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Indy intel: Combine observations, on and off the field

  • By Jeff Darlington NFL.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL Scouting Combine is all about impressive feats. Dontari Poe's ability to carry his 346-pound body down a 40-yard track in 4.87 seconds? Impressive. David Molk's 41 repetitions in the bench press? Impressive.

My ability to stuff a double bacon steak burger and a sugary shake into my 160-pound frame after midnight for five consecutive days in a restaurant stocked with important NFL types? I know, I know: Im-press-ive!

Hey, if you thought hundreds of coaches, scouts, agents and GMs converged on Indianapolis solely as a means to watch big men in underwear display their ability to be really good track and field stars, you're dead wrong. It's also about sleep-deprived networking over pounds of red meat. It's about preemptive free-agency chatter. It's about negotiations between agents and general managers. It's about ...

Well, here are 10 observations (both on the field and in the bars) that might lend a little more knowledge into what the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine was also all about:

1. Waitin' on Peyton: If you find yourself debating with friends about the future of Peyton Manning -- only to realize none of you really know anything for sure -- you're not a whole lot different than even the most knowledgeable NFL scouts, general managers, coaches and agents.

Where will he go? How will it end? When will it happen? We're all wondering the same thing. The only speculative consensus: The Peyton Manning posters in Lucas Oil Stadium will soon be replaced by pictures of Andrew Luck.

2. Mr. Congeniality, John Fox: In just about any city on any day, a debate about the most popular current member of the Broncos organization would yield one of two responses: Tim Tebow or John Elway. Not during the combine, though. Not in Indianapolis.

That distinction goes to Denver coach John Fox, known to many in NFL circles as the King of the Combine. Nobody in Indianapolis commands more respect than Fox, and nobody deserves it more, either. Fox treats everyone he encounters with kindness and class, from the servers at Steak 'n Shake to the bartenders at Mo's Steakhouse. It's no wonder that on Monday evening Fox was sipping some red wine from a glass engraved with his initials.

Injecting a level of fun into a week designed specifically for work, Fox makes the combine more enjoyable for all, including those who work for him.

3. New kid on the NFL block: In late November, billionaire businessman Shahid Khan became the proud owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars. And it's very clear that he's not the only member of his family pumped to be a part of the NFL.

Tony Kahn, Shahid's 29-year-old son, spent the weekend in Indianapolis getting to know coaches and general managers for several teams. A wide-eyed guy exuding constant excitement, you'd have thought Tony won a contest. He was most thrilled with his opportunity to have a lengthy rap session with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. His youthful passion was a refreshing sight to many who met him. He has a deep football knowledge and a vibrant energy that's going to earn him a lot of friends in NFL circles for all of the right reasons.

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4. The truth shall set you free?: Not always, as prospects with checkered pasts like Cliff Harris and Janoris Jenkins could soon learn.

Several scouts who interviewed both defensive backs said they were "impressed" with their full admissions about trouble with the law as it pertained to separate charges on marijuana possession. But the explanations about how they ended up in trouble in the first place also left scouts scratching their collective heads.

It's good to see these guys being honest about their checkered past, but the lesson I'm gathering is simple: The truth doesn't get you out of the jam. It only keeps you from digging an even deeper hole.

5. D'Qwell gets his due: When I asked Bryan Wiedmeier about linebacker D'Qwell Jackson's contract situation in an indoor tunnel leading to the convention center on Sunday, the Browns executive vice president said with a smile, "Stay tuned."

Two days later, the Browns signed Jackson to a five-year, $42.5 million contract -- ending what has been a very amicable, business-like contract negotiation between two sides that have wanted to make this happen for a long time. You might not be all that familiar with Jackson yet, but you will be soon. He has battled through two pectoral injuries to reach this point, and if the Browns can add a few pieces on offense (cough, RG3, cough), Jackson's profile should shoot to its deserved level. He's a terrific person -- and a hell of a linebacker.

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6. A hitch in the Flynn sweepstakes?: After a solid weekend from Robert Griffin III, the timing of the NFL schedule could create an interesting scenario for Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, who is scheduled to hit free agency in two weeks.

If quarterback-needy teams decide to wait for Manning's health to improve before signing him -- and if those same teams later prefer to make an effort toward trading into the No. 2 spot to draft RG3 -- Flynn might need to wait a while to gain maximum value.

That could, of course, prove unnecessary if someone has enough conviction about him to pull the trigger. Two such teams with enough knowledge of his ability exist. Seattle general manager John Schneider was Packers GM Ted Thompson's right-hand man when Green Bay drafted Flynn. Meanwhile, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was Flynn's offensive coordinator in Green Bay. Both landing spots make some sense -- but neither is a guarantee.

7. Snead's spotlight: Rams general manager Les Snead just landed his dream job last month. And although he's walking into a great situation with a veteran head coach (Jeff Fisher) and a franchise quarterback (Sam Bradford) in place, that doesn't mean these next few months will be a honeymoon for him.

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Although a beautiful thing, Snead's possession of the highly coveted No. 2 overall pick is going to require a very strategic approach if he's going to maximize the value of a potential trade. So, what should you expect from him? Expect excellence. Snead served as the right-hand man for Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff (a two-time NFL Executive of the Year) for the last four seasons. They had a great relationship, and there's no doubt Snead soaked up a ton of knowledge.

So while Snead's situation is a great one, it will also be a challenging one. I have no doubt this smooth-moving rookie GM will handle it like a proven veteran.

8. The true relevance of the combine: Maybe you think the results of the combine are overrated. Maybe you don't see the value in having a player who can run really fast in a straight line or jump really far without wearing any football pads. But training for the combine doesn't just give general managers an awareness of a prospect's athletic prowess. It also gives those evaluators the opportunity to see how seriously an athlete is willing to commit to their craft.

We witnessed some really impressive results from a deep group of specimens at defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker. Many of these guys -- particularly the ones who have trained at centers across the country since the end of last season -- are in the best shape of their lives.

So, no, a fast 40-time might not be an end-all. But many general managers left Indianapolis on Tuesday feeling very good about the work ethics and polished attitudes of some very promising prospects.

9. Blackmon vs. Floyd: We spent a lot of time talking about quarterbacks and defensive players throughout the proceedings in Indy -- and much less time talking about skill positions like wide receiver and running back. That might be the result of wide receiver Justin Blackmon's lack of participation in most events.

Widely considered the most coveted receiver in the draft, Blackmon might soon find himself competing for a draft spot with Michael Floyd, a different type of receiver who could cause some teams to actually prefer him.

That could all change, of course, when Blackmon actually endures drills at his Pro Day (and if he produces as some scouts think he will).

10. Information overload: On a flight from Indianapolis to Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, two members of the Dolphins' personnel department had their laptops out with binders of research and a video game controller to navigate game film in front of them.

After a week of non-stop evaluations and interviews with potential prospects -- combined with early mornings and late nights -- the visual on the plane was all the evidence you'd need to provide a real-world dose of combine reality. With a week in Indy now in the books for NFL teams, there is still plenty to digest.

Including a whole lot of Steak 'n Shake cheeseburgers.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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