What do you call a fifth-round rookie WR with real expectations? Tajae Sharpe, and there may not be another player like him in NFL history. Tennessee's poor history of developing wideouts has led to a rare opportunity that Sharpe can seize this season.
24 Feb 2008
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 â€¦ 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.
21 comments, Last at 27 Feb 2008, 1:34pm by DoubleB