INDIANAPOLIS -- The ever-growing phenomenon that is the NFL Scouting Combine officially kicked off for 2006 at the RCA Dome and adjacent Indiana Convention Center on Thursday. One of the biggest events on the pre-draft calendar for both NFL teams and hopeful college prospects, more than 300 players and just about every coach and key decision maker in the league once again converged on the Hoosier State.
The four-day event allows teams to get up close and personal with the players while putting the prospects through various drills, strength and agility testing, written tests and personal interviews. The players are also put through extensive medical examinations by team doctors and trainers. All in all, the players will be poked, prodded, questioned and timed like they have never experienced, all in shorts and t-shirts on the RCA Dome turf with nary a helmet or set of shoulder pads to be found.
The Combine has also turned into a growing media event in recent years. The NFL Network will once again cover all the events from Indy, including press conferences and interviews with players, coaches and team executives as well as exclusive coverage from inside the RCA Dome of the actual physical drills that the top prospects undergo.
Those team representatives speaking with the media on Thursday, in between the large number of draft prospects that were available, included head coaches Dick Jauron (Bills), Mike Nolan (49ers), Romeo Crennel (Browns), Eric Mangini (Jets) and Lovie Smith (Bears). A number of team executives also held press conferences, including Marv Levy (Bills), Kevin Colbert (Steelers), Phil Savage (Browns) and Mike Tannenbaum (Jets).
Players available on Thursday included offensive linemen, kickers, punters and a portion of the running backs. USC running back Reggie Bush, expected to be the first overall pick of the Houston Texans, drew the largest press gathering, although Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson also had quite a crowd for his trip to the microphone.
Friday's available players will include the rest of the running backs, the quarterbacks and the wide receivers. Saturday will have the defensive linemen and the tight ends. And the defensive backs and linebackers will fill out the roster for Sunday's media availability.
New old face
Levy held one of the more entertaining press conferences of the day, brining a unique perspective to a variety of topics including the Combine and the lack of a CBA extension that could lead to a potential strike down the line.
"I can barely understand if there is or isn't' a CBA," Levy joked. "Maybe I'm the one at fault. The year I went to Kansas City they had a strike the next year. The year I came to Buffalo [the first time] they had a strike the next year. I'm coming in now and I hope they don't have a strike the next year."
Regardless of the issues the league is dealing with, Levy was quick to point out that his only goal was winning and doing so as soon as possible.
"We want to win immediately," Levy said. "If you say you are building for the future, that's an incomplete sentence. You are building for a future coach and general manager is what you are doing."
Do it, do itOne of the issues that comes up every Combine is the question of whether certain players will participate in all the testing or not. Many, especially highly ranked prospects such as Texas quarterback Vince Young and others, choose to wait for their school's Pro Day or other personnel workouts to show their stuff. It's a strategy that not many coaches or executives agree with.
"It's to their benefit to work out here," said Colbert, Pittsburgh's director of football operations. "They've been told that and it's the truth. They'll never have a captive audience like they have here with virtually every head coach, general manager and even some owners in the stands. Sometimes they prefer to do it on their own, which is fine. We'll attend those as well but they are never going to have the type of audience that they have here. Plus, you always encourage them, that if they do work out here we are going to take those numbers. [Then] if you work out at your school, we are going to take the better numbers. So you aren't gong to hurt yourself by being available to the teams here."
NotesTexas offensive tackle Jonathan Scott said he had talked with roughly 15 teams, including the Patriots. Scott was a four-year starter for the Longhorns and can play both the left and ride side. … Running backs Taurean Henderson of Texas Tech and Wali Lundy of Virginia said they had spoken with the Patriots at the East-West Shrine Game. … Bush stated that he was in a "competition" to be the first player drafted and that being the top pick would be very important to him. It would also mark the first time that players from the same high school were drafted with the top overall pick in consecutive years. Bush was a high school teammate of 2005 NFL top pick and current 49eres quarterback Alex Smith at Helix Charter High School in La Mesa, California. … Crennel said he feels there is one linebacker in the draft who can come in and make an instant impact the way that Shawne Merriman did last year in San Diego. "He's down the street at Columbus and his initial's are A.J.," Crennel said in reference to Ohio State's A.J. Hawk. … The Patriots former defensive coordinator also said that after his first season as Cleveland's head coach the Browns are looking to add a veteran receiver through free agency. With New England's David Givens set to hit the market on March 3, that could make the Browns one of a number of teams vying for the former seventh-round pick's services. ... Former Steelers and Titans signal caller Neil O'Donnell is working the Combine as a member of the media.