt with Minnesota to get the second overall choice, which it used to draft Pittsburgh offensive tackle Bill Fralic. The Houston Oilers then took pass rusher Ray Childress of Texas A&M.

The theme was repeated until the New York Jets, picking 11th, finally grabbed the draft's first ``skill'' position player, Wisconsin receiver Al Toon. Three turns later, the Cincinnati Bengals took Eddie Brown, a favorite target of Kosar at Miami.

What little offensive glitter surfaced thereafter in the first round came with the drafting of such running backs as Ethan Horton of North Carolina by Kansas City and George Adams of Kentucky by the New York Giants.

The foresighted Dallas Cowboys took a calculated risk in drafting ballcarrier Herschel Walker on the fifth round. Walker is under contract to the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League three seasons ago. The Cowboys, of course, once drafted Navy quarterback Roger Staubach despite a lengthy service commitment, and figured they'd grab the rights to Walker in case the USFL ever folds or Walker decides to change leagues.

Heisman winner Doug Flutie, who also plays for the Generals, held even less appeal as a possible future NFL star and was made the 285th pick by Los Angeles.

As a group, college basketball players have become much better shooters through the years. They might improve still further if a couple of minor equipment alterations are made. Both involve color changes, one to the metal flange that supports the rim, and the other to the rectangle that serves as backboard shooting target. The first of these visual aids was experimented with informally at the University of Eastern Washington this past season. Jerry Krause, coach of the school's men's basketball team and a longtime researcher in the sport, painted one basket support a neutral color so the orange rim would be more distinct. (Both the rim and the supporting mechanism are traditionally orange.)

``The preliminary indication is that this change does improve field goal accuracy,'' says Krause. ``Our team shot 47 percent on the season, which is about the national average. But using the `target rim' at one end in home games we went up to about 54 percent.''

The intent here, of course, is to make the actual rim more visible to a player, who must shoot in the blink of an eye. The same logic explains why Krause has begun to experiment with a bright blue rectangle, which perceptual experts say would be easier to pick out than the white rectangles normally painted on glass backboards. A pilot study of this change, which could help in banking the ball into the basket, will be completed next season.

The Red Carpet South Park Lanes may sound like an odd place to hold a collegiate championship, unless, of course, the sport is bowling. Then the Milwaukee facility makes for a logical site for the national finals May 3-5. The roll-offs bring together the nation's top 24 teams, 12 men's and 12 women's. Since the championships began in 1975, Wichita State's Lady Shockers have made the most roll-offs (8) and secured the most titles (3). They will be trying to regain the women's crown from Indiana State. The very team-oriented competition is the only national bowling championship to use the Baker single line scoring system, in which five team members take turns bowling the 10 frames per game.

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