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Taking the good, with the bad

Posted Feb 29, 2012

It's Feb. 29 in this leap year and the NFL Scouting Combine just wrapped up its week-long run in downtown Indianapolis. So we look back at the week that was and wasn't for those involved.


Keith Butler always played better than it appeared he should be able to during his nine-season career with the Seahawks.

He wasn’t the faster linebacker around, or the biggest. He wasn’t the flashiest player on the field, or the most feared. He wasn’t this, and rarely that. Despite all that, all Butler did from 1978-87 was produce 813 tackles, which stood as the most in franchise history until free safety Eugene Robinson surpassed that mark (984) during an 11-season stay that ended in 1995.

So something Butler said during the NFL Scouting Combine that ended Tuesday stood out more than anything any of the draft eligible players were able to accomplish during their stays in downtown Indianapolis.

“This is all great,” said Butler, now the linebackers coach and defensive-coordinator-in-waiting for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “But if you want to know if a guy can play, put on the film. The film does not lie.”

Butler’s assessment – as astute as it was concise, as usual – was even more telling because of what the Combine has become. The NFL Network not only televises all the workouts from inside Lucas Oil Stadium, the players arrive well-rehearsed for their interviews with team representatives as well as the media; and well-trained in the nuances of the 40-yard dash and other physical tests from time spent at performance centers.

So if you must buy into things that transpire at the Combine as being decision-altering efforts and performances, make sure you take a buyer-beware approach.

With that disclaimer – and Butler’s wise words – in place, here’s a look at the week that was and wasn’t for several participants:

THE WEEK THAT WAS

Robert Griffin III – In a show of hands, the Heisman Trophy winner and Baylor QB was the hands-down star of the 2012 Combine. He interviewed well and worked out even better. From owners, to head coaches, to cynical reporters, everyone had only good things to say about RG3.

SEE YOU LATER

The NFL Scouting Combine has ended, but the evaluation process is just moving into high gear with the first Pro Day workout set for Thursday. Here’s a look at some of the key dates and locations for the on-campus sessions:

March 7:
Coaches and scouts will be busy and spread across the country as Alabama, USC and Wisconsin have their on-campus workouts the same day. Alabama had nine players at the Combine, including likely Top 15 picks in running back Trent Richardson, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Wisconsin had eight players in Indy, including the intriguing duo of center Peter Konz and quarterback Russell Wilson; while USC had seven players, including a Top 5 prospect in offensive tackle Matt Kalil and another potential first-rounder in defensive end Nick Perry.
March 8:
Running back Chris Polk will get an opportunity to improve on his 40-yard dash time from the Combine (4.57 seconds; he was hoping to run in the 4.4s) at the University of Washington’s workout.
March 21:
Baylor and Robert Griffin III were scheduled to hold their Pro Day on the 22nd, but switched to avoid a conflict with Stanford and Andrew Luck. As impressive as RG3 was in Indianapolis, teams will get the opportunity to see the Heisman Trophy winner throw in Waco.
March 22:
Stanford’s on-campus session won’t be all about Luck, the quarterback who is expected to be the first pick overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Guard David DeCastro and tight end Coby Fleener also are drawing a lot of attention in their quests to become first-round picks.
Others to Note:
March 9, Washington State; March 12, Central Washington; March 14, California and Penn State; March 15, Oregon; March 22, Boise State.

As engaging as Griffin was during his media session on Friday – which was very – several coaches from several teams said he was just as analytical in displaying his Football IQ during individual interviews with clubs. Coached in the process? Obviously, as all the players were. But RG3 went beyond the comments that peppered the Q&A sessions with other players – “Yes, sir.” “I wouldn’t be here without the efforts of my teammates.” “I’m just glad to be here and fulfill this lifelong dream.”

From the top of his head and that ever-present smile to the tip of his Ninja Turtle socks, Griffin flaunted his personality, exuded confidence and took engaging to elongated heights.

Then, he took to the field: an official 4.41 seconds for the 40-meter dash, although some had him as fast as 4.38, unofficially; a 39-inch vertical leap; a 10-foot broad jump.

The St. Louis Rams – The value of the No. 2 pick in April’s Draft seemed to increase with each impressive thing RG3 did, and it’s the Rams who have it. They’re already said they want to trade the pick to a QB-needy team that deems Griffin is the QB they need.

At what price? The speculation at the Combine was that the Rams could get two first-round picks, a second and a third; and Washington Redskins reportedly are prepared to offer the two firsts “plus other selections in the middle to early rounds,” according to the Washington Post.

Andrew Luck – The reason Griffin can be had at No. 2 is because Luck still is expected to be the first pick overall by the Indianapolis Colts. And while the Stanford QB wasn’t quite as impressive as RG3, his efforts only seemed to solidify his status.

Luck’s official time in the 40 was 4.67 seconds. He outdid Griffin in the broad jump (10-4) and also went 36 inches in the vertical leap. And, he continued to display his command of the game while “on the board” during interviews with teams.

Matt Kalil – If the Rams had to stay at No. 2, they could do a lot worse than select the offensive tackle from USC. Kalil comes from a football family – the Panthers’ Ryan Kalil is his older brother and their father, Frank, also played Division-I ball – and one scouting report called him “the most-gifted offensive lineman produced by the Trojans since Tony Boselli.”

Now that is saying something. The 6-foot-6, 306-pound Kalil also let his workout speak for him: 4.99 seconds in the 40; 30 reps with 225 pounds in the bench press; and looking explosive, yet fluid, in the other O-line drills.

Dontari Poe – It’s almost frightening to see a 346-pounder run 40 yards in 4.98 seconds (official; 4.87 hand-timed), as the Memphis State nose tackle did. Throw in his Combine-best 44 reps in the bench press and it’s difficult to find anyone who helped his draft stock more than Poe.

“Hands down, Dontari Poe is the defensive lineman who jumps out at me after watching Monday’s workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine,” former seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp wrote on his blog at NFL.com. “Hands down. All 346 pounds of the big fella. Can you believe he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.98 seconds? Poe looks like a refrigerator. He’s not supposed to move like that.”

Stephen Hill – The Georgia Tech wide receiver was “off the charts” in Indy, as one scout put it. It wasn’t just that Hill ran the 40 in 4.36 seconds, it’s also that he is 6-4, 215. And it wasn’t just his combination of size and speed; it’s also that Hill made a diving, tumbling catch of a pass during his workout.

“Stephen Hill killed it,” said Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network. “I had a bunch of scouts tell me before the Combine this kid might blow the roof off. And he did.”

THE WEEK THAT WASN'T

Vontaze Burfict – The Arizona State linebacker started by saying all the wrong things during his Q&A session with the media, and it only got worse as he was interviewed by teams. “Disastrous” is the word one scout used.

On the field? The downward spiral continued, as Burfict ran the 40 in 5.09 seconds, a time that was bested by 36 of the 48 defensive linemen at the Combine.

The Minnesota Vikings – They were hoping that the No. 3 spot in the first round would be a destination for teams looking to select Griffin, but RG3’s knock-their-socks-off performance put the premium on the Rams’ No. 2 pick and left the Vikings with no teams even inquiring about trading up with them.

Don’t feel too sorry for the Vikings, because if they keep their pick they might have to “settle” for Kalil.

The tight ends – The play – and production – of the tight ends in the league last season has put a premium on the position. But none of the tight ends emerged from the Combine with a first-round grade from Mayock.

“I think the tight end class is a bad one,” Mayock said. “That’s not good, given what we’ve seen in the NFL. Everyone is looking for the next guy.”