Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.
23 Feb 2008
by Doug Farrar
While the actual Combine tests begin on Saturday with the offensive linemen, tight ends and special teams players, Friday is an endurance test of sorts for the media. There is so much going on the day before so many will be unavailable, safely tucked away in the RCA Dome, away from the ever-probing media eye, that it's simply too much to take in.
I missed the press conference of Purdue receiver Dorien Bryant, whose audio I was supposed to transcribe, because I was busy talking to new Redskins coach Jim Zorn about how he'll bring the Seahawks' offense to the nation's capital. As I was walking back from the Zorn press conference, San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, whose workout I will be watching and writing about on Sunday, was just finishing up his. This is the day that you walk out the Convention Center cross-eyed, shuffling back to your hotel with three stories due by midnight and a laptop that's begging for mercy.
And there's absolutely no place I'd rather be.
1. Harry Douglas' media debut.
Among the elite quarterbacks, Louisville's Brian Brohm had the best press conference. About halfway though, teammate Harry Douglas, a waterbug receiver/returner, took an unplugged NFL Network microphone up to the podium and started peppering Brohm with questions about his receiver corps -- a nice change of pace from what second-day prospects with million-dollar teammates like Douglas must get all the time. I'm sure he's asked ten times more about Brohm, or Bobby Petrino, than himself. Brohm rolled with it nicely, remarking that he likes his receivers, but he "wasn't sure about #85."
I caught up with Douglas after Brohm's interview, and he talked about the uphill battle he had to get to this position, and the advice that alum Deion Branch has been giving him regarding core strength and running. Douglas weighed in at a Yamon Figurs-esque 5'11" and 170 pounds, and though he may match Figurs' 4.30 Combine time, the size thing is obviously an issue. To everyone but Douglas, that is. "The film doesn't lie," he told reporters. "I caught a lot of balls going across the middle. I play football because I like the physical part of it." He also revealed that he didn't begin shaving until he was 21. Not sure how that was relevant, but there you go. When discussing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Scout.com's Matthew Postins, he shared another factoid about a favorite player: "I love me some Ike Hilliard."
I don't know who will draft this kid, but expect his presence in This Week in Quotes in 2008 and beyond.
2. The sleepers have their say.
Douglas is a reminder that for every Chris Long and Darren McFadden, there are ten players here whose names you may barely know who are just trying to prolong the dream. San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, with his ridiculous efficiency and small-school scouting dings. Boston College safety Jamie Silva, the leader of this year's "better in pads than in shorts" crew. Fellow waterbug receiver Dexter Jackson of Appalachian State, who still has to silence the doubters despite stellar performances in that Michigan upset (sorry, Russell) and in the East-West Shrine game.
The top guys are easy pickings from an interview perspective. There are so many people around them, asking the same safe questions. But if you take the time to know one of the lesser-known -- to walk over the table where one of the unheralded prospects are sitting -- you might get something unique. Today, that was made clear to me while I was taking notes on one of the most highly regarded quarterbacks in the draft. Lucky for me, Harry Douglas had the urge to pick up a microphone.
Well, yes. The patron saint of quotitude was indeed taking questions today, though he was relatively subdued in comparison to previous media jags -- perhaps he was disappointed that the Chiefs wound up last in the three-way draft position coin flip which will have the Falcons drafting third, the Raiders fourth, and Kansas City fifth. He did unleash a few bon mots, comparing the Combine to both a beauty pageant (I'm still trying to figure out his "some players look better in a bikini" reference) and the Presidential election.
Herm's been coming to the Combine each year for 18 years, since he was a scout, and he can't believe how big the event has become. "It's like the Super Bowl now!" He also revealed that "everything you hear at the Combine is a half-truth" and that "we're playing poker here" with answers to media questions. That's understandable to a point: last year, one beat reporter asked Ted Thompson whether he'd been in contact with Randy Moss' people, and this was before free agency began for the 2007 season. You could almost hear Thompson's eyes roll.
Interestingly, Herm reiterated Scot McCloughan's comments yesterday about how the college spread offense makes it more difficult to scout players at the pro level. This appears to be a very prevalent concern among NFL executives, and it may bear further research. Until then â€¦ Herm, we're just glad you were here.
4. Okay, let's cover the big guys.
Talk of underrated prospects aside, there were several highly-regarded newsmakers. Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan arrived at 207 pounds, 22 more than his Senior Bowl weight of 185. Brennan credited a specific diet, everyday workouts, supplements, and "a few trips to In-N-Out Burger" for the bounce back to his playing weight after a serious bout with stomach flu.
Texas receiver Limas Sweed told us that he wanted to thank LSU cornerback Chevis Jackson, who kept grabbing his injured wrist at Senior Bowl practice, because "it was just a breaking up of the scar tissue, which actually helped me recover quicker." Sweed revealed that his wrist is "100 percent, with a 65 percent range of motion". We're going to have to get a ruling from Will Carroll on that one.
Arkansas running back Darren McFadden talked about the rough road he traveled as a child -- the things that were laid in front of him and the paths he almost took. He also realizes that he'll have to take full responsibility for an incident in January in which the 20-year-old McFadden was handcuffed in a bar and disorderly conduct chargers were thrown around. Experts seem divided about McFadden's pro potential. I've seen one trusted website compare him to Marshall Faulk, while another expert whose opinion we regard very highly told Aaron that he possesses little more than straight-line speed.
Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com reports that LSU tackle Glenn Dorsey will not attend the Combine due to a death in the family. Though Dorsey probably didn't have to work out to confirm his top-five draft position, medical tests could have alleviated concerns about his overall heath after playing his last two seasons with various injuries.
5. Underclass running backs
McFadden is the hottest name in a huge crew of junior running backs that have declared for the draft and addressed the media today. Seniors Matt Forte of Tulane and Chris Johnson of East Carolina have been eclipsed by a younger group consisting of McFadden, Oregon bruiser Jonathan Stewart, Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall, McFadden's teammate Felix Jones, and Rutgers' Ray Rice.
I asked Rice how he's supposed to differentiate himself from the strongest running back class anyone here can remember, and he said it's all about defining himself as versatile. "The system was pretty set, but I can play special teams, I've lined up in the slot in practice, and I can pass-block," he said. Rice's challenge is to prove that he can be a every-down back at 5'9" and about 200 pounds playing weight, though history reveals that most his size are better off in a rotation.
McFadden, Stewart and Mendenhall declared that they will run and work out this weekend. In less fruitful classes, such athletes may have been able to set their terms, but there's little doubt that the competition for the title of top cat among these backs will be brutal.
Notable Quote: "I'm trying to make sure that all the things along the way that you don't read about or see on TV or whatever, the interviews and that type of thing, I don't want to miss out on anything that was really good. Hopefully, that's not going to happen, but it's a blur the way that goes. It's wonderful to hear people say, 'Super Bowl champions' and 'Champions of the world.' It's kind of nice to get here and be back in the football environment and see so many friends from years gone by, people that have been in the league for a long time. It's just a nice thought." -- Giants coach Tom Coughlin, in a post-championship state of bliss.
13 comments, Last at 23 Feb 2008, 7:05pm by JoshuaPerry