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Combing the Combine: Saturday's notes

INDIANAPOLIS -- There's little question what the most glamorous, well-known aspect of the NFL Combine is: the 40-yard dash. Shaving just a tenth or even a couple hundredths of a second from the ever import time can literally mean millions of dollars for pro prospects at almost every position.

And even though many coaches and players know that running in shorts for a slew of stopwatches doesn't necessarily translate to action in pads on the football field, the importance placed on a player's 40 time remains as high as ever.

Saturday's action at the RCA Dome included the first groups of players to run the 40 at the 2007 Combine as place kickers, punters, long snappers, offensive linemen and tight ends ran. While those aren't exactly the top speed-based positions -- wide receiver, cornerback, running back, linebacker and defensive back – spots where the 40 time can be as important as any aspect of a players' pre-draft file, every player at every position knows the importance of the 40 time at the Combine and future pro days.

Over the next three days every player invited to the Combine at every position will have the opportunity to run the 40 in front of some of the most important decision makers in the NFL. While many high-profile players often choose not to run in Indy, this year's crop has plenty of top-end talent planning on proving their mettle against each other on the RCA Dome FieldTurf.

Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs are expected to run on Sunday. Defensive linemen and linebackers will run on Monday and all the defensive backs will be the last to do the run testing on Tuesday just before the close of the Combine.

Whenever and wherever they end up running, though, all the players at almost all the various positions know exactly how important the 40 time can be in terms of their football futures. Guys like Deion Sanders, DeAngelo Hall and other future NFL superstars ran some of the fastest Combine 40 times in history, something many in this year's class are hoping to do as well.

Texas-El Paso wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins actually hopes to challenge the unofficial Combine 40 time record when he runs on Sunday, seeking to best a 4.24 mark that was set by Eastern Kentucky wide receiver Rondel Menendez in 1999.

"I ran a 4.18 at UTEP. That was electronic (timed)," Higgins said. "I told my agent I'll settle for a 4.2. That's what I'm shooting for, but we'll see what happens. If I run a 4.1, I'll take that too."

Florida State linebacker Buster Davis, a guy chased by plenty of questions about his 5-9, 238-pound build, hopes his 40 time will boost his stock from a current rating by many as a potential mid-round pick.

"I expect to run fast enough to where they need to reshuffled the draft board," Davis said with confidence.

In the end pretty much every player at the Combine is running to do that same thing.

"Low 4.4," Texas running back and return man Selvin Young said of his personal expectations in the 40. "If I hit 4.3, bingo!"

And as with most games of bingo, that would likely come with a nice payday.

Report: Evans re-signsWhile Corey Dillon may not be back for another run in 2007, one other member of the Patriots backfield from last season, fullback Heath Evans, will be. According to the Boston Globe, Evans re-signed with the Patriots this week, passing up the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent and test the open market this March.

Evans originally joined the Patriots as an emergency injury fill-in during the 2005 season. He then re-signed with the team for 2006, a season in which he carried the ball 27 times for 117 yards and caught seven passes for 34 yards and one touchdowns.

With Evans back in the mix and Dillon apparently out of the picture once he gets his release on March 2, the Patriots currently have Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk and Evans under contract at running back heading into 2007.

Brady-to-Brady connection
Thanks to the Charlie Weis connection, Notre Dame quarterback and potential high first round pick Brady Quinn has gotten the chance to speak with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a number of times over the last few years. Having evolved as a pro quarterback under Weis, Brady has a unique perspective from which to offer Quinn advice.

"I've talked to him a number of times," Quinn said. "The first couple of times I talked to him, he was more trying to help me from the shell shock I was probably going to get from some of Coach Weis' first rippings. So that was helpful. But then the more we got into it, the more he just talked about 'Hey, it's simple. Just be yourself. Keep doing what you've done to get you where you are. Don't change. Don't allow what people say to change your work ethic, the way you do every day and how you think about yourself because you deep down you're a good player. Whatever you've done to get to this point is only going to lead you to greater things in the future.'

"I really can't thank him enough for everything he's really helped me with in talking about not only Coach Weis and the offense, but also helping me personally to understand all that comes into this process."

Wolverine love
Michigan inside linebacker David Harris said Saturday that he stays in touch with former teammate and current Patriot Pierre Woods. Woods -- who played in eight games for New England last fall as an undrafted free agent and finished fourth on the team with 11 special teams tackles -- has talked to Harris about the pre-draft process and what he might expect at the next level.

"He's cool. We talk every other month or so," Harris said. "He likes it out there a lot. He likes the Patriots staff and he loves it."

While there has yet to be any talk of a football reunion, Harris is keeping an open mind.

"We haven't really talked about that, but I wouldn't mind it."

Quick HitsWith the first groups of players running the 40, a number of players put up impressive times that could help their draft status. Missouri Southern offensive lineman Allen Barbre led his group with a 4.84. The top time in the other group of offensive linemen came from Texas Tech's Gabe Hall with a 4.91 followed closely by Wisconsin's Joe Thomas and his time of 4.92. Miami tight end Greg Olsen led the third group of runners, notching a 4.51 that some scouts actually had as a blazing number for a tight end of 4.47. … Plenty of NFL coaches, GMs and decision makers continued to make their way through the media room at the Combine. Saturday the group included Giants GM Jerry Reese, new Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves, Rams head coach Scott Linehan, new Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino, 49ers head coach Mike Nolan, Jaguars vice president of player personnel James Harris, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and new Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips. … Potential top overall pick Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech) and highly rated receiver Dwayne Jarrett (USC) addressed the media one day after the rest of the receivers answered questions. … NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock also held a press conference. … One of the more interesting aspects of Friday's press conferences with many of the NFL's head coaches and GMs came when a fire alarm sounded in the Indiana Convention Center media room during Vikings head coach Brad Childress' meeting with the media. … For the second straight year Nolan used Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi as an example of a player who took full advantage of the Combine to show his stuff, feeding off the competitive fire rather than choosing not to run as many top prospects do. "A great example for me – Tedy Bruschi. When he came through the Combine, I'll never forget, following the linebackers' drills. And you want to do everything five times but you can only do it twice. But he would jump up there a third time, and they couldn't pull him down. And he would do it four times and again, what is somebody going to do, say, 'hey, no more?' I think he finally fatigued and just quit. And you can see what he's turned out to be." … David Harris also had some interesting comments on fellow Michigan prospect Alan Branch, a top defensive lineman and potential first-round pick. Harris gave an unexpected response when asked what the most impressive thing he's seen the versatile Branch do. "I have seen him break-dance. He's a big guy. He can move pretty good for a big guy. He was good. I'll give him that. He did the helicopter."

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