INDIANAPOLIS – While Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick won't display his speed for scouts here in Indianapolis this weekend, his interview process will be much quicker than many of his colleagues in town for the NFL scouting combine.
While many players are shuttled from room to room to meet with as many teams that can be crammed into the hectic weekend schedule, the quarterback likely to go with the No. 1 pick in the draft will apparently only meet with five teams while in town. And the New England Patriots, currently holders of the sixth pick, are one of the five.
On Friday night, Vick sat down with coaches from the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears. On Saturday, it was on to San Diego, Atlanta and, yes, New England. When Purdue quarterback Drew Brees met with media members assembled in the Indianapolis Convention Center, he had already sat down with the Patriots staff.
Why would the Patriots be among the teams talking to Brees and Vick when they currently own the rights to one of the league's best passers? That's a tough one, but here are a few ideas that may or may not hold water.
First, the team could be genuinely interested in the 6-0 Vick, an athletic freak of a quarterback. Let's face it, his combination of speed and arm strength may provide a once in a lifetime opportunity for a team convinced the more athletic, more mobile quarterback is the wave of the future and not just a passing fad. Whether or not he develops into the quarterback scouts obviously think he could be could very likely determine some general manager's job future.
Another reason could be that the Patriots may not be ready to pay Drew Bledsoe the kind of money the quarterback is looking for and could devise a trade that would provide the team with huge salary cap relief. Seattle, which has an obvious need at the position, owns the seventh and 10th picks in the first round. The Patriots could then package those picks to move up, or hold tight and grab Brees with one of those picks. They could also deal Bledsoe directly to San Diego for the top pick.
A third scenario involves the smoke-screen theory. The Patriots may have no intentions of unloading Bledsoe and maneuvering to get either of those passers but perhaps it helps the team's stance in negotiations with Bledsoe's agent, Leigh Steinberg, while also keeping teams guessing which direction the team will go come the April 21 draft. Owner Robert Kraft has made it clear that if Steinberg is looking for the richest deal in the NFL, then the two sides will have conflict in the negotiations. And until an agreement is reached, speculative stories like this one will be prevalent, as will the questions peppered at Bill Belichick and Bledsoe himself.
Here are some of the holes in those theories. First off, retaining Bledsoe allows the team to pursue other needs, but obviously he has to come at a price that is acceptable to the team. But if Vick is chosen first, he would command a huge signing bonus while facing an astronomical second contract four or five years down the road when he will likely be hitting his stride as a pro quarterback. So in the long run, would getting Vick over Bledsoe mean a huge savings? Maybe early on, but the fact that at 29 Bledsoe is still in his prime with eight years experience under his belt would mean a likely dropoff in play while the rookie passer finds his way around the learning curve.
But one thing is certain with Vick: he doesn't lack confidence. "I'm explosive," he said emphatically. "Sometimes I do things I didn't even know I was going to do."
That may become a problem in the NFL, where coaches often prefer that the play called is the play run. Vick tried to dispel the myth that he is a run-first quarterback.
"I pass first and run second, that's the way I play my game," Vick said. "Running is just part of my game and it's an element I use to make plays. I've always been patient in the pocket. I don't think people see that in me. They all think I want to tuck the ball down and run with it, but I only did that when I had to. I want to get the ball out of my hands – that's what I always try to do."
Vick is expected to go to San Diego with the first pick in the draft, where the Chargers hope this top quarterback will be better than their last – Ryan Leaf, who has been a disaster since being taken second overall in 1998. Vick, despite some experts' opinions that he should have stayed in school, claims to be ready to step in if needed and is prepared for the pressure.
"In this league, you have to be ready to play, and that's the way I'm going to prepare myself," Vick said. "If I have to sit down and be a backup, then that's what I'm going to do. If the opportunity comes to play and I'm thrown into the fire, I will have to make the most of it.
"There's a lot of pressure, especially when you're a first-round pick. The fans are unhappy and they want victories and they want to see the team be successful."
Patriots fans certainly fall into that category after last season's 5-11 disappointment.
COMBINE NOTES: Florida defensive tackle Gerard Warren is an imposing, impressive presence in the mold of Warren Sapp. He weighed in at 6-4, 324 pounds, and be assured the Patriots could do much worse than this intimidating, run-stopping tackle.
"I try to emulate some of the things [Sapp] does," Warren said. "Like his quickness off the ball, and trying to initiate the first move against the offensive lineman on the pass rush."
The confident Warren thinks he should be selected quite high come April. "Who wouldn't think they should be the first player taken in the draft? I think I should be, but that's not my decision." Warren's playing weight is around 315, but he used Creatine to bulk up before the combine.
Wisconsin offensive lineman Bill Ferrario was a little enamored by his experience. "What I think is cool is that you sit down with head coaches I've watched since I was a little kid." … Oregon State wide receiver Chad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson's cousin, said his autobiography would be called "The Long Road" if he wrote one. His academic problems led him to two different four-year colleges and a junior college. "I just didn't like school. My life was football." He also wore a Patriots hat when meeting with the media. … North Carolina State wide receiver Koren Robinson feels he is better than fellow top prospect David Terrell of Michigan. "I feel I'm more athletic, faster and I feel that around the whole table I have him beat." … The last wave of players arrived in Indianapolis tonight. That group included tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs.