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Combing the Combine: Saturday's notes

INDIANAPOLIS -- Despite the large a media event and key league influence the NFL Scouting Combine has become, not many people know all that much about the details that go into annual prospect parade that hits Indianapolis each February.

With that in mind, Jeff Foster, the executive director of National Scouting, the company that runs the Combine for the NFL, answered questions from the media in order to shed a bit more light on the overall process.

So who gets the invitation to the Combine and how do those invitations come about?

"The selection committee itself is an anonymous group," Foster said. "They are all representatives of different teams and their personnel departments. Who actually represents the team varies a little bit. It could be a national scout, it could be a vice president of player personnel, it could be a general manager and obviously myself and Jack Butler from BLESTO. We meet in mid-December and we go through every player that anybody has graded and we vote on the process and you just need to receive a certain number of votes to qualify to receive an invitation.

"We obviously have to leave a certain number available for declaring underclassmen because again this is mid-December and they're not declaring until the 15th [of January]. So we allow for about 45 spots. We don't have a maximum number by position. We don't say we're going to invite 50 wide receivers and 20 quarterbacks but we do have a maximum number we can handle from a scheduling standpoint. Because the talent pool changes every year, some years there's a great crop of quarterbacks, or a great crop of linebackers, so we don't want to restrict that. So after the juniors declare we send the juniors through the exact same process we sent the seniors. The committee reconvenes, votes on the juniors, again same process and number of votes required. We add that to the number of seniors we've already selected. Then we'll go back and evaluate special circumstances, such as Jeremy Bloom."

And what exactly are the 32 NFL teams looking for at the Combine? How does it benefit them through the draft preparation process?

"When I came on board nine months ago I surveyed a number of teams and I asked them what is the single most important aspect of the combine for you and they said medical," Foster said. "They'd been evaluating the athlete playing football for the last two years. So the key ingredient is the medical and the interviews. The interviews sometimes they can get at all-star games, but they don't get a scheduled interview with your executives and coaching staff because that time of year the coaching staffs are still busy. So medical still is No. 1. I'd say interviews are No. 2 and psychological and workouts fall somewhere in the mix. I say that in a general nature. Some teams put different weights on different areas or different pieces of the puzzle."

One interesting note that Foster did point out was that 2006 was the final year of the Combine's contract with the city of Indianapolis. While the RCA Dome, Indiana Convention Center and adjacent hotels in the centrally located city would appear to be the perfect place for the four-day event, there is no definitive assurance that the Combine will return to the Hoosier State for 2007. But the hope is that a new deal with the city will be worked out in the coming months.

"I would hope the Combine would continue here in Indy," Foster said. "This is our 20th year I believe, and it works out well. The community is great. The ICBA, Mike Fox and the RCA Dome, Doug Allison in the Crown Plaza, they've been so generous during the history here, I'd like to see it stay … so at the end of this camp we have an opportunity to sit down with the major players in the community and try to set a long-term deal."

Fresno State pipelineAfter drafting a pair of Fresno State players last April, there's some buzz that the Patriots could once again look to the Bulldogs roster this spring. Rising cornerback prospect Richard Marshall (5-11, 190) has been linked to the Patriots, maybe even as a possibility as the team's top selection with the 21st pick in the draft.

"A lot of teams have expressed interest in Marshall, including the Patriots," Marshall's agent Steve Feldman said. "They seem to really like him.

"I think there's a good chance he will be drafted in the first round, depending on how fast he runs at the Combine. If he runs well, he could definitely go as high as 21 in the draft."

With Nick Saban now working in Miami and putting an end to the old LSU pipeline, maybe former Fresno State and former Bill Belichick assistant Pat Hill will be New England's new supplier of trusted talent.

Green with envyWhen asked about teams trying to copy successful Super Bowl franchises such as the Steelers and Patriots, Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green offered up a rather simple view of New England's success.

"I think New England has had the most unique way of doing it, because they've been able to work at unrestricted free agency, maintain a certain amount of players. They struck gold with a player that nobody in this room ever thought could be a player. I'd say Bill Belichick was a difference. And Tom Brady was a difference. Two guys. One had a lot more success the second time around, Bill Belichick. And one, nobody could have predicted he would have the intangibles that Joe Montana had. Probably the best one since Joe Montana. Now, the rest of it, it fell into place for them. But I don't think you could emulate that unless you think you could find a Tom Brady just out there somewhere."

Six-ring supportFormer Patriots assistant strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul is entering his second season with the New York Jets as the team's head strength and conditioning coach. Paul's program came under scrutiny at times last season, but new head coach Eric Mangini said this week that he's in full support of Paul's program, one that is directly tied to Mike Woicik's program that has produced a great deal of success in New England and Dallas.

"I wasn't here last year so I couldn't give you an evaluation of that strength program," Mangini said. "Here's what I'll say about this strength program: There are six Super Bowl rings that had this strength program so I know this system works. I know Markus personally, I worked with Markus. I believe in this system. It's got proven results and that's the system we're using. Six Super Bowls is six Super Bowls."

NotesGiants General Manager Ernie Accorsi, Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs, Falcons President and General Manager Rich McKay, Cardinals General Manager Rod Graves, Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher, Chiefs Head Coach Herman Edwards, Colts President Bill Polian, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy and Titans General Manager Floyd Reese all held press conferences at the Combine on Saturday. … Auburn tackle Marcus McNeill had the honor of blocking for both Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams two years ago for the Tigers. So which guy did he prefer to pave the way for? "Trying to decide who I'd rather block for is like trying to decide between a cheeseburger and fries. I like them both." … McNeill also claimed he's a highly accomplished online player in the video game Halo. … Many players at the Combine are wearing the event's official hat with the phrase "NFL Combine 2K6" on it. … Ohio State center Nick Mangold's reaction when told he's rated by many as the top center prospect in the draft? "That's awfully nice. I need to send some thank you cards." … Mangold also said that Michigan tackle Gabe Watson (6-3, 341) is toughest player he ever played against. … San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan referenced hard working Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi in his answer when asked a question about prospects working out at the combine. "I like to see them workout because it tells me a lot about their competitive spirit. Great example is Tedy Bruschi. When he came here, he was too short, too slow, too a lot of things. But I remember – I was coaching linebackers when he came here – I followed his group around and every drill he did, he was berserko about being first. He wanted to do every drill. You only do the vertical jump twice, and I think he wanted to do it four times so he could beat the guy who was already No. 1. That told me a lot about him. That told me this guy is going to be a player. What position? I don't know, but he's going to be a player because of that competitive spirit. You can gain things like that from players like that." … Nolan is taking a positive approach the lack of a CBA extension and labor uncertainty. "I'm working under the pretense that it will get done," Nolan said. … The numbers are in on some of the first groups to run the 40 on Saturday. Oklahoma guard Chris Chester had the fastest time of the offensive linemen in Group 1 at 4.88. Group 2 saw Miami tackle Eric Winston take top honors at 4.94. The running backs got going in Group 3, with UCLA's Maurice Drew (4.39) just beating out LSU's Joseph Addai (4.40) for the top time.

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