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Fitzgerald won't fall


(March 23)—Jack Del Rio was there. So was his offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and wide receivers coach Ken Anderson, and "Shack" Harris led the brain trust of the Jaguars' personnel department, which included Pro Personnel Director Charles Bailey and Executive Scout Terry McDonough. You might say the Jaguars were very well-represented; suspiciously en masse.

In fact, all 32 NFL teams were represented at Pitt's pro day yesterday, and they weren't there for a glimpse at Pittsburgh's steel-gray skies. The NFL world was in Pittsburgh to see Larry Fitzgerald.

It was a critical day for teams such as the Jaguars, which is to say teams who would love for Fitzgerald to fall to them in the draft, but who went to Pittsburgh knowing Fitzgerald would probably have to turn in bad "40" times for that to happen.

Well, it didn't happen. The kid ran the 40-yard dash twice, posting what draft analyst Gil Brandt reported to be 4.51 and 4.47. The latter time, combined with an impressive workout that included a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-1 long jump, 20 strength reps, a 4.27 short-shuttle and a 6.97 three-cone drill, probably cemented Fitzgerald's position at the top of next month's NFL draft. If the Jaguars really want Fitzgerald, they'll probably have to pony-up extra picks in a move-up trade to get him.

Such is the case because of a very smart move by Pitt, who chose not to use its new, beautiful and spacious indoor facility as the site of yesterday's pro day. That facility has a soft and slow FieldTurf surface that might have produced a much slower 40 time for Fitzgerald. At least, that's what teams low in the draft order had to be hoping.

Instead, Pitt conducted the pro day in an older facility the team abandoned some years ago. Its surface is the old-fashioned, cement-hard AstroTurf, and the next time Fitzgerald complains about turf burns on his elbows from having played on the old stuff in Indianapolis or Minnesota, he should remember what the old stuff put in his pocket yesterday.

Anderson came away from the workout impressed by Fitzgerald's sensational ball skills and body control. The kid really is a special talent. There was just that one nagging question about his ability: How fast is he?

What Fitzgerald proved yesterday is that he is not a burner. Personnel people had come to accept that fact. But his 4.47 time also proved he is not to be confused with Washington's Reggie Williams, who couldn't get out of the 4.5's and even crossed over the dreaded 4.6 barrier in his workout.

Fitzgerald is safe. He conducted a full workout and satisfied the scouts. He may sit back and wait for draft day, when his wait will probably end within the first 30 minutes of the draft's start. If the Raiders don't take him at two, or trade the pick to someone who wants Fitzgerald, Arizona coach Denny Green is almost certain to grab Fitzgerald with the third pick. Fitzgerald was a ballboy for Green when the latter was the Vikings' head coach.

Green was one of three head coaches at the Pitt pro day. Steve Mariucci, whose Lions own the sixth pick, was also on hand.

What it all means is that the Jaguars may have lost whatever chance they had of pairing Fitzgerald with Byron Leftwich, at the exact moment 75 scouts stopped their watches and agreed that Fitzgerald had run in the high 4.4's.

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