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24 Feb 2008

Sunday NFL Combine Report

By Doug Farrar

Well, Aaron Schatz flew back to Boston this morning, and Bill Barnwell is somewhere in the general vicinity of the Indianapolis Convention Center doing something for IGN, but I'm the only FO staffer in the media room right now. Things are starting to calm down from a very intense Friday and Saturday -- many media members said their good-byes this morning. There are still prospects to be tested, but after Mike Mayock and Bill Polian do their things at the podium this afternoon, that will be it for official media access to NFL coaches and executives.

While a lot of very interesting stuff happened today, the headline was never in doubt.

1. The Inner Sanctum

At 10:00 this morning, I joined 30 other reporters in an RCA Dome luxury box to watch, scout and write about quarterback and receiver drills. My target was San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, the Pioneer League superstar who threw for 43 touchdowns in his senior year. The question was, how would he do when his primary opponent was the pressure of the moment, and his competitors were the elite quarterbacks around him? Might be a bit tougher than raining touchdowns on Azusa Pacific and Valparaiso.

As it turned out, it was a lot tougher. Johnson is a tall, lanky kid who has some ability as a quarterback, but he was unable to follow up his great Shrine Game performance in the RCA Dome. He was inconsistent in all but the simplest throws, and he threw a good two yards ahead of his receiver on one of two quick outs. Throwing across his body is Johnson's primary problem. Just about every ball thrown that way sailed on him, he couldn't seem to hit the receiver's correct shoulder (Jim Zorn talked earlier this week about how important hitting the target shoulder really is for quarterbacks). Johnson has potential as a quarterback, and the 4.47-40 he ran was interesting, but he did nothing to help his prospects on this day. He didn't fall as far as Kentucky's Andre Woodson, who didn't work out at all, but guys like Johnson need the Combine to begin erasing those small-school questions.

In a larger sense, it's important to note just how amazingly cool it is to be able to get that close and get a detailed look at what's going on in an environment that wasn't open to the media at all until last year. Doing this four years after I started writing about sports in the first place was one of those "How did I get here?" moments that I won't soon forget.

2. Permanent assurance? Hardly.

One less than spectacular moment occurred when Florida State receiver De'Cody Fagg (yes, it's regrettable, but be nice) pulled up lame on a sideline drill. The initial news is that it's a leg injury, and it looked fairly serious, which is very rough news for a player who was rated as a second day pick at best before the injury happened. Jeff Foster from National Football Scouting (the company that runs the Combine and schedules all the events) said today that NFS arranges primary insurance for players who are injured here, though it's obviously impossible to compensate a player for falling off the boards.

When Ambrose Bierce said that insurance is "an ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table," he most certainly was not referring to situations like this.

3. "Here's an arm. Hey, here's a leg. Here's a wing!"

Glenn Dorsey's arrival on Saturday was met with some surprise -- the previous news was that the LSU defensive tackle was staying home after a death in the family. Howard Balzer of the Sports Xchange has learned from an NFL team doctor that there are serious concerns about the lingering effects of the 2006 stress fracture of his right tibia. Dorsey elected not to work out, citing family concerns that caused him to stop training, but his story becomes ever more intriguing. Nobody's watching with more interest than USC DT Sedrick Ellis, who some believe would have gone before Dorsey without the new medical issues.

When Dorsey finally talked, he tried to allay the fears about a degenerative condition, or that he was prone to further injury over time. "I have not missed a game since I got to LSU," he said. "Everybody gets bruised up. That's the way I look at it. Who does not go through a season without getting bumps and bruises? I don't think it's an issue at all. I've played every game since I've been at LSU, my whole four years, so I do not think it's a problem at all. Some are concerned that he played on that tibia, but Dorsey said that it could be just as much about people looking for something to pick at when you're projected as the number one player in the draft. "When you are one of the top players, a lot of people are looking for negatives. Even with saying I have injury problems. I played every game at LSU for four years. I don't have injury problems. Who doesn't get hurt during the year?

Meanwhile, Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu, who suffered a torn right ACL in a January workout, took the podium today and inadvertently proved that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, was exhibiting a lot of optimism when he said during his "Zach Thomas to the Cowboys" press conference that "Jack's doctor, John Uribe, tells me the knee looks great. His knee is stable. He's going to go through the full orthopedic physical (exam) here and I think he's going to impress the teams. He's probably going to need surgery to repair his ACL, only. He's got no other injuries in the knee and I think teams are going to be ecstatic with the condition of the knee. I'd say Jack Ikegwuonu is going to be ready for training camp."

Ikegwuonu had a different timeline. "I'm seeing Dr. Uribe down at the University of Miami right now, and like I said, given the severity of the injury, I've been healing up really good. It's really remarkable, he said. He said if I can keep on that pace, keep my rehab up, if I work hard, he thinks I can get back sometime late September, early October." He also revealed that he suffered a partial team of his right MCL as well, which Rosenhaus failed to mention. Somehow, September seems optimistic.

4. McFadden's 40, and the race for position behind him.

A collective "Wow!" went around the media room when the NFL Network feed showed Darren McFadden's unofficial 4.27 40-yard dash. If you thought that this year's running backs class was jammed at the top before, it's even more so after an amazing series of 40 times that validated the high praise previously given to the likes of McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall, Ray Rice and Matt Forte. McFadden's stock had been going up and down all week, but that time should rocket him to the top.

When the official times came out, McFadden's was listed a 4.33 -- only Chris Johnson of East Carolina was faster. But as is our belief at FO, everything must be taken in context. When the Meggett-esque Johnson ran that time at 5'11" and 195 pounds, it was impressive. When Oregon's Jonathan Stewart posted a 4.48 at 5'11" and 235 … well, that was kind of monumental. Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois and Tulane's Matt Forte didn't hurt themselves at all with mid-4.4 times -- in fact, Senior Bowl MVP Forte has really crawled out from the underground in the last month.

5. The future of the Combine.

The aforementioned Foster, president of National Football Scouting, confirmed that the Combine will stay in Indianapolis through at least 2010. There have been rumors about the event moving to Arizona, but in reality, this week is such a media overdose, that moving it that close to warm weather, swimming pools and golf courses makes little sense. There's already the Pro Bowl and the Owner's Meetings for that. Lucas Oil Field, the new home of the Colts, will be an all-encompassing home to as many of the events as possible -- from on-field tests to the medical examinations that Foster and his company hope to take out of the hospitals with comprehensive mobile medical units. Foster mentioned that there are 700 scouts walking through the Convention Center halls and the RCA Dome through the week (about 1,900 NFL staffers total), and that over ten thousand room nights were booked for the whole shebang. No surprise, really -- estimates had the number of credentialed media at 550, and there was a full second media room this year.

It may not rival the Super Bowl for sheer claustrophobic media madness, but the Combine has become a ginormously big deal, and that genie is out of the bottle for good. The days of a few reporters angling for quotes in the hallways are nothing but a memory.

How huge will it be next year? I don't know, but I do know that I'll be here to tell the story. It really is an incredible experience.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 24 Feb 2008

21 comments, Last at 27 Feb 2008, 1:34pm by DoubleB

Comments

1
by shake n bake (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 1:41am

I really want the Colts to get Chris Johnson, he can return kicks, backup Addai and split wide if WR depth is a problem again.

2
by Willsy (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 2:04am

First

3
by Willsy (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 2:07am

Will Allen,
Can you send your e mail address to the FO team? I am an Australian based Vikings fan and I would like to talk directly.
Cheers,

Willsy

4
by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 8:48am

I don't know where to post it but here is a great story about Howie Long :

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/features/flashback/nfl/hall_of_fame/lon...

5
by Chris (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 10:30am

Could Josh Johnson be moved to receiver maybe like Randel El or Senecca Wallace? Has anybody talked of moving him? His 4.4 40 and knowledge of the passing game would suggest he may have a future there.

I think there is potential that Mcfadden could benefit from Adrian Peterson. Peterson had wild success last year and people want to peg him as " the next Peterson". He has the speed but doesn't run with the same power Peterson runs with, and doesn't have nearly as strong of a lower body.

Who is a better comparison for Mcfadden? Maybe a Willie Parker? Parker is a good player but not worth a top 10 draft pick.

6
by zip (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 11:36am

Posts #2 and #3 have made my morning.

7
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 12:55pm

I think Johnson deserves a shot at QB, I know he played against lesser competition, but his numbers are eye-popping compared to athletic QBs moved to WR (Randle El, Matt Jones, Wallace). Perhaps he deserves a flier at QB first.

McFadden on the nfl.com scouting report is compared to Marshall Faulk.

8
by Doug Farrar :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 1:05pm

I like Johnson's potential as a quarterback in a couple of ways -- he's got the arm to make long throws but not everything is on a straight line, and he progresses through his reads as opposed to pulling the ball down and running at the first sign of trouble.

There are obvious (fixable) faults in his mechanics, but the 40 he ran and his overall mobility certainly will have people talking about a position switch almost by default. I'd like to think he's a quarterback in the end, as opposed to Seneca Wallace, who I really think needs to become a receiver as soon as possible.

9
by Quentin (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 2:46pm

In fact, Senior Bowl MVP Forte has really crawled out from the underground in the last month.

Yes. You might even say that running these types of drills is his...forté.

*Ducks out of sight to avoid being pelted by trash*

10
by John Morgan (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 3:00pm

Devil's Dictionary reference! Very Nice.

11
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 3:01pm

Ya'know, I do feel somewhat bad for Jake. Any time an athlete suffers an injury one has to recognize that the player might never be able to recpature his original quality of play. And that would impact his or her wallet while the fan doesn't get to enjoy what might have been.

But on another level I am less than sympathetic. It was obvious by Game 3 that Ike wasn't playing hard. He was coasting. It was so overt as to be insulting to everyone around the Wisconsin team that J.I. didn't think anyone would notice. Jake knew he had the goods to be drafted and clearly made the decision that playing all out in college wasn't in his best interests. That it could impact his draft value seems to have not been a major consideration.

Eventually under the guise of injury the team benched him. I am sure there were owies but the larger issue was how Jake's lack of effort was affecting the team as a whole not only from a quality of play standpoint but also seeing a veteran drift through plays.

The Wisconsin defense would have stunk in 2007 no matter what. But J.I. tanking the season certainly exacerbated the issue.

12
by Chris (not verified) :: Mon, 02/25/2008 - 7:04pm

Potential and reality are two different things. Certainly a guy throwing 40TD passes to 1INT and running a 4.4 is impressive, but that doesn't mean he will even be below average. You would think a 4.4 guy playing against weak competition would have a high TD/INT ratio because at the slightest bit of risk the guy could just run for guaranteed positive yards as he was most likely the fastest guy on the field in his games.

He didn't look very big and his arm didn't look very strong ( plus the fundamentals).

I also dispise the running QB who runs at the first sign of pressure ( see mike vick).

Seneca Wallace is an interesting guy. He is a very good all around athelete and he should be playing in the nfl somewhere, the only problem is that his skills don't perfectly match any position.

He doesn't look tall or big enough as an ideal QB, his speed/agility is good but you want faster at WR.

Maybe he is just an ideal backup/spark plug/gimic play kind of guy ala Brad Smith?

13
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 3:07am

I am not sure if he is one that will run first from what it sounds like, at least that is what I have heard from someone who has seen him play his sophomore and junior season.

To me he sounds like the perfect guy to sit and teach. His slight build is probably keeping him away from Steve McNair territory (and he is far better than Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Flacco..)

14
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 10:35am

Woah woah woah, comparing him to Steve Mcnair? Steve Mcnair was dominating everyone and anyone he played against, setting records and he DID have the measureables. The speed, the size, the stats, everything.

If you wanted to take Lewis QB projection system, scouts had Mcnair in round 1.

Joe Johnson is a project at best and probably better suited to play WR. How many scrawny skinny, not that tall QB's end up making it in the league? Vick and Wallace are great atheletes but their heigh/size/hand size really hurt them in the league and in vicks case compounded his run first problem.

You have to keep it in context. Joe Johnson had some great stats, but he was playing against guys that were much much worse than LSU's backups.

15
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 10:37am

I do think it is funny that last year people were talking about how much potential the mobile Tavaras Jackson had and now #13 just said this unproven D3 mobile guy is better than him.

16
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 12:25pm

Johnson and Jackson played in the same level of football, as did McNair-U of San Diego (at least this past year)-1AA (or whatever it is called now).

I bet Lewin projection system loves Johnson: 3 year starter, 68% completion percentage, again dominating stats

I have fully admitted that he is a project QB and his size is one of his biggest detriments.

17
by Jake_Plummers_Beard (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 2:47pm

Measurables, schmeasurables. Ryan Leaf had all of the measurables and look how great he turned out. Joe Montana was not exactly the Jolly Green Giant and Doug Flutie played over 20 years although he wasn't tall enough to play.

When drafting QB's, what matters is what's between their ears, between their legs and in their chest. The rest is just details.

18
by Shawn Kemp (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 3:19pm

"Man, that McFadden kid is fast"

19
by Zac (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 4:55pm

When drafting QB’s, what matters is what’s between their ears, between their legs and in their chest.
Hey, woah. Too much information, buddy.

20
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 02/26/2008 - 10:04pm

16. D-Lews projection system also stipulates that the player must be a 1st round grade by scouts. It is a posion pill that kills the Hawaii system type guys in run N'shoot offenses.

It is better used to compare the traditional Manning/Leaf, or Russel/Quinn where one guy shoots up the draft board based on "potential" where as the other guy has been the top dawg all along.

LSU wins National championship after Russell left, Quinn's Irish were terrible after he left.

Size is so important. The more successful shorter quarterback I can think of is Brees at right around 6' ( and even he came along slow). Height is one of the most important factors. Think about it, if the lineman are in the 6'2 to 6'7 range, what good is it to have a 5'10 guy back there trying to throw the ball inbetween blockers. What good is it when 6'4 lineman who can dunk a 10' basketball get their hands up?

One of Mike Vicks biggest problems wasn't his lack of intelligence, but his lack of heigh ( which compounded into his run first mentality).

Scouts love seeing a big guy like Jamarcus Russell who has the height, size, arm because he doesn't have problems that say a Vick or Brees might run into.

But yes, the brains is what matters the most and that is hard to quantify.

In general I would probaly discriminate in favor of a guy like Trent Edwards or Elway who went to stanford over a guy at say Free Shoes university.

Scouts also like looking at work ethic because these quarterbacks have so much to learn on the job. Will this guy study film like Peyton Manning or will he just show up and try to "make plays" like Michael Vick?

21
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Wed, 02/27/2008 - 1:34pm

16:

I think a little clarification is needed regarding the University of San Diego. It's a FCS (Division 1-AA) member, but they offer NO athletic scholarships, similar to their conference (Pioneer League). That's different from say the SWAC (Jackson and McNair's college conference) which does offer full rides. And both of these two conferences are a step down from the quality of football Flacco played while at Delaware.

To give you a rough point of comparison, I would say that the USD program is on par with a high-quality Ivy League or Patriot League squad.