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Combing the Combine: Thursday's notes

INDIANAPOLIS – The 2007 Scouting Combine fittingly kicked off Thursday morning with Justin Medlock of UCLA and Mason Crosby of Colorado – two of this year's top-ranked kickers – serving as the first players to enter Room 107 of the Indiana Convention Center.

That's where prospective draft picks will be shuttled into and out of through Sunday to answer questions from the media, in the midst of on-field drills, medical evaluations and interviews with NFL teams.

Medlock, Crosby and Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda represented the 17 special teamers invited to the Combine. Meanwhile, Notre Dame tackle Ryan Harris was the first in what became a steady stream of offensive linemen and tight ends to reach the media room, and he said he's taking the whirlwind Combine week in stride. "Anybody I knew from the Combine, current players, past players, they just said, 'Nothing we can say will prepare you for what you're about to do. Just enjoy it and relax,'" Harris said.

Added Texas guard Justin Blalock: "There are a lot of talented guys here. I've been around the guys for two days. Some of them I met before in bowl games, on the bowl circuit and what not. There are a lot of special players out here and there's definitely a chance to make a same sort of impact next year."

While the media attention that players like Harris and Blalock received on Thursday is commonplace at their schools, for some players, like tackle Joe Staley of Central Michigan, the onslaught of reporters' notebooks and cameras was a new development.

"It's exciting," Staley said. "I never really had this stuff at Central Michigan. I kind of wish we had this stuff at Central Michigan. I see everybody on ESPN. It's exciting. I enjoy the moment and try to soak it in."

Fresno State tackle Chris Denman, a college teammate of current Patriots left guard Logan Mankins, said that he and his fellow linemen prospects have been moving non-stop since their mid-day arrival in Indianapolis Wednesday. "I think we got done about 11:15 last night, woke up at 5 this morning and have been going ever since," Denman said. "Last night, or yesterday, we went to the hospital, and ended up doing interviews, and this morning we woke up and we came over here and did all the testing, for all the teams, then ended up at the hospital."

Indeed, the medical evaluations are a priority for NFL teams. Rutgers tight end Clark Harris, who had right shoulder and right knee surgery early in his Scarlet Knights career, called his invitation to the Combine a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but admitted that he could do without the health-related scrutiny.

"It wasn't real fun to go through 10 hours of medical testing, but I'm looking forward to everything else that's coming up," he said.

Of the approximately three-dozen players to appear on Thursday, the one most likely to be drafted the highest come April 28 is Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas.

NotesOhio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., and Akron quarterback Luke Getsy were the only players outside of Thursday's previously-scheduled position groupings (offensive linemen, tight ends, kickers, punters and long snappers) who spoke to the media on the first day of the Combine. … Ginn, Jr. – who suffered a mid-foot sprain while celebrating a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the BCS National Championship game against Florida on January 8th – said he's just been cleared to begin jogging. … Texas offensive lineman Justin Blalock started 51 games in his college career, the most of any player at the Combine. … Sepulveda originally walked on as a linebacker at Baylor before convincing his special teams coach to give him a chance at punter. After redshirting, Sepulveda became a four-year starter and is now the top-rated punter in this year's draft. … Whitworth tight end Michael Allan played receiver in high school, weighing only 190 pounds. Allan moved to tight end in college and now weighs 255 pounds. … USC center Ryan Kalil gave his perspective on Lane Kiffin, who jumped from USC offensive coordinator to Oakland Raiders head coach last month, becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL: "He's a great offensive mind. He's somebody who's very passionate about the game, and he's somebody that's going to be very dedicated to that program. So, yes, he's a young guy. But I think in that they're going to get a lot of preparation, a lot of great attitude coming from him, and somebody who cares a lot about the game of football. I think it's a great fit and they're going to do a great job with him." … Friday's schedule of player availability is focused on offensive skill positions, with a healthy dose of quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers expected.

Coach speak
In addition to prospective draft picks, several NFL coaches and personnel officials addressed the media Thursday: head coaches Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh), Dick Jauron (Buffalo), Sean Payton (New Orleans) and Gary Kubiak (Houston), as well as Texans General Manager Rick Smith. Fifteen more are scheduled to be available on Friday, including Eric Mangini of the Jets and new Dolphins coach Cam Cameron. … Payton confirmed that Saints quarterback Drew Brees suffered a dislocated left elbow in the Pro Bowl, saying that the injury could have been worse. Meanwhile, the NFL Coach of the Year said he's glad that the sprained ankle running back Reggie Bush suffered in a celebrity basketball game during the NBA's All-Star weekend happened in February as opposed to August. … Payton took part in the annual Mardi Gras festivities in the city of New Orleans a few days before heading to Indy for the Combine. "Monday night I rode on a float for four and a half hours," he said. "I handed beads out." … Payton also commented on his use of two running backs last season, as returning veteran Deuce McAllister and Bush both played a key role in the Saints' offense. "We have two talented players there," Payton said simply. "You can't have enough talented players at that position." … Tomlin was a bit evasive when asked if he planned on changing the team's defense to something other than the 3-4 that has defined the Steelers for so many years. "We're going to use all the tools at our disposal -- 4-3, 3-4, 3-3, you name it," Tomlin said. The new Steelers head coach, who most recently served one year as the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, discussed his mindset at the Combine now compared to when he was an assistant: "I'm here a lot longer. … It's wire to wire, whereas when I initially came in I just looked at positions. Now I'm looking and visiting with everyone. The process is the same; I'm just looking at a lot more players."

Flip off
Romeo Crennel and Jon Gruden will go head-to-head at 7:45 AM Friday morning. Crennel's Cleveland Browns and Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished with the exact same 2006 record, strength of schedule and opponents' record, meaning a coin flip will determine which team selects third and fourth in the upcoming draft. … The start of the Combine does not mean that other NFL player news takes a back seat. In fact, Thursday was the deadline for teams to place the franchise and transition tags on their soon-to-be-free agents, and the Seattle Seahawks applied the franchise tag to kicker Josh Brown. In addition, the Jets cut running back Kevan Barlow after one sub-par season at the Meadowlands and the Raiders declined to pick up the option on quarterback Aaron Brooks' contract.

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