It only took one year, but Shawn Knight, the New Orleans Saints' No. 1 draft pick out of BYU, finally has made a tackle in the National Football League.
In fact, he has three of them, all in exhibition play.That is three more tackles than he had all last season, by the way. Knight, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound defensive linemen, failed to record a single defensive statistic last season, which is a big reason why Sports Illustrated rated Knight, the 11th player taken in the entire 1987 draft, as one of the year's biggest NFL busts.
Not that the affable Knight lets this bother him. "It doesn't matter much," he says. "It's just the press."
Well, not quite. The word out of the Saints' office is that Coach Jim Mora "hasn't been pleased" with Knight's progress. "You can't judge yet whether he's a bust," says Mora, however. "The jury is still out."
The Saints and Knight are hoping that one training camp, plus an exhibition season, will make a difference. So far it hasn't. With the preseason winding down this weekend, Knight finds himself only No. 3 on the depth chart at left defensive end, having slipped a notch from No. 2.
"They move me in and out," says Knight of his practice and playing time. "Some days I don't get any reps, and other days I get a lot of them. You never know what they're (coaches) thinking . . . I really don't know where I stand."
Knight's rookie season was anything but routine last year. He missed training camp and the exhibition season while holding out for a bigger contract. "That really hurt," says Knight. "And then there was the strike."
Knight sat out three games, along with the rest of his teammates, while waiting for the strike to be settled, which did nothing to help a raw, rough-around-the-edges rookie.
"I think I'm making progress," says Knight. "I'm where I was expected to be last year in camp."
The rap on Knight is his technique - foot work, hand placement, etc. "Shawn Knight needs a lot of work," says LaVell Edwards, Knight's coach at BYU. "He's not a great technician and he never was. What he was, and is, is a relentless player. He's a bit out of control, but he's in on every play. If someone takes the time to work with him, he could be a good player. But he doesn't have the skill Jason Buck has."
Buck, another defensive end, was Knight's teammate at BYU, the winner of the Outland Trophy and the 17th player taken in the '87 draft, by the Cincinnati Bengals. Buck, who also was a holdout last year, has also had his problems in the NFL, but he's faring a little better than Knight. He had four tackles and two sacks last year. Buck started two games early in the current exhibition season, but he's now listed as the second-team right defensive end (his exhibition statistics: three tackles, one assisted tackle, two sacks).
"I think both organizations (Cincinnati, New Orleans) were hoping they got something more than they got," says Knight.
As for his own career, Knight is confident, despite his precarious start. "I feel like I can play football; I can play for these guys," he says.