As some big-name prospects skip drills, O-linemen get to work

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL Scouting Combine has grown into a major offseason event and I have a front row seat doing my Sirius radio show as all the prospects come to meet the media.

What was originally set up as event to efficiently collect medical information has developed into a press conference for all the players. Now, there seems to be as much interest in asking why athletes decide not to participate in measurable testing and skills testing.

As Raiders coach Tom Cable said, "If they come here, they should work if they are healthy."

Cable is a former offensive line coach and in a way spoiled by his position group that always seems to get it when it comes to work. In speaking with a number of the offensive linemen here and they just aren't like the positions. There are quarterbacks that won't throw and receivers that won't run. The big guys aren't afraid to compete and that's refreshing!

At this point, Russell Okung from Oklahoma State is the top offensive tackle on most draft boards. However, as one scout said, not a lock to be an elite player in the class of former great Jonathan Ogden.

Okung's 38 reps on the bench press (track all the top performers) speak to his work ethic and his attitude. What impressed me most in talking to Okung was his tough-guy attitude. In trying to challenge him on some technique issues I saw on game tape, he was quick to point out where he performed those things well and that he was working on all phases of his game all the time. He may not be an elite player yet, but he's working toward that goal.

Iowa's Bryan Bulaga is in hot pursuit of Okung to be the top-rated spot among tackles. Sitting down with him was like talking with an NFL offensive line coach. This guy is the consummate technician and impressed me with his knowledge of the position. One NFL offensive line coach told me, "He's a finished product, who may not get much better, but he is also a plug in starter from Day 1 in the NFL."

Bulaga's 26 reps on the bench didn't help his cause to take the top spot. His short arms will be another deterrent in the final analysis but, as one scout said, "Put the tape on and watch him play and you will see what we all need, a guy that can play now."

After watching some game tape, I agree he can play now. Still, I wonder if he'll be able to handle the right defensive ends in this league. When asked about his punch and ability to keep defenders off his body he was polite but a bit annoyed that he had to talk about his arm length again. It was good to see the way he got a bit competitive about the line of questioning. A lot of people in Indianapolis feel he belongs in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform and that wouldn't be a bad decision for general manager Scott Pioli with the fifth overall pick.

Maryland's Bruce Campbell looks like he was chipped out of a rock. He's the leanest 314-pound man I've ever seen and passed the "eyeball test." The combine has a long history of capturing the imagination of coaches and GMs, filling their heads with potential rather than production, and Campbell looks like the poster child. He was proud of his 36 ¼ -inch arms, which are an exceptional trait for an offensive tackle, and his 34 reps on the bench press. He also impressed in the 40-yard dash.

I don't like when offensive linemen leave college early, especially when they're raw on technique. In challenging Campbell about leaving school with 17 college starts, he felt it was time to go. Not a great answer, if you consider he's months away from blocking NFL defensive linemen. He admitted he lacks patience in pass blocking and lunges too often, which can leave him on the ground.

Where do you take this guy in the draft? The quick answer around Indianapolis is the first round. However, if that happens, and it might, he may not see the field after the quarterback gets hit a few times. If a team with an established left tackle with a year or two left in him can afford to draft Campbell and sit him for a year, his potential could make him a player down the road. A team like the Cowboys, who love big linemen and have veteran Flozell Adams, would be ideal.

Not to be ignored, I did get some time with two of the top receivers in this draft (Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant and LSU's Brandon LaFell).

While Bryant had no problem answering questions about his NCAA suspension, he admitted it was tough to keep in shape and workout while everyone was in school. It was disappointing he decided not workout at the combine. As one scout said, "If you can get him to practice on time, he works hard and is very talented."

That's a big "if" in my book when you give a guy first-round money. Bryant said he can run in the 40-yard dash in the low 4.4 range or better. If that's true, why not run now? When asked about his inconsistent downfield blocking, he said he was pretty good if the play was coming his way but needed to do a better job if it was run away from him. He's getting some strange advice.

LaFell was impressive. The guy played in over 50 college games, spent time at every receiver position and loved to talk blocking. When he was a freshman, his coach told him, "You've been here a month and you haven't hit a person yet and you will not get on the field until you do."

It's clear in watching his tapes, he can block. Obviously, he listened to his coach.

When challenged about some of the issues he's had with drops, he looked me in the face and said there was no excuse for any of those and was working hard to fix his negatives. LaFell will impress NFL people in his interviews and some coach is going to be fired up to draft him in the top of the second round.

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