February 10, 2003
by Warren DeLuca
Scouts have rated Utah tackle Jordan Gross as the number one offensive lineman available in the 2003 draft. However, to most outside of the beehive state, Gross is somewhat of an unknown. Although he did receive All-American honors as a senior, an offensive lineman on a 5-6 team that finished fifth in the Mountain West Conference is not going to garner much attention from the fans and media. Gross played only one game on national television in 2002 and bypassed the postseason all-star games in order to prepare for the scouting combine.
With Tony Boselli still a major question mark for medical reasons, Ryan Young an unrestricted free agent, Chester Pitts destined to move inside to guard, and no quality depth, the Texans are probably taking a long look at Gross. HoustonProFootball.com recently asked Michael C. Lewis of The Salt Lake Tribune to give us some insight into this top prospect.
HPF: What are Gross’ strengths and weaknesses?
Lewis: Well, his strengths are pretty obvious: He has great size, and fantastic speed for that size. His technique and balance are superb – he seems equally adept at both run and pass blocking – and he’s a very intelligent player without a hint of personal "baggage" or ego. His weaknesses might be a lack of facing top competition every week for a prolonged period, and his fairly laid-back personality might need some adjustment for Gross to succeed in the murderous NFL.
HPF: Let’s discuss that personality a little more. How would you describe his demeanor on the field? How about off the field?
Lewis: On the field, Gross probably would best be described as efficient. He’s technically very sound, with good balance, size, strength and technique – but he’s not what you’d call a brawler. In fact, his position coach this past season said the staff was trying to put a lot of emphasis on getting Gross "nastier" on the field, and that the scouts who had been coming through practice had indeed noticed a difference from the previous season. So he was more willing to really bury guys when he had to, but still, sheer brutality is not a natural inclination for him. He seems more interested in just getting his job done as quickly and cleanly as possible. Off the field, he’s a great kid with a sharp sense of humor. He’s a bit of a joker, and his wife – his old high school sweetheart – said he really enjoys being the center of a fun kind of attention. He grew up in a tiny town in Idaho, and seems to have maintained the lack of pretension you would expect from somebody with that kind of background.
HPF: The Texans own the third pick in the draft. In the past decade, only a handful of offensive linemen have been drafted that high – Leonard Davis, Chris Samuels, Orlando Pace, and Tony Boselli. Do you think Gross belongs in that class?
Lewis: I don’t know. Frankly, I have a hard time thinking so, if only because Gross played this season for a bad team that hardly had the national cachet that some of those others did. Even Gross has acknowledged being shocked that he’s so highly considered, especially because before this past season, he hadn’t been anything more than an honorable mention selection in an average conference. He said he was blown away by how much attention he started to get, particularly from all of the agents who started to call. That said, he certainly seems to have all of the tools, and my guess is that legions of NFL scouts know a lot more than I do about such things.
HPF: Gross was a left tackle in 2002, but has also played guard and right tackle. What do you think his best pro position will be?
Lewis: I would imagine left tackle, because of his size and speed. He’s pretty close to the prototypical tackle size – 6-foot-5 and 305, I think – and I think he’s fast enough to deal on the outside with many of the speed rushers that come off the quarterback’s blind side. He seems maybe too tall for an interior lineman, and my guess would be that if he had to put on the kind of
weight that those guys seem to need down in the trenches, his other strong suits – notably speed – might be affected.
HPF: You mentioned the level of competition that he has faced. The Mountain West Conference is known for its wide-open offenses, but does not have a reputation as a hotbed of great defensive players. To what degree has Gross been challenged at the college level, and how big of an adjustment do you think he will have to make when he moves to the NFL?
Lewis: No, the Mountain West isn’t exactly one step away from the NFL on defense, so I would agree with the notion that Gross hasn’t seriously been challenged week in and week out. However, he has fared well against some tough teams – notably USC in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2001 and Arizona and Michigan this past season. I suspect the biggest adjustment he will have to make is being prepared to take on some serious studs every single week; there are no Air
Forces in the NFL.
HPF: As you have said, Gross has received a great deal of attention from NFL scouts. Have you gotten any indication of the degree of the Texans’ interest?
Lewis: Funny you should (ask). I was just talking to one of the strength coaches last week, and we got (to) talking about Jordan. He said that the Houston GM himself came to practice to watch Gross last season, and said that he said something along the lines of wishing he had Gross right then, because he figured he could help the Texans immediately. Past that, I have no "inside information." Sorry.
HPF: Are there any other Utah prospects that feel have a strong shot at the NFL? Could Antwoine Sanders fill a big need for the Texans at safety?
Lewis: I don’t know that the Utes have any other serious pro prospects this season except Sanders and maybe – maybe – wide receiver Paris Jackson. I say that without knowing the particulars of what scouts think, but Jackson is big and reasonably fast with good hands who had a great second half of the season. He might be the kind of guy that fits the Utes’ historical mode of turning out much better in the pros than his college career would have suggested.
As for Sanders, he had a breakout season in 2001 and had already decided to turn pro after 2002 before the season started. But honestly, I only saw him make maybe a half-dozen plays throughout the year that made me go: "Wow! Now that’s a big-time player." Now, maybe that’s because opponents stayed away from him as much as they could, and that’s probably a fair argument. Sanders’ range and closing speed was simply amazing when you had a chance to see it, and he certainly does seem to have the natural ability to play in the league. One question, however, might be his feet. He played much of the season with pain in them because he has uncommonly high arches, and somehow the pressure that running and jumping puts on them can be awfully painful. He tried to get some special orthotics made for his shoes, but that never really worked out and he just had to suck it up most of the time. In the pros, though, I’ll bet they can figure something out for that.
Michael C. Lewis just completed his first season covering the Utah Utes after reporting on Brigham Young football for most of the previous six years. He has written for the Salt Lake Tribune since 1993, and in that time has covered everything from prep sports, minor league baseball, Utah State basketball, college football, the NBA, to two Olympics (Sydney and Salt Lake). He also writes a weekly column. We thank him for taking them time to graciously answer all of our questions. Jordan Gross Return to Houston Pro Football