by Mike Tanier
Indianapolis, February 26. Day Three of the Combine. Weather mild and seasonal. Fatigue setting in. Morning found us waiting for Cam Newton, the absent center of our tale.
The FO battalion attended Peter King’s Tweet-up last night. It was a great event, with players and members of the labor negotiations team in attendance. Aaron Schatz gave some very early previews of teams we think will bounce back (Cowboys) or rise up (Lions) in 2011. Doug Farrar talked about Blaine Gabbert and other prospects. Will Carroll talked injuries. I ate my first fried pickle. The audience asked questions about the lockout, the Colts, the lockout, the draft, and the lockout.
The Saturday schedule of coaches is light. Most of us watch the actual workouts on television, just as you do. Twitter appeared to be down for a half hour, the equivalent of life support failing in a starship. We wait for Cam Newton.
Coaches and Execs
Mike Shanahan spoke after my deadline on Friday. He wore a black leather Fonzi jacket to the podium; I got the feeling the water skis were out in the lobby. Shanahan said that he wants to handle the Donovan McNabb situation “the right way,” then noted that he has been in contact with McNabb’s agent, not McNabb himself. Finish that thought yourself. Shanahan said that he expects the team to make a move on McNabb sometime after the draft. He also said that Clinton Portis would be allowed to test the free agent market; Portis spoke on Washington radio on Saturday morning, and he sounded ready for a change of address. While he said nothing meaningful about Albert Haynesworth, he did say that the Redskins lack a “dominating” defensive tackle. No kidding.
Jerry Reese said that the Giants were in a “holding pattern” with free agent Barry Cofield, and that the team has gotten “good reports” on the health status of Mathias Kiwanuka. (The Giants later announced that he is cleared to play.) Many of us tried to pry some pass-rusher insight from Reese, who of course has a great track record for finding defensive ends in the draft. Reese told me that he just looks for “big fast guys, with long arms,” but of course there’s more to it than that. Reese still refers to prospects by college – “the kid from Clemson, the kid from Alabama” – indicating that, like some of the coaches and execs from Thursday and Friday, he is still in the preliminary scouting phase.
Reese said that he believes Brandon Jacobs should be a 200 carry back and that Ahmad Bradshaw may have been given too many carries last season. He answered many Cam Newton questions, because we are all waiting for Cam. He pointed out that Newton’s “icon” talk may not be an indicator of his true character; when a team checks a player’s college background, Reese said, “you find out: how does he treat the custodian?” I sense a new Combine drill: the Three Service Industry Employee Drill. The star prospect is inconvenienced by a custodian, a caterer, and a guy shoveling snow, and must react appropriately to all three situations. A zero on the TSIED could be christened “The Big Randy.”
Reese wore an apricot-colored sweater. I mention this because after a 25 press conferences you start to notice odd fashion choices, like Fonzi’s jacket. On Friday, Todd Haley opted for the mini-Belichick gray ensemble, which gave him look like a guy who delivers Asian food from the back of a bicycle. Falcons general manager Paul Dmitroff has very structured hair, a kind of freeway noise reduction wall on the front of his scalp, but it wasn’t quite combed properly at his Friday presser. It was probably hat head, because of the snow. For the record, I look like hell too.
Scott Pioli joked that he wanted to rush through his press conference so he could watch the all-important 40-yard dashes by offensive lineman. He demurred when complimented on last year’s Chiefs draft class. “I’m not sure if we had a great draft or not,” he said, invoking the wait-three-years principle. Pioli listed the attributes that make a good quarterback – accuracy, avoiding the rush, pocket presence, and so on – and stressed the importance of hiring a good quarterback coach because a bad coach “can actually screw the position up.” In one of the funniest moments of the Combine, Pioli was distracted by a booming loudspeaker announcement. “I thought that was God,” he said. You know you have worked in football too long when you expect the voice of God to tell you that Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is available for interviews at table four.
Cameron Heyward and Marcell Dareus took two different podiums at about the same time, forcing some of us to run a back-and-forth drill to get quotes. Heyward spoke lovingly of his late father Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, saying he wanted to blaze his own path but knows the importance of his father’s legacy. “They all know I have a thick head, just like him,” Heyward said. Heyward politely and firmly distanced himself from former Ohio State defender and first round bust Vernon Gholston. “We’re two totally different players,” he said. Heyward added that he drops into coverage far more than Gholston did, and that his coverage skills are “pretty good.”
Dareus is large. All of these line prospects are large, but going from Heyward (a 290-pounder) to Dareus makes you say, “damn, he’s big.” Dareus started his interview with his own history the game: football began on the defensive line, and while some “scared” guys dropped off, “the real boys stayed up front.” He spoke at length about the nuts-and-bolts coaching Nick Saban provided: Saban taught him to watch film to learn which hand blockers like to hit with, to follow through on all of this stunts, and other finer points. It was a little insight into why Saban defenders appear to be more NFL ready as rookies. Dareus models his game on Warren Sapp, and Sapp in turn called Dareus the best three-tech tackle in this year’s draft. “I like that Warren Sapp would think that highly of me,” Dareus said. He also described himself as a nice guy. “Everybody I tackle I pretty much help up,” he said.
Adrian Clayborn of Iowa measured in at 6-foot-2, “unfortunately” in his words. Why unfortunately? “Because I’m 6-foot-3” he asserted. Clayborn said he has heard “too much” about Erb’s Palsy, the nerve condition in his right shoulder. “I’ve played with it since I was in seventh grade,” he said, and while NFL teams have clearly been asking about it, he thinks the condition will not be an issue. Clayborn said he could play either end position and said that he has played the five technique at Iowa, allowing him to transition smoothly to a 3-4 scheme. “If I lose a lot of weight, I could play outside linebacker,” he joked, though one reporter took him seriously and asked what his strengths would be at linebacker.
Poor Casey Matthews. He looks like his brother, he is forced to asked questions comparing him to his brother, but he is not his brother. Matthews is a solid prospect as an inside linebacker; in his words, Clay Matthews is the more explosive athlete, but he has better instincts. (Casey backed off the "instincts" comparison a moment later, noting that his brother "has a pretty good game.") Matthews took endless questions about his brother, his family, and the Packers' Super Bowl in stride. As for the hair, it was also less explosive than Clay's, long but sandier and tied into a little bun at his neck. (I know; these are the scouting details you come to FO for!) "The look of it coming out the back of the helmet has become one of our trademarks," Matthews said.
Tanier signs off
New Jersey and I are like the ocean and Aquaman: if I am out of it too long, I lose my powers. I’m heading home on Saturday night, but the rest of the FO Team will be here a little longer. Mike Tanier signing off. May all your Wonderlic scores be high.
Newton and Mallett: Le Bien, Le Mal
Hey folks, Aaron Schatz here to finish up.
Ryan Mallett spoke soon after Mike left. His press conference left the media with the general impression that Mallett is an asshole. Michael Wright of ESPN Chicago wrote on Twitter that "Mallett and Jay Cutler should go bowling together." Other writers on Twitter compared Mallett to Ryan Leaf. The difference is that Mallett isn't going anywhere near second overall.
Mallett was confident, but not in a good way. He seemed bitter and snapped at reporters. When asked about criticism of his playing style, he said, "7,000-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons. That’s how I respond to that." To the questions about drug rumors, he said, "I'm not going to address something that's not true." After too many drug questions, he abruptly ended the press conference and walked off.
At 3:45pm, the heavens parted and Cam Newton appeared at podium B. Newton's press conference was so eagerly-awaited that it had its own soundcheck, and the seating area was already filled up before Newton even appeared.
Newton began with a long statement that attempted to cool down controversy over the "icon and entertainer" quotes from his interview with Peter King. After that, he took questions and was confident and charismatic, yet also still polite to reporters and humble at times. The only inkling of major egotism was Cam Newton's habit of referring to Cam Newton in the third person. Newton pointed out that "with Cam Newton or without, the NFL will be." As Ian Rapaport of the Boston Herald declared on Twitter, Cam Newton apparently thinks that Cam Newton is Yoda.
Ten minutes into the Newton conference, they announced over the PA that J.J. Watt would be at podium C. J.J. Watt, a likely first-round pick, found himself talking to a grand total of three people. Then they announced Julio Jones at podium A. This is how the combine works -- you sit around for 20 minutes, then they suddenly announce three of the biggest prospects speaking simultaneously. Newton actually finished soon after this, so reporters could split themselves up and go talk to either Watt or Jones.