After being bypassed in the first round of the NFL draft last spring, linebacker Aaron Wallace of Texas A&M; was so upset that he got into his car and went for a drive with the stereo blaring.
Suddenly, his car phone rang.
“Hello, Aaron, this is Coach Art Shell of the Raiders. We just drafted you. Welcome to the Raiders.”
Thankful that he was drafted, Wallace hopes to prove that the Raiders made the right move by selecting him in the second round.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t go in the first round, but I was happy to go to the Raiders because I thought I’d get a chance to prove myself,” Wallace said. “I have something to prove to myself and to Mr. (Al) Davis. He gave me the chance. The first thing he said to me was that he thought I was going to be a great player. For a man who has been around football and has had as many great players as he has, that meant a lot to me.”
Wallace has fulfilled Davis’ expectations during the exhibition season, making a team-high six sacks in four exhibition games, including three in a 20-3 victory over the Chicago Bears last Friday.
Wallace beat Jim Covert, the Bears’ All-Pro tackle on two of the sacks. And the other sack was the result of a stunt in which defensive tackle Howie Long took out two blockers to enable Wallace to take down quarterback Mike Tomczak.
“If we just keep him healthy and keep him moving in the right direction, I’ll be as happy as a pig in . . . ,” Long said. “I hope he gets 30 sacks.
“He doesn’t even know what he’s doing, but if you locked him in a closet for two or three years he’d come out rushing the passer. Some guys just have that. He has it.”
Raider linebacker Jerry Robinson agreed.
“When it comes to pass rushing he knows what he’s doing,” Robinson said of Wallace. “Last week, he got in that three-point stance and just came firing out, and tackles had a hard time picking him up.”
Wallace uses his speed to elude blockers and make sacks. Concerned with containing Denver quarterback John Elway, the Raiders think they finally have found a player who can chase him down.
“Some of the great running backs in the NFL have been able to stop and accelerate, and Aaron has great acceleration,” Robinson said. “It’s like being at a track meet and all of a sudden you’ll see the anchor man just start snatching people and you hear the crowd go ‘Wooooooo.’ That’s what he does.”
Nicknamed “Sackman” since high school, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Wallace set a Texas A&M; record with 42 sacks, including 10 1/2 last season. He made 14 tackles and had three sacks in a game against Texas.
So why wasn’t Wallace drafted higher?
It was probably because he was labeled as a malingerer by NFL scouts after missing three games with a turf toe injury last season. The injury to his right big toe made it difficult for him to cut and use moves to elude pass blockers. The Raiders, who acknowledge that not all players can play with injuries, insist that Wallace was mislabeled.
“I was surprised about the draft, but a day or two after that, I just had to make peace with myself and understand it,” Wallace said. “I’m trying to make a new beginning for myself right now.”
Although the Raiders were criticized for selecting Wallace, they hope to have the last laugh.
“He’s playing great,” nose guard Bob Golic said. “Right now he’s at a point where, being a young guy, you don’t want to burden him with too many of the intricacies of the game, trying to learn all the defense. “His speed is phenomenal, and his moves leave offensive linemen standing in their tracks.”
The Raiders have Wallace concentrating on dropping into pass coverage and coming up on running plays.
“Pass rushing was what he was known for in college,” Shell said. “We’re trying to make him into a complete linebacker. In college, he didn’t drop back that much into coverage, but he’s picking up things pretty well.”
Tailback Marcus Allen is expected to sit out Saturday’s exhibition against the San Diego Chargers at the Coliseum because of a hamstring injury. . . . During a conference call with the national media, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was asked about the NFL’s position on the Raiders moving back to Oakland. “Ten years ago, the league’s view was that the NFL and Oakland had a tremendous relationship and that was a plus for the NFL. I’m just restating the league’s thoughts of 10 years ago, which was that there was no cause for the Raiders to leave Oakland; 1990 circumstances are different.” Where will the Raiders play this season? “In a stadium someplace,” Tagliabue said. “It would be good for everyone concerned if the Raiders’ location is nailed down right now.” Al Davis declined to comment.