Combine evaluations differ from team to team

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 32 NFL head coaches and general managers, along with teams of scouts and assistants have descended upon Indianapolis for a common purpose: they're all trying to find the right piece for their respective puzzles.

However, the role that the NFL Scouting Combine plays in the overall evaluation differs from team to team.

"You find out a lot," said Bears coach Lovie Smith at a press conference on Thursday inside the Indiana Convention Center. "Yeah, players know how to answer a lot of your questions. They've been prepped on some of those things, but once you get out there you get a chance to see guys run 40s, doing those types of things -- when you see a guy going through the position drills -- that only helps your evaluation process.

"And it's only a part of it. Then you go back, you analyze more video. Hopefully you have more one-on-one conversations with the guy and you go from there."

Bills coach Dick Jauron expressed his good fortune for not having had to go through such an extensive evaluation process coming out of college as Yale's all-time leading rusher in 1973.

"Thank God," Jauron said, getting a laugh out of the media contingent. "I couldn't run. I wasn't very smart either, but I fooled them there."

Now that he's a head coach, Jauron appreciates the opportunity to evaluate players at the combine before the NFL Draft in April.

"I believe that anything that involves personnel and personalities, you're just trying to make a very educated guess -- as educated as you can get about the step from college football to the National Football League," he said. "That's a big step. Some people, clearly their athletic ability is so good that you don't miss on a lot of those. But even those sometimes, they just don't translate to this league."

Jets coach Eric Mangini said it's not the personal workouts he finds most valuable, but the one-on-one interviews.

"One of the things that I really enjoy from the combine is the chance to sit down with the players that we bring in for interviews and put a face to the name, to spend some time with them, talk about their scheme, the things that they've done and maybe some questions you have based on your research, and get a feel for who they are," Mangini said. "You really know them for what you've seen on tape, and this is a very good time to learn about the people."

While many coaches and general managers value the opportunity to compare and contrast some of the top-rated players, Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert cautioned that some scouts have a tendency to become enamored with a guy based on what they see at the combine.

"You've got to be careful of doing that," he said. "We live by the credo of 80 percent of the evaluation happens from August to December when they play. The other 20 percent is a workout, it's a physical, it's a psychological evaluation, it's a character background check, all of that other stuff has to figure in, but the biggest thing is, 'Were they good players for three years or four years?'"

Best group in quarter century?

While Pittsburgh recently placed the transition tag on guard Max Starks, the Steelers are facing a number of offseason questions regarding their offensive line. Starting left guard Alan Faneca and left tackle Trai Essex are both free agents, while starting left tackle Marvel Smith is coming off back surgery.

Colbert said he intends to take a long look at the crop of offensive linemen present at the combine, a group that he says is as strong as any present in Indianapolis this weekend.

"It's the best group I've seen in 24 years collectively, and it was a good group before the juniors were added to it," said Colbert. "Those guys enhanced what we really think is a strong group.

The majority of them can play on the left side or play both sides. It's unusual to have that many guys that big and that athletic and that productive. I think for the ones that are on the right (side), some of them have actually played on the left before and they probably have that flexibility. Just to be able to play the left (side) is such a premium. I think you can get a tackle in the (first) three rounds."

Michigan left tackle Jake Long will be long gone by the time the Steelers make the 23rd pick in the draft, but Long appears to be the type of versatile lineman Colbert is talking about.

"I love the left side," said Long. "I started off my first two years at right tackle and moved over to left the last two years. I'm left-handed and I feel very comfortable on that side. I think I proved myself as a left tackle."

Running on full

Colbert is also impressed with this year's group of running backs, which he believes was enhanced with the number of juniors declaring for the draft.

"Like the tackles, I think you can get a running back in the first three rounds of good quality," he said.

Colbert on Arkansas running back Darren McFadden: "He's a great running back. He's big, he's fast, he's productive. He's going to be a great back in the league."

Colbert on Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart: "He's probably a little more well-rounded than McFadden at this point but he's going to have the same challenges and we'll see how fast all these guys are in the next couple of days."

Colbert on Central Florida running back Kevin Smith: "All of those juniors have just made this thing so much better from a running back standpoint. Kevin had a great career down at Central Florida. He had a lot of carries in those three years."

No fan of Happytown

Jermichael Finley, tight end for Texas, drew plenty of stares for the Boston Red Sox cap he wore Thursday.

Most of the stares came from Boston reporters covering the combine. They wanted to know if Finley was a fan or had some tie to their hometown team. Neither was the case.

"It's really just the color; it matches what I have on," said Finley, who wore the standard grey sweatshirt and dark long sweat pants. "It was in my bag and I just put it on this morning. I'm not a fan of the Boston Red Sox. I just picked this off the shelf at the store because of the color."

Lost in transition

When it comes to finding collegiate talent for a 3-4 defense, NFL coaches face a dilemma.

That's because most colleges run 4-3 schemes, meaning that in the transition to the NFL, and end often must become an outside linebacker and an outside linebacker often has to move inside.

"That always is something you have to deal with," said New York Jets coach Eric Mangini, whose defense uses the 3-4. "You look at (college) defensive ends and try to project how they'll look standing on their feet. You try to look at (videotape of) plays where they're dropping in a zone blitz or their workouts. Will they be able to make the switch from a guy who has a hand in the dirt vs. a guy who is standing up? And some of the outside linebackers have to move inside in the 3-4 system." columnist Vic Carucci contributed to this report.

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