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Spygate a top topic as Combine opens; Thurs. notes

Scouting and scandal were the main discussion points Thursday as the NFL’s annual Scouting Combine opened in Indianapolis.

On Day 1 of the NFL Scouting Combine, one of the first topics of discussion was "yesterday's news."

That's how Falcons executive Rich McKay, a member of the NFL's competition committee, described the on-going Spygate controversy involving the New England Patriots.

McKay, along with other fellow committee members, fielded several questions from members of the media regarding the latest allegations of illegal videotaping by New England personnel, past and present. Reporters were interested in getting more details about the story, but the representatives of the competition committee sought to downplay the scandal's relevance.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher, for example, attempted to put the matter to rest.

"We don't anticipate the Patriots' situation repeating itself because of the clear message that the commissioner sent to the organization and to the head coach," he said, referring to the $750,000 in fines and loss of a first-round draft pick that the Patriots surrendered as punishment for the videotaping scandal.

Pats head coach Bill Belichick has often said he had a different interpretation of the league's rule regarding videotaping procedures. The committee was asked if, given that reasoning, there might be a need to modify the language of that rule.

"No. Those rules are very, very clear," Fisher declared unequivocally. "There is no need to be more specific or clarify any rules whatsoever as far as the bylaws are concerned."

Colts president Bill Polian, meantime (a noted Pats critic), said he was satisfied with the league's actions after he and the competition committee met Thursday morning with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"The briefing was thorough. It was detailed. The process at arriving at the discipline was explained to us," said Polian.

"That process was fair, detailed, efficient, and what was on the tapes was explained to us and what was in the notes was explained to us. The reason that that information was done away with was explained to us.

"From my perspective, that was a thorough, fair, efficient process with lots of integrity. I think it's fair to say we were satisfied with the explanation, satisfied with what was done – at least I am, anyway – and it's time to move forward."

The latest chapter involving former Pats employee Matt Walsh came up as well. Bears head coach Lovie Smith, a Rams assistant in that game, was asked about that angle of the story.

"All I recall is that we were beaten by a good football team that year. It was anexcellent football game. And that's about all I remember from it.

"I don't go into accusations an awful lot. I think it's dangerous to do that. Of course I was aware of what's going on, whenever you have people accusing guys of doing things like that, it's just hard for me to fathom that anyone would do anything like that."

Combine commences

Thursday marked the official start of the 2008 Scouting Combine, traditionally held in Indianapolis, Indiana. Hundreds of the best Draft-eligible players at each position come (by invitation only) to the yearly event to work out, interview with, and generally impress scouts, coaches, general managers, and other NFL representatives from all 32 clubs.

Offensive linemen, tight ends, and special teamers (kickers, punters, and long snappers) were the first groups to conduct interviews with the media during the day. Nearly all of them were scheduled to meet with various NFL team personnel later in the day or Thursday evening.

Over the next few days, most of the players will bench press, run the 40-yard dash, and perform other physical tests for league and team officials.

Bills head coach Dick Jauron, a former NFL player in his own right, joked that he was lucky they didn't have the Combine when he was coming out of college. "Thank God," Jauron said. "I couldn't run. I wasn't very big and I wasn't very strong. I wasn't very smart, either, but I could have fooled them there."

Quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers will have their turn with the media on Friday.

No tag

Various media outlets reported Thursday evening that the day's 4 p.m. deadline had come and gone without New England using its franchise tag on record-breaking wide receiver Randy Moss or any other player. That means Moss will hit unrestricted free agent waters on Feb. 29. With the deadline now passed, 11 teams placed the franchise tag on a player. That doesn't include Colts tight end Dallas Clark who was initially franchised earlier this week before reaching an agreement on a long-term deal with the team.

The Notre Dame-New England connection

Notre Dame center John Sullivan acknowledged that there were plenty of references to New England during his time playing under Charlie Weis for the Irish. "There's a heavy Patriots reference there; that's a big part of who he is as a coach, his background and obviously he's had that much success, there's no reason not to share it with the Notre Dame team and try to develop that winning mentality." The tie to the NFL ranks also helped Sullivan and the rest of the Notre Dame team through a very difficult losing season. "We're with coach Weis, with the Patriot mentality of no matter what happened the week before, let's get ready for next week's game and that really helped us not looking back and accumulating negativity throughout the season, we just kept focusing on trying to win the next week's game no matter what."

Combine Notes

Auburn tackle King Dunlap is the fifth generation of that family name. … USC guard Drew Radovich joked about the fact that seemingly so many Trojans major in sociology. "That's our staple major," he said with a smile. … Boston College tackle Gosder Cherilus did not meet with the media on Thursday because he was stuck at the hospital getting medical exams. … Notre Dame TE John Carlson says he's fully recovered from a mysterious illness that cost him 17 pounds last month, just before the Senior Bowl. He said it may have been a parasite, but that he has put back all the weight and is back to full strength and conditioning … Smith is taking a positive view toward the Bears negotiations with linebacker Lance Briggs. "I'm optimistic," Smith said. " My glass is half full, always." … Texas A&M tight end Martellus Bennett, who once declared for the NBA Draft, was asked which sport is his first love, basketball or football, to which he replied, "I would say football is my wife and basketball is my mistress." … Steelers director of football operations was asked about his team's success getting running backs in the later rounds of the draft or even as undrafted free agents. He replied with director honesty. "Willie Parker – that's just luck," Colbert said. … Sixteen more NFL head coaches and key decision makers are scheduled to hold press conferences on Friday.

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