"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
21 Feb 2009
by Doug Farrar
The first of two major news stories that broke Saturday morning was the fact that Texas Tech wide receiver/alleged Larry Fitzgerald clone Michael Crabtree has a stress fracture in his foot, will have surgery, and won't do any workouts before the draft. Crabtree refuted that story by telling the Dallas Morning News that he will work out at his Pro Day in late March. Some have compared Crabtree's situation with that of Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart in 2008, but there's one fundamental difference -- Stewart had a turf toe and had surgery last March, but he also was able to run a sub-4.5 40 at 235 pounds. The fact that he could get that kind of speed with a foot injury may have increased his stock. If he can't get off the blocks, Crabtree will be a ball of unanswered questions from now until the draft
The execs who were asked about it, however, didn't seem to think that the surgery possibility was a big deal. New Chiefs GM Scott Pioli simply put Crabtree in the same slot as any other player who doesn't work out at the Combine or Pro Day for any other reason.
"You've got a bunch of tapes to watch guys," he said. "From our standpoint we evaluate guys on how they play football, not just on how they run. Football players play with injuries, football players get injuries … the Combine is great, but you watch players perform on tape. That's really the top evaluation."
New Seahawks head coach Jim Mora believes that his own evaluation of Crabtree will not be where it is in the next month, but that most of it will come from game film and getting to know the player. Most mock drafts have Crabtree going to Seattle with the fourth overall pick.
"I've been very involved in the last few weeks putting a staff together and getting our scheme going," Mora said. "So, I look forward to studying him along with a lot of the other top players. From what I've seen on TV - from television watching the games - and I saw him yesterday at the weigh-in - and he certainly looks the part. He's a physical-looking kid. He's made big plays in big games. He's had tremendous production in college, but I don't know him personally and that's a part of the puzzle. Getting to know him and finding out what makes him tick." Mora said on Saturday morning that the Seahawks would meet with Crabtree on Saturday night.
Tech defensive end Brandon Williams simply believes in his former teammate. "I know he'll get through it because he's a strong athlete. I know he'll take care of business."
While Crabtree had an issue with his foot, it seemed that Alabama left tackle Andre Smith had some sort of brainfreeze. The reports started coming out Saturday morning -- I believe that Tony Pauline of SI.com broke the story -- that Smith went AWOL and couldn't be found. An ad hoc search party was apparently enlisted to find him, but it turned out that Smith simply chose to leave Indianapolis without telling anybody. Since he wasn't going to do any of the drills (not being prepared and all), Smith bailed back home.
Pioli was asked about it early in the day before Smith's whereabouts were known, and simply admonished a reporter for asking the question before all information was known. He did also say that "Some (players don't work out) because their advisor told them (not) to or their agent … when you dig through all that, you find the reasons. It's a flag. You ask questions to figure out if this guy is controlling his life or is someone else controlling it?"
Smith's departure left a lot of questions. He said that his collegiate career-ending suspension actually had nothing to do with agent contact, it was "just a bad decision." If he didn't work out, it was going to be because he wanted to get the best possible time later on. But there's no way this won't hurt his draft stock. During the NFL Network's draft coverage today, Mike Mayock said what a lot of evaluators and executives are probably thinking. “I’m dropping him down on my list. You don’t show up in shape for the biggest job interview of your life. You don’t lift. You don’t run. You don’t show up. It’s the worst thing you can do. How can you not show up in shape for this?”
Today was interview day for defensive linemen and linebackers, and it's safe to say that the NFL has a bit of work to do with the whole podium timing process. Saturday was marked by great huge lulls where no prospects were doing media, interspersed with frenzied bursts in which waves of players would hit the room in such rapid succession, it was tough to keep up.
I joked at one point that they were probably waiting to have one USC linebacker at each of the three podiums, because would drive every reporter nuts. And then, at about 2:30 p.m., it was USC linebacker Brian Cushing at Podium 1, USC linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr. at Podium 3, and Boston College tackle B.J. Raji (who is the top DT on most boards) at Podium 2, all starting at the same time. Cute.
In any case, here are some highlights from part of the NFL's Future Front Seven.
Cushing, on various steroid accusations: “I’m not sure. You know, I don’t understand all that. You know, people want to say that all the time. But you can ask anyone I know. I’m the hardest working guy on the team, and people can just say whatever they want.”
Matthews, on his options out of high school: "Just I-AA and Junior College, local schools around my area. I just decided to walk on with the education and what Pete (Carroll) had been doing there and my family history and it really worked out for me. I thought I could play with the Division I kids and just given time and me getting bigger -- I was a late-bloomer, so it took a little extra work on my part -- but I felt like I could play with these guys."
Raji, on the vagaries of pre-draft hype: "I get so many texts when Todd McShay and all of those guys get on ESPN. I get so many texts and calls. I don't pay too much attention to it. I know those guys are experts or whatever, but they really have no say when it comes to draft day. I kind of watch that over the years, so I'm not trying to get my hopes up too much. I can't really think of a particular example, but you see guys fall, guys who are supposed to be Top 10 picks. They go from that to the end of the first. I'm not going to put down anybody. It's none of my business, but it happens every year."
Texas' Brian Orakpo, on where he fits best: "Any position. Right end, left end, Sam, Will, Mike, anything. 3-4, 4-3, it doesn't matter. That's the thing about being that athletic and as versatile as I am -- you can put a guy in anything."
One of the most amazing things about covering the Combine is that you can people-watch until your eyes glaze over. You are literally never more than 25 feet away from a coach, general manager, other football executive, or draft prospect. That said, the opportunities for one-on-ones are pretty limited. Player interviews are pretty rigidly timed, though some (Aaron Curry) will go over time and some (Brandon Williams) won't. Coaches do their pressers at the podiums and walk off with media to do smaller group sessions. Once in a while, you get lucky. I was talking to a friend on the phone in the hallway outside the media room, saw Falcons head coach Mike Smith doing an interview with NFL Films, and managed to catch him for a few questions as he was leaving the stadium.
We talked about Atlanta's miracle turnaround and changing the poisonous culture that had brought the franchise to its knees, how so many of his coaches had worked with him before and how that continuity worked wonders, and I asked him when he knew that with Matt Ryan, he knew that he had something … well, historic. Smith said that the idea was to have open competition at every position -- nobody was incumbent. By the second preseason game, Ryan had outperformed his competitors to the point that the coaches had no choce but to make his the starter. Anything else, he said, would have been a violation of the idea that the best man would get the job.
Amazing what a little integrity can do!
Cal linebacker Zach Follett talked about admiring Brian Urlacher's play, but his real hero travels on the Pain Train. "I get real pumped up for games," he said. "This is something I love to do, and to do it in front of 70,000 fans, plus people watching at home on an ESPN game, that gets me even more juiced. To go out and have a chance to be on ESPN like that, I think they had me miked up for the game and I was talking about the Pain Train. And growing up, Terry Tate, No. 56, the Office Linebacker, he was my hero watching those commercials. I tried to emulate him when I was out there."
Follett's admiration of this great corporate enforcer (who wouldn't love to see Terry Tate supervising the bailouts?) has become downright totemic. "Junior year of high school, I went to Champs Sports and they sold a Reebok Terry Tate number 56 jersey, and I bought one immediately. We watched all his YouTube clips and he’s bringing the 'Pain Train' and doing the 'whoop-whoop' sound and I used to do it in high school, and I used to blow the horn. It kind of stuck with me a little bit."
Follett isn't just a goofball, though -- he's an artistic goofball! "I make things out of wood. My dad taught me when I was little. When we were little, he made Christmas cutouts of Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse and stuff like that. When I was a senior, I took it to the next level. I started making wood cutouts. I did one of myself, kind of experimenting. My other linebacker partner painted it. It was a life-size replica. It's like a FatHead in an artistic style way. It came out pretty sweet."
From there, nothing to do but expand. "I did one of Lorenzo Neal because we used to train together. He's the only pro player I knew at the time. Hopefully, from an investment standpoint, I'm going to open a little wood shop wherever I move and I'll make them of teammates because I know they have a lot of money to waste."
Hey -- if Pat Wiliams can pimp your ride, why can't Follett be the Michaelangelo (or whoever invented the FatHead) of the NFL?
6 comments, Last at 23 Feb 2009, 2:34pm by Dean