The city won't look the same now that Super Bowl XLVI has come and gone, but Indy will still have that familiar feel because, once again, it is hosting the great NFL job interview extravaganza known as the Scouting Combine.
This year, our editor, Paul Perillo, will join us, marking his maiden Combine voyage (we figured it was long overdue that he got some first-hand draft prep). We'll be departing for the Circle City tomorrow and will be there throughout the weekend.
It's always a beneficial experience not only to see the top prospects up close and talk to them face-to-face, so we can better determine which ones we feel would be good fits for the Patriots, but also the various head coaches and front office executives around the league, most of whom carve out at least a few minutes to speak with us. It's a great way to "take the temperature" of the league from resources we rarely get to tap.
The Combine is even more important to us, of course, when New England has numerous picks in the first couple of rounds, like they do this year. With that in mind, here's a quick preview of what Paul and I will be looking for over the next several days:
Wednesday: Late arrival in Indianapolis. While no prospects or league people will be officially available for comment, we'll keep our eyes and ears peeled for anything newsworthy regarding the Patriots, including any developments regarding the franchise tag designation.
Thursday: The schedule is similar to previous years – offensive players the first two days, defensive players the final two. Specialists are also available beginning on Day 1, but since New England seems set at all three of those spots, we'll focus more on the other position, o-line. In particular, the interior linemen (guards, centers). The Patriots made big investments in tackles last season in the draft with Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon. But they could be losing some depth in the interior, with centers Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly both hitting free agency. Right guard Brian Waters, a Pro Bowl selection in 2011, is nonetheless in the latter stages of his career, so, we'll be focusing on some of the best available talent at guard and center, with an emphasis on players (like Connolly) who have the versatility to play both spots.
Friday: Skill position players – QB, WR, RB – start to arrive on this day. Clearly, the big draw will be the receivers. Underline and capitalize BIG, because that's how this year's class of pass catchers looks. Most of the top-rated players are big-bodied (taller than 6-feet), and the Patriots are in dire need of an upgrade there. Running back will be another area of interest, though it appears to be a weaker crop than previous years. The top-tier players are predominantly in the second- and third-round projection range, which is where New England plucked a pair of backs last year.
Saturday: Front seven is front-and-center. D-line and linebackers make their debuts this day, and while it will be hard to top the talent level of last year's OLB/DE class, this remains an area of need for New England. For that reason alone, we'll be paying close attention to these groups. As we saw this past season, the Patriots can go from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 from one snap to the next, which requires players who have the skill to play those various techniques. It's those kinds of athletes we'll hope to find in this year's class.
Sunday: Defensive backs conclude the Combine. There might be a bit more talent at corner than safety this year, though neither has any sure-fire prospects. Regardless, the team needs a great deal of help at both, so, we'll be looking closely at these two positions.