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Tannenbaum a quick study

Tireless Jet GM drafting plan

BY RICH CIMINI

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

A month ago, Mike Tannenbaum made like Ponce de Leon and went to Florida, searching for a fountain.

He wasn't looking for youth; at 37, he's the youngest general manager in the NFL. No, Tannenbaum made the trip to drink from a fountain of knowledge - and he found it in Jupiter at the home of retired Packers GM Ron Wolf, one of the game's most respected minds.

Tannenbaum spent two hours with Wolf, picking his brain on all things football and taking copious notes. The next day, they met a mutual friend, Bill Parcells, at a Mets-Cardinals exhibition game. More football talk.

"They were talking and I was writing things down," said Tannenbaum, who was promoted in February to replace Terry Bradway. "It was fascinating to get their insights."

Unlike some ego-crazed executives, Tannenbaum realizes that a fancy title doesn't make you a know-it-all.

The Jets' new football boss might be short on experience, but there's no questioning his drive and his meticulous approach, attributes that shaped the team's preparation for this weekend's draft.

This is Tannenbaum's first major test. With two first-round picks (fourth and 29th), and with five choices in the first three rounds, he has the opportunity to accelerate the rebuilding process and put his stamp on the franchise. It's a lot of responsibility for someone who always was known as a salary-cap expert.

"He'll feel the pressure," said Wolf, who was impressed by Tannenbaum. "I don't care if it's your first time or your 31st time, there's pressure. Anybody who tells you differently is lying."

Asked if he's sensing any heat, Tannenbaum replied, "Preparation breeds confidence. I feel very good about our preparation."

Indeed, Tannenbaum and rookie coach Eric Mangini ratcheted up the information-gathering process, seemingly leaving no stone unturned. Or, as Tannenbaum said, "I feel like I've been under a few boulders lately."

Example: Despite having an immense dossier on Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, a high-character individual if there ever was one, the Jets flew him to Long Island last Thursday and tested him one last time. Ex-player Jerome Henderson, recently hired as the Jets' director of player development, administered a psychological test.

At the scouting combine in February, the Jets used a new interviewing technique. Instead of asking the routine questions - career goals, family matters, etc. - they skipped the pleasantries, put on game film of the player and inundated him with rapid-fire questions. It was technical stuff, pertaining to X's and O's.

Some players must have been intimidated because word spread throughout the combine that the Jets weren't asking marshmallow questions like the other teams.

"We wanted to see if they could learn in an uncomfortable environment," said Tannenbaum, placing a greater emphasis on intangibles than the previous regime.

They conducted more than 450 predraft interviews. But Tannenbaum isn't getting paid to be Mike Wallace; his job is to find talent. With the fourth pick, he should land an impact player, perhaps Ferguson. There's growing speculation in league circles that the Jets may trade out of the fourth spot.

One possible scenario: If Matt Leinart or Vince Young lasts until No. 4, the Jets could trade places with the quarterback-needy Raiders (No. 7), acquire an extra second- or third-round pick in the process and still get a blue-chip talent such as tight end Vernon Davis, linebacker A.J. Hawk or even Ferguson.

There will be public sentiment to pick a quarterback, but Tannenbaum doesn't seem eager to draft one that high. Nevertheless, it's an issue, and nothing inflames passion more than a QB quandary.

Giants GM Ernie Accorsi faced one in his first draft, when he selected John Elway for the Colts in 1983. Accorsi, ignoring Elway's threat to play baseball, made him the top pick, repercussions be damned. Elway wound up being traded without Accorsi's consent.

"Anytime you have a quarterback in the mixture, you have extra pressure," Accorsi said. "Mike has a quarterback decision and it's his first draft. I can identify with him. Fair or unfair, you're remembered for it."

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