Super Bowl champions pick former NU center

Jim Martinho

Most players drafted into the National Football League this weekend found out with a call to their house or cell phone.

But former Northwestern center Austin King learned he would be drafted by the Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a different fashion — and on a different phone.

“My cell phone broke (Saturday) so I went to the store with my dad to get a new one,” King said. “I was waiting in line and coach (Jon) Gruden called my dad’s cell phone. He just said they were excited and told me they were going to take me so get ready.”

The Buccaneers chose King with the 36th pick of the fourth round, the 133rd overall selection. Tampa Bay defeated the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in January to win its first Super Bowl. King said he couldn’t envision a better situation for a rookie than the veteran-laden Bucs primed for another run.

“It’ll definitely be good to learn from those guys to play against and with such great players and great coaches,” King said.

King will compete for the backup center position behind starter John Wade. Improving their depth on the offensive line was clearly a priority in the draft for the Buccaneers, who also selected tackle Lance Nimmo of West Virginia and guard Sean Mahan of Notre Dame in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Joining an experienced line will allow King time to develop at the position instead of being thrown into the fire as a rookie.

“He is a very athletic center, and extremely smart. I think he kind of blew the Wunderlic (intelligence test) away,” Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay said. “I don’t think he played as well this year as he did last year, but we like the kid a lot. We like the athlete and had a position open in that we really did not have a back-up center. We wanted to bring somebody in that was young that we could develop at the position.”

King worked out for Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach John Muir at NU — a workout King said went better than the scouting combine. Like McKay, Muir was most impressed with what was above the shoulders of the 6-foot-3, 299-pound King.

“Regardless of what franchise you are in, (intelligence) of an offensive lineman is important because what the defenses are doing now requires a process that is almost instantaneous,” Muir said. “I think it is extremely hard for somebody who is low on the football instinctive scale to play offensive line.”

King was the only Northwestern player chosen in the draft. His roommate and three-year teammate on the offensive line, Jeff Roehl, hoped to be taken in the later rounds but went undrafted.

King won’t have very much time to celebrate. He said he will fly to Tampa Bay on Thursday to begin the first minicamp this weekend. King welcomed the opportunity to practice against one of the league’s best defenses — including imposing defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

“That was the first thing that came to my mind,” King said. “It’ll be good to go against those types of players, and I can only make myself better. I’m just glad he’s on my side.”