INDIANAPOLIS -- Offensive linemen and the first wave of running backs arrived in Indianapolis Wednesday with the second wave of backs and the defensive linemen filing into town Thursday. Kickers worked out in the RCA Dome Thursday while the defensive linemen and backs had their physicals, were measured for height and weight and took the bench press test, which requires a player to do as many reps as possible lifting 225 pounds.
Penn State running back Larry Johnson said he favorably compares to Tennessee's Eddie George and said the stigma against Nittany Lion running backs is unfair. "You have to look at each guy individually," he insisted. "I only started for one season so my body hasn't taken the typical pounding some of the other guys took running in the Big Ten." Johnson's stock will be boosted by his ability to play special teams, which he did during his entire Penn State career. There have been several highly touted Penn State backs that never lived up to expectations at the NFL level, including Blair Thomas, D.J. Dozier, Curtis Enis and Kijana Carter. Johnson hopes to buck that trend. During his first few interviews with teams, Johnson said he was surprised that no team asked about his criticism of the Penn State coaching staff during the 2002 season, which he then explained in what seemed like a canned response, "I'm a competitor and I want a chance to win," Johnson said. "It's frustrating to come out of a game when you didn't get all you want out of it and you feel you can help the team win."
Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher, who is on the NFL's competition committee, said that preliminary meetings this week have scratched the surface of several issues that will be discussed in more detail at the spring owners' meetings in April. The overtime format is one of those. "I personally was very interested in the two possession option, but as you look into it there are more concerns and problems that go with that," Fisher said. He has no problem with system as it is, but said it will be discussed in more detail before any recommendation is made to the league's membership.
Jets Head Coach Herm Edwards, one the league's few minority head coaches, said that he thought the 49ers search for a new head coach was thorough and also said his defensive coordinator, Ted Cottrell, a candidate for that job, also thought the process was thorough. "I think that was done correctly," he said. "They selected a guy (Dennis Erickson) they were comfortable with. Things are heading in the right direction and we are raising awareness, but you're not going to change the face of the NFL overnight. This isn't an NFL problem. This is America. The NFL is a reflection of society. It's way bigger than the NFL, but you have to have conversation and communication. That's how you address a problem, and the NFL is doing that. We're in the spotlight so maybe we can be the blueprint for corporate America." Edwards was among a group that met with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue about the issue Wednesday night at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis, but he refused to comment on the meeting's specifics.
Penn State defensive lineman Michael Haynes played high school football while living on a military base in Panama. "I've played on both sides of the Panama Canal and I played against Cuba," he said. Haynes used to fly on C130 military jets to play games. He was an animal science major in college and caught a six-foot boa constrictor while living in Panama. He said he never lifted weights until his final year of high school and didn't really know how. He graduated high school at 6-1, 230 pounds and now stands at 6-3 ½, 280. "I'm a smart defensive end who can handle complex situations," he said of his strengths, "but I'm still catching up strength-wise because I got a late start lifting weights." He had a Thursday night meeting scheduled with the Patriots.
Washington State defensive lineman Rien Long appeared weary after two long days of Combine related travel, interviews and the like and said the Patriots were among the 10 teams he met already, but he didn't remember every team. "I've been up since 5 a.m. the last two days and this is a long process," he admitted. "But it's my job." He won't submit to testing while in Indy, but will run through position drills.
The Patriots weren't the only AFC East team to use their "franchise" tag. The Bills tabbed Peerless Price so that they could continue negotiations while protecting their rights to the player. "It's never ideal for the player or the team," Bills General Manager Tom Donahoe admitted. "It hurts your cap and the player usually isn't happy. It's a last resort, but sometimes it's the only option you have if you want to keep the player." Donahoe also said that he is not overly concerned about being without a first round pick this year after trading it to the Patriots for Drew Bledsoe last April. "When we put Drew Bledsoe up as our first round choice, we'll be happy with that."
Southern Cal running back Sultan McCullough had this to say about former Patriots Head Coach Pete Carroll, who has been at the helm of the Trojans program the last two years while leading a dramatic turnaround. "Pete Carroll is a player's dream," McCullough said. "He'll coach you up, but you can go to him with any problem you're having and he'll listen and try to help you out. But I think he's got something to prove in the NFL so he'd probably like to go back some day."
Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs, who is likely to be among the first five players drafted in April, is a talker. "I always love the media," he said (insert red flag for Patriots here). He was compared to Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice, who like Suggs is a pass rushing specialist who isn't shy. "Me and Simeon Rice have diarrhea of the mouth," Suggs, who rushed for 2,000 yards as a high school running back, said. "This is fun. Football should be fun and the moment it isn't I'll walk away." Suggs trained for the Combine in Los Angeles rather than stay in Arizona. "I had to get out of there because I love Arizona and Arizona loves me. So I went to L.A. so I wouldn't have any distractions to my workout schedule."