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21 takeaways from Thursday at the combine

INDIANAPOLIS -- Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine helped a pair of under-fire figures to alter perceptions.

The last time we heard from new San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Tomsula, he was fumbling and mumbling his way through an ultra-awkward introductory news conference. Repeat that act in Indy, and Tomsula would head into the offseason as a laughing stock.

Instead, he changed our minds, riffing with scribes and appearing far more comfortable behind the mic. "I didn't do a good job," Tomsula said of his January meet-and-greet, but stressed that he has no issues communicating with his players. After Thursday, we don't doubt it.

Browns general manager Ray Farmer also helped himself with a sincere mea culpa for his starring role in the team's texting scandal.

"I would like to first extend an apology to the Cleveland Brown fans," Farmer said. "I know there's gonna be a lot of questions, a lot of inquiry about texting and Text Gate or whatever the new term is. So everybody hears it from my mouth: It was me."

Around the NFL spent an extra 20 minutes with Farmer in the hallway, where he continued to take full accountability for his actions. Like Tomsula, he didn't dodge the issue.

Chalk it up as a step in the right direction for both men.

Here are our other 20 takeaways from Thursday at the combine:

  1. Is it just us, or does something still feel, well, off about this Broncos and Peyton Manning situation? Last week, the word was out that Manning told John Elway in a face-to-face meeting that he wanted to return for another season in Denver. On Thursday, Elway told reporters he wants Manning to return, but has yet to get a final decision from his quarterback. Huh? Elway went on to sidestep a question about whether Manning's contract has played a role in the unsettled nature of the situation. This could still go in two very different directions.
  1. Despite a report flying around the net indicating otherwise, Texans general manager Rick Smith and coach Bill O'Brien both expressed optimism on Thursday that Jadeveon Clowney will make a healthy return from microfracture knee surgery. Smith expressed confidence that Clowney can be ready for the start of the season. Clowney wasn't putting any weight on his knee as recently as last month.
  1. Speaking of the Texans, Smith and O'Brien didn't come out and say it, but they sure sound like they want to continue to work with free-agent quarterback Ryan Mallett. This was a brain-trust lovefest, with both men lauding the progress Mallett showed before and after his season-ending pectoral injury. I asked O'Brien how disappointed he'd be if another team signed Mallett. "If somebody came in and got him?" he replied in a way that made me briefly panic whether Mallett was actually still under contract. "I'd like to have him back."
  1. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said he hasn't spoken with Greg Hardy since the defensive end was placed on the Exempt/Commissioner's Permission List in September. He said he'd have nothing to share about Hardy until he was removed from that list. Gettleman said Hardy's situation will not change how the Panthers do business in the pre-draft process because they already are careful in their process. "Who wants a ticking time bomb?"
  1. Getting a new deal for Randall Cobb is at the top of the Packers' priority list, but general manager Ted Thompson gave no indication where the two sides were at as free agency approaches. Thompson did acknowledge he was a bit surprised when Mike McCarthy came to him with the plan to relinquish play-calling duties. "(H)e's thinking in the macro sense right now in terms of how best to use his time. Where he'd like to interject a little bit more of his own attitude into different parts of the team. I think that's probably the main thing, he wants to spread himself out a little bit more."

-- Dan Hanzus

  1. Tomsula also broke a little news on Thursday, telling reporters that the 49ers are in contract talks with running back Frank Gore and wideout Michael Crabtree. Both players are set to become free agents, but Tomsula made it clear he wants them back. "I'm a big Frank Gore guy," Tomsula said, before telling Around The NFL that he "absolutely" wants Crabtree on the roster in 2015.
  1. As for Farmer, he shed zero light on Cleveland's quarterback situation. Asked if Johnny Manziel can be the Browns starter, Farmer would only say that any player can succeed if put in the right position. Will the Browns re-sign Brian Hoyer? Will they draft a quarterback? Will they add bodies in free agency or swing a trade for a veteran? In his "On to Cincinnati" moment, Farmer answered every passer-related question by saying: "Everything's on the table."
  1. One other Browns note: Something unusual is going on with Justin Gilbert. After Pettine issued curious comments Wednesday about the rookie cornerback's "personal issues," Farmer on Thursday spoke of Gilbert in hazy terms, saying that you "learn more information about a player" the closer you get to him. Farmer, though, insisted that Gilbert can rebound to become the player the Browns thought they drafted with last year's No. 8 overall pick.
  1. Toby Gerhart is no lock to make the Jaguars next season. His $3 million salary is non-guaranteed and coach Gus Bradley on Thursday gushed more about Denard Robinson and even Storm Johnson. When I asked him about Gerhart, Bradley told me: "Toby's done a nice job for us," before using the words "short-yardage" and "third-down-type" to describe the runner's strengths. Gerhart makes too much money to operate as a role player.
  1. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff acknowledged that heavy cap costs for running back Steven Jackson ($3.75 million) and wideout Harry Douglas ($3.5 million) amount to "big decisions" for Atlanta this offseason. Dimitroff talked about the team's added emphasis on finding "play-fast, play-free" athletes to fill out coach Dan Quinn's Seattle-centric defense.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. General manager Ryan Grigson confirmed that the Coltsalerted the NFL to concerns about the New England Patriots' deflating footballs in advance of the AFC Championship Game. It's the first time Indianapolis publicly admitted to tattletaling.
  1. Chiefs GM John Dorsey said he's met with Justin Houston's representatives this week at the combine. He later told the Kansas City Star he expects the linebacker to be a Chief in 2015 -- indicating he's likely to get the franchise tag.
  1. John Schneider said he wouldn't be surprised if running back Marshawn Lynch retired. The Seahawks GM told Around The NFL he's got confidence Robert Turbin and Christine Michael could handle the load if Beast Mode rides into the sunset.
  1. Mike McCarthy believes Julius Peppers will return in 2015. "I must be the only one who doesn't understand why that keeps coming up," he said, per the Press-Gazette.

It keeps coming up because the 35-year-old Peppers is due $8.5 million in base salary with a $12.5 million cap hit.

  1. Dimitroff believes running back Devonta Freeman can be the workhorse. New coach Dan Quinn agrees with that assessment. "My first impression: I can feel the quickness," Quinn said of watching film of the back. "So in our outside zone scheme I thought this is tailor made for a guy who can really explode off the edge. I love this guy's competitive spirit ... high hopes for him."

-- Kevin Patra

  1. The Giants will soon announce something significant about the future of their franchise. On Thursday, Tom Coughlin said discussions about his future are "underway" and that something could be made official soon. This could mean one of two things: The Giants will again extend his contract for one year, removing the implications of a "lame duck" season. Or, Coughlin could announce something more significant. Either way, the team has to know which way he's leaning. At the moment, Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo all have deals that expire at the same time.
  1. Mike Zimmer and the Vikings are done talking about Adrian Peterson. They would like him back, but have contingency plans in place if that ends up not being possible, or amenable. At this point, the team has no choice but to design an offense centered around him and one that isn't.

Combine on NFL Network


In advance of the draft, Marcus Mariota and others will look to showcase their skills at the combine (Feb. 17-23), only on NFL Network. **SCHEDULE**

  1. Speaking of Zimmer, he's adopting plenty of Bill Parcells-isms, which is great news for Teddy Bridgewater. Zimmer revealed today that he sought out his quarterback after Bridgewater won the Pepsi Rookie Of The Year award and told him: 'Hey, Teddy, congratulations, I said. Now let's go win a championship unless you just want to be a celebrity quarterback. He texted me back and he said, 'Thanks coach ... but I've never been about individual awards. All I care about is winning as a team and getting better every day and that's all I want to do."
  1. Ron Rivera and the Panthers' coaching staff are thrilled with Cam Newton already. He's organizing voluntary offseason throwing sessions with some of his best players and is recovering nicely from a series of serious injuries. He's also getting his degree at the same time. Either way, Rivera has never talked more glowingly about the maturity of his franchise passer.
  1. The Panthers are still about a year away from financial stability. General manager Dave Gettleman said the magic number in terms of cap space is $20-25 million with roughly $8 million reserved for emergency moves in-season. Still, from the salary cap hell they were once living in, the third-year general manager has done a fantastic job of making the numbers work for him. Gettleman said the Panthers are not yet able to "shop at Tiffany's."

-- Conor Orr

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down RGIII's appointment as starter and Larry Fitzgerald's new deal with the Cardinals. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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