One hundred and seventy-one players were chosen before Darryl Ashmore's name was called during this spring's NFL draft--171 players with fine college pedigrees or blazing speed or behemoth proportions. Or, like Sean Gilbert, a healthy and wealthy blend of all.
The 172nd pick in the draft was Ashmore, who at best has only loose bits and pieces of what the NFL wants in its athletes.
So as No. 1 pick Gilbert surged Thursday morning into his first Ram training camp practice with a $3.2-million bonus in his bank account and the eyes of everyone upon his 310-pound frame, Ashmore emerged as Gilbert's lanky reverse image.
Gilbert plays defense. Ashmore is a converted defensive lineman who is getting a shot at making the Rams as a backup offensive tackle.
Gilbert is a no-miss star from the tradition-rich, talent-laden University of Pittsburgh, where he left school a year early to get an NFL head start. Ashmore is a long-range project from endowment-rich, victory-poor Northwestern.
Gilbert was the third pick overall. Ashmore was the Rams' seventh-round pick.
Gilbert is almost 6 feet 5, has stunningly fast feet and a body like a tree trunk. Ashmore is almost 6-7, has huge, perhaps not so stunningly fast feet, a reconstructed knee, and a body more chiseled than chunky.
Gilbert is the kind of player coaches wind up and drop into the middle of a defense, expecting mayhem. Ashmore is the kind of player coaches \o7 coach, \f7 every day, for years, hoping for down-the-road success.
But Ashmore may not have to look far down the road.
"We're just going to hope he can grasp enough things through the four preseason games and through training camp so he can be effective," said Ram offensive line coach Jim Erkenbeck, suggesting that Ashmore might play this season.
"He would not be the first drafted guy that I coached that has come in and in the middle of the season taken over a starting job. The analogy would be (ninth-rounder) Kevin Gogan from (the University of) Washington who came in (to the Dallas Cowboys) in '86. First game that Kevin played was against Reggie White, had an excellent game, we won the game."
The Rams, with 38-year-old Jackie Slater and Gerald Perry as their starting tackles and not much experience behind them, are looking for depth and future starters there.
They see Ashmore as someone who can eventually put 20 more pounds onto his 300-pound frame and step in as an NFL right tackle.
"They're all fun to coach," Erkenbeck said. "But he's especially fun because you think if he becomes a player at his size, he's going to be great."
Ashmore said the reason he decided to attend Northwestern and bypass chances to go to Auburn or other Big Ten schools was the opportunity to play defense.
After two years on defense and two years of battling back from a knee injury, he was convinced that he had to devote his final year of eligibility to the offensive line.
"I think I was definitely an offensive personality from the get-go," Ashmore said. "I was a good D-lineman, but I was an overachiever on D-line.
"I think I'm a prototype offensive lineman right now--tall, rangy and I've got a little weight under me."
In his final year at Northwestern, his first at tackle, the team went 3-8, his coach, Francis Peay, was fired, and Ashmore had finished his college career without ever having come close to a winning season.
"It was really tough," Ashmore said, specifically referring to the weekly blowouts the Wildcats suffered. "You never get used to them. You just wish you were somewhere else the next day. But you've got to go out there and practice the next week and gear it up. Basically just go all out the next week."
The one tradition Northwestern does have, however, is being able to produce one NFL offensive lineman per decade. In the '80s, Chris Hinton, a converted tight end, was a first-round pick in 1983 and is still going strong for the Atlanta Falcons.
"Right now, he's a little raw and everything," defensive end Robert Young said after going up against Ashmore several times Thursday morning.
"But I'm pretty sure in a few more practices, he'll be one of the top contenders on the field."