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Monday, April 28, 1997

Aikman's 'draft pick' needs to catch on fast

By RANDY GALLOWAY

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS - The new draftees are mingling with the veterans this weekend at Valley Ranch, and finally, the Dallas Cowboys have a first-round pick who definitely stands out.

Then again, standing out comes natural for 6-7, 272-pound David LaFleur, particularly when you combine size with what he will be asked to accomplish in the NFL.

To be an eventual success in the Dallas offensive system, LaFleur must catch passes. The Cowboys are so convinced he can, Jerry (Second Round) Jones not only stayed in the first round, he traded up three spots to ensure LaFleur would be available.

Based on body bulk, plus track record at LSU, LaFleur can become an excellent blocking tight end. If that's all, however, then the drafting history of the Jerry-Barry regime will continue its clueless trend. What the Cowboys are looking for in LaFleur is the third coming of Jay Novacek - Eric Bjornson already was billed as the second.

Maybe you noticed that the Cowboys like to throw to the tight end. A lot. Maybe you also noticed the dip in offensive production last season when Novacek was absent, and Bjornson had ongoing health problems.

So with tight end in this offense being far different from most in job description, why make LaFleur the draft focal point? In a passing game, can he get the constant separation from a clinging linebacker, which has everything to do with explosiveness and quickness? Doesn't LaFleur present a drastic change in what Novacek once brought to the position?

Better yet, is there a scout available who can explain all this? Oh ... there is a scout available, huh. Then go right ahead, sir. Your reasoning, please, on David LaFleur.

"Until everyone sees him, the assumption is no one that big can do what we expect a tight end to do," said Troy Aikman, Jones' new super scout. "All I would say is take a look at him on the field before making up your mind.

"No, at first glance, he's not Jay, but in a way, he is Jay. There are some things about him that really remind me of Jay, starting with the exceptional hands, and also the attitude he brings to the game. As a rookie, I'm not sure what we will have. But he's going to be an outstanding player in the NFL for a long time."

Clip and save that Aikman endorsement. In fact, you will hear it a million times from Jones, coaches and scouts - "Troy liked him." The drafting has been so bad lately, an Aikman endorsement brings a reprieve of sorts. Also, his involvement in the draft served to counter all those off-season stories that Aikman would retire. Jerry certainly wanted Troy involved.

At the request of Jones, Aikman "worked out" eight receivers before the draft, and gave his recommendation on each. Of the eight, Aikman said he wanted three, but refused to name them. Obviously, however, LaFleur was one, and Aikman also said of Florida wideout Ike Hilliard, "He jumped out right away ... there was a sparkle to him."

Aikman went to Lake Charles, La., to meet LaFleur, and spent 30 minutes throwing to him, and more time getting to know him. "Good kid ... good family," he said.

"It's definitely true our drafts lately have been seriously questioned," Aikman added, "but I do not, in any way, feel my involvement came as a result of all that. It's just not the case.

"Jerry had asked me originally to throw to a couple of tight ends and give my opinion. I agreed. I think what happened was the word got out around the league that Aikman had worked with this guy and that guy, so that's who the Cowboys were going after.

"As a strategic thing, I was then asked to throw to some receivers, where it wouldn't be so obvious. In the end, we got who I think we wanted.

"I was operating on the theory that if Jerry thought it would help us as a team if I did this, then, sure, I'm happy to do it. I was pleased when some scouts told me it had really helped us.

"But I want it stressed that my opinion did not weigh heavily in the final decision-making process. A draft is about so many different opinions. I was just one voice."

OK, fine. Except I don't believe a word of all that. One way or the other, David LaFleur just became "Troy's pick."

And you know that stuff about Aikman being hesitant to warm to rookies? Here's a friendly side wager that LaFleur will have immediate ample opportunity to prove he's the pass-catching tight end the Cowboys need.

His "scout" will see to that.


All content copyright 1997, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

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