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Jags fortify both front lines near the top

OT Mike Pearson completes a Florida sweep by staying in-state.

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2002

OT Mike Pearson completes a Florida sweep by staying in-state.

Four years ago he made the 130-mile drive north from Seffner to Gainesville. Saturday he finished the remaining 70 miles to the NFL, from Gainesville to Jacksonville. Goodbye Tony Boselli, hello Mike Pearson.

The Tampa native, Armwood High standout and former Gator offensive tackle was the Jaguars' second-round pick, No. 40 overall. Pearson could have been a first-rounder had his stock not dropped because of questions about his strength, a problem the Jags believe will be remedied in their weight room.

"Every guy in the draft would like to be a first-round guy," Pearson said, "but right now I'm just looking at it as the same as a first-round pick for me. I'm ecstatic that I get to come to Jacksonville. ... I'm a hometown guy and I get to stay in the state."

The Jaguars, 6-10 last season and 7-9 in 2000, raised eyebrows with their first-round pick. Their biggest need was at defensive tackle, where they lost Seth Payne and Gary Walker to the Texans in the expansion draft. Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth, ranked high among defensive tackles, was available when the Jags' turn came at No. 9.

Instead they picked Haynesworth's teammate, John Henderson, who as a junior won the Outland Trophy as college football's best interior lineman. But he brings with him a recent history of back and ankle injuries.

He sprained his ankle in last season's first game. It bothered him all season, and his sack total fell from 12 to 4 1/2. Still, he played every game. "I take my hat off to him for his toughness, his maturity," coach Tom Coughlin said.

Pearson's availability allowed Jacksonville to breath a sigh of relief, having found the player to replace Boselli, its first-ever draft pick. The Jaguars got him when they joined the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1995 and lost him the same way, to the Texans.

He has a big reputation to live up to -- he's already been nicknamed "Baby Boselli." He picked it up as a freshman at Florida.

"Zach Piller (now with the Titans) started calling me that, Pearson said. "I've always been a huge fan of Tony's. He's a great player and I've got some really big shoes to fill."

Coughlin said the Jags "had our eye on (Pearson). It's a very good pick for us. He's an outstanding pass-blocker. I think he'll come around in the (run-blocking) phase."

Pearson was a draft-for-need pick and his arrival may enable the Jags to put most of their offensive-line pieces together, meaning last year's second-round pick, Maurice Williams, stays at right tackle, Zach Wiegert starts at left guard and Brad Meester returns to his natural spot, center. "(Pearson) was without a doubt the best quality for this pick," Coughlin said.

Is Henderson the best quality for the Jags' first-round pick?

"Haynesworth is a gifted athlete," Coughlin said. "But we felt Henderson was, in our situation, the pick we needed to make." Haynesworth went 15th to the Titans.

"John Henderson had 70 percent playing time with a high-ankle sprain. I take my hat off to his toughness," Coughlin said, describing his No. 1 pick as a someone who has "the heart and dedication to become an impact player right away."

Henderson downplayed his back problems, saying they resulted from tight hamstrings. Coughlin said reports on Henderson suggest injuries will not be a problem.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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