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UCLA's Lewis Is Pleased With His Destination

April 30, 2006|Lonnie White and Gary Klein | Times Staff Writers

While USC offensive tackle Winston Justice and running back LenDale White spent a long day waiting for their names to be called in Saturday's NFL draft, UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis' day went about as expected.

Lewis was selected 28th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team he thought, and hoped, he might end up with all along.

"I knew that I could go anywhere from 21 to the latter part of the round," said Lewis, who won the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end, after leading the Bruins with 50 receptions for 741 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.

"There were four teams that seemed interested in me -- Tampa Bay, Chicago, Cincinnati and Jacksonville -- but I really didn't know until I got that call."

Lewis, who watched the draft with a group of about 30 family and friends in a Loews Hotel suite in Santa Monica, was picked by the Jaguars, who not only passed on Justice and White but also Georgia tight end Leonard Pope and Florida receiver Chad Jackson.

"Once we got to our pick, he was our pick," Coach Jack Del Rio told reporters after selecting the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Lewis.

"We feel solid about this pick. It was a pick the coaches and scouts had an affection for. He's a fine young man; top character."

Justice, listed in several mock drafts as a top-10 selection after a solid pro-day workout, was not selected until the seventh pick of the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

The next local player to be selected was USC offensive guard Taitusi Lutui, two picks behind Justice by the Arizona Cardinals with the 41st selection overall. White's time finally came when the Tennessee Titans picked him 45th overall.

According to reports around the league, Justice and White dropped in the draft because of character issues, but USC Coach Pete Carroll blamed the recent negative attention surrounding the program for their fall.

"I think the reason they slipped is hype going in, media stuff," Carroll said. "The real evaluations came through."

Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid said the Eagles did their homework on Justice, who will go to training camp behind veteran tackles Tra Thomas and Joe Runyan.

"We have some veteran players in there, so it gives [Justice] the opportunity to learn," Reid told Philadelphia reporters. "But he also has the skill and the ability to step in and play if he needs to."

Later in the second round, Jacksonville and Del Rio -- a former USC All-American linebacker -- turned to UCLA again when the Jaguars selected running back and kick returner Maurice Drew with the 60th overall pick.

"We drafted him as both. We think he can be a positional player," Del Rio said about the 5-7, 209-pound Drew, who led the nation in punt returns last season.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo defensive end Chris Gocong was the next local player to be selected when the Eagles chose him with the seventh pick of the third round. Gocong, the 71st overall selection, is the highest Mustang player drafted in the NFL.

To close out the first day of the draft, two USC players were picked late in the third round when defensive end Frostee Rucker was selected 91st overall by the Cincinnati Bengals and tight end Dominique Byrd was picked 93rd by the St. Louis Rams.

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