A fresh blanket of snow has fallen on Indianapolis this morning as we prepare for day two of the NFL Scouting Combine. On the docket today; quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers make their way through the Lucas Oil Field media room. Additionally, General Manager Brian Xanders will address the gathered press at around 11 a.m. EST (9 a.m. MST).
As we speak, John Elway is meeting with a small group of media near the convention center. Gray Caldwell is there and he will report back shortly on what the Executive Vice President of Football Operations had to say. We will also bring you the video of that media session.
As always, please pass along any questions you have or any prospects you want us to keep an eye out for.
10:22 a.m. EST: Just got back from Elway’s media session. He said he and the team interviewed between eight and 10 players last night, and found that the 15-minute sessions are a perfect amount of time to find out about each guy.
The Hall of Famer said he takes a unique perspective when evaluating talent — he looks at the prospects the same way he did during his playing days.
“I look at it as if I were playing against them,” Elway said, noting he has a particular knowledge of what makes a good defensive back. “I know what I liked to go against and I know what I didn’t like to go against, the way that I thought about guys. When I was watching film (during my playing days,) it was more about going against them, so I’m not so sure that’s going to change. I know when I watched (draft prospects) on film the last month-and-a-half, I looked at, would the guy worry me?”
Elway also touched on the importance of getting the draft right, the defensive line and re-signing Champ Bailey among other topics that we will delve into in this evening’s top story notebook recapping the day’s biggest stories.
Brian Xanders is set to step to the podium in a few minutes.
11:26 a.m. EST: Xanders just concluded his press session touching on a variety of subjects. We will have an update and the video shortly, but check the twitter feed for some live tweets during his session.
While Xanders was speaking, a couple of players made their way through the room including Wisconsin offensive lineman John Moffitt and North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little.
Little (pictured above) is one of the 12 Tar Heels at the combine — the most from any school — and his size is one thing that immediately jumps out at you. According to the NFL Combine page, he stands 6-foot-3 and weighed in at 220 pounds. Little was declared ineligible for the 2011 season, but his combination of size, speed and play making ability make him one of the more intriguing draft prospects.
12:24 p.m. EST: Just back from talking with Xanders for a while. After his podium session, he spoke with a handful of reporters off to the side, touching on a variety of topics that included working with Elway and Head Coach John Fox, which we’ll delve into in this evening’s notebook. In the meantime, he made some insightful comments about the combine process.
“This is really a confirmation of what you see on tape,” he said of this week’s events. “The workouts here aren’t going to sway our draft board up and down drastically, but it confirms what the players’ raw traits are, in terms of what they can be for us.”
He mentioned the importance of “pure, raw speed,” because it creates “immediate mismatches” on either side of the ball. He also noted that this year’s crop at running back is “deeper than I’ve seen in a long time.”
Xanders said the coaching staff has been assigned more than 250 players to interview, including some potential college free agents, to get a feel for which players the team would want in the locker room.
We’ll have more from Xanders later in the day.
12:55 p.m. EST: Georgia’s A.J. Green, widely regarded as the top wide receiver in this year’s draft, just spoke at the podium. We will post his interview in full later this afternoon. In the meantime, John Elway’s media session has now been posted on DenverBroncos.com. Xanders’ press conference video is coming shortly.
1:01 p.m. EST: Top prospects are coming through the room rapidly now. Auburn receiver Darvin Adams just spoke, and Washington quarterback Jake Locker is surrounded by a swarm of media as I type this. He’s fielding a lot of questions about staying an extra year in college when many believe he could’ve been the No. 1 overall selection — or close to it — had he entered the 2010 NFL Draft. He said that he does not regret his decision at all, that he’s very happy and feels far more prepared to go through the combine process having another year of college football under his belt.
2:01 p.m. EST: Another top quarterback is at the podium now — Missouri’s Blake Gabbert (pictured below, on left) — and he’s drawn one of the biggest crowds of the day. He just said he looks at Tim Tebow’s rookie season as proof that he can succeed in the NFL. He declared that he played the vast majority of his collegiate snaps in the shotgun, similar to the college careers of Tebow and Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy. He said the fact that both of those quarterbacks showed some success as rookies proves that he can do the same. In addition, the 6-foot-4, 238-pound quarterback said his plan to succeed is simply to “outwork everybody.”
2:30 p.m. EST: Three of the top tight ends met with the media at once a few minutes ago — top prospect Kyle Rudolph (pictured above, on right) from Notre Dame along with Wisconsin’s Lance Kendricks and Tulsa’s Charles Clay.
Kendricks said the experience has been “a little overwhelming — there’s a lot going on.”
For the past two days, the players have taken physicals and gotten their measurements taken, which provides for a bit of a stressful environment.
The former Badger said he’s excited that some physical activity finally gets started today, as the players will take on the bench press.
Clay said he’s still anxious to get to the running, which is what he prepared the most for.
“You get here and then you have to wait for the last two days (to run),” he said. “You’re just ready to knock that out.
He said he was a little surprised when he got to the combine to see that all the players get along. He figured that with so much competition going on, it could be an unpleasant atmosphere between the prospects.
Rudolph agreed that’s not the case.
“Guys’ personalities are starting to come out,” Rudolph said. “We’re becoming closer and it makes it fun.”
Rudolph drew the biggest crowd of the three tight ends. Speaking from a podium, he said he hopes to show that his strength is being a complete tight end — dominating at the line of scrimmage while also being able to stretch the field in the passing game.
“Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end that ever played in my time — I really try to model myself after him,” Rudolph said, mentioning his ability to stay on the field for first, second and third downs. “But I feel like Jason Witten, I feel really comparable to his game. He’s a guy that, like I said, can hold the point and is a great blocker, but at the same time he makes huge plays in the passing game.”
2:46 p.m. EST: More quarterback prospects have made their way into the room, including Florida State’s Christian Ponder and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor. But the only former national champion to step to a podium so far was Alabama signal caller Greg McElroy.
He gave one of the more entertaining pressers of the day, starting by sounding a little bitter that he had been poked and prodded all morning.
“After about 17 physicals today, I realized that I have a fractured second metacarpal, which, if you can believe it, is what I knew two weeks ago,” he joked.
McElroy has a cast on his arm that he hopes to have removed on Monday, when he can begin his rehab. He said he’s disappointed that his competition is getting better while he has to wait with an injury, but he hopes his college career speaks for itself.
“I’ve played in the big game — I think that’s definitely a strength — and I’ve been successful in the big game,” he said, mentioning his accuracy, efficiency and ability to protect the ball and get it to his playmakers as his tangible strengths.
One of his most interesting answers involved what he learned at Alabama. He said he learned to be a professional, thanks to Head Coach Nick Saban’s philosophies.
“Coach Saban runs it like a professional organization,” McElroy said. “He expects you to be punctual, he expects you to not wear a hat to meetings, he expects your hair to be a certain length — there are rules and regulations within the organization that are run like a professional franchise.”
2:58 p.m. EST: One of the top receiving prospects, Boise State’s Austin Pettis, gave a quick press session at a table surrounded by a few reporters.
He said his strengths are his size and understanding of the game, and what he needs to work on most are his deep routes.
I asked the former Bronco, who named Larry Fitzgerald as his favorite receiver, if he had talked to any former teammates — Ryan Clady, for example — about what to expect at the combine.
“Kyle Wilson, he talked to me a little bit before the Senior Bowl, kind of gave me a heads up and what to expect the next couple weeks,” he said. “He just told us to relax and go out and have fun.”
3:10 p.m. EST: Once USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith declared for the draft, pundits raved about his athleticism. But the one flaw they saw in him was his weight.
Standing 6-foot-5, Smith played most games at USC weighing just over 280 pounds. Considerably lighter than most of his contemporaries, Smith knew that in order to raise his stock he would need to put on some weight.
And he did just that, gaining over 20 pounds since the end of the season, weighing in at 307-pounds during combine check-in on Thursday.
“I surprised myself by hitting the 300 mark,” Smith said. “I didn’t think I would get higher than that so I really surprised myself weighing 307.”
How did he accomplish the feat? Smith said he did it by eating the right way and by cutting out his obsession with McDonald’s – which he said he ate all day and every day.
“I basically just started eating right,” Smith added. “I stopped eating so much junk food and eating my three meals a day with breakfast, lunch and dinner and some snacks in-between.”
That change in lifestyle is music to the ears of teams looking for help along the offensive line.
3:54 p.m. EST: Many of you had asked us to keep our eye out for Wisconsin running back John Clay.
A few minutes ago, a running back walked in the room and everyone said that it was indeed Clay. However no one recognized the former Badger because he had dropped over 30 pounds since leaving Madison.
“A lot of people were second-guessing how much I would come in and weigh in,” Clay said. “That was the first question that was on everybody’s mind. And by today’s weigh-in I think I impressed a lot of people right away.”
Measuring 6-foot-1 and weighing a svelte 230 pounds, Clay – like Tyron Smith – said he achieved his weight by eating three meals a day and not just one big meal.
He hopes that new size equals a faster 40 time and a boost to his draft stock.
4:44 p.m. EST: In 2008, Spencer Larsen became the first Bronco in club history and just the fourth player in the NFL since 1980 to start on both offense and defense in the same game when he opened the game against the Falcons at middle linebacker and fullback.
Stanford’s Owen Marecic knows what that is like. During his senior season with the Cardinal, Marecic excelled at both linebacker and fullback, earning the inaugural Paul Hornung Award given to college football’s most versatile player.
But heading into the NFL, Marecic says that he will focus on fullback rather than on defense.
“I think I feel most comfortable at fullback and that is how I project the best at the next level,” Marecic said. “I am just pouring myself into fullback.”
Marecic said that the teams he has talked with have specifically talked to him about playing fullback, but Marecic let it be known that as a football player he is happy to contribute any place he can.
5:02 p.m. EST: Figured we’d give you a quick rundown of some of the most recent players to talk. The highlight has been Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. He said he’s feeling healthy and talked a little about his experiences at Alabama, calling himself an all-around back.
“I can be in the game first down, second down, third down, goal-line, short-yardage, pick up pass protections, go out of the backfield and catch the ball — things like that,” he said. “I’m a complete back.”
Two North Carolina running backs — Shaun Draughn and Johnny White — talked about being able to go through the combine experience with familiar faces. As we noted before, the Tar Heels have the most players of any school at this year’s event.
“It’s just a good feeling to see some of your boys that you call your brothers in the same place as you,” White said.
Draughn said that shows just how much talent UNC had, and he hates to think of what the team could’ve accomplished if it weren’t for injuries and NCAA sanctions.
“Man, I think it brings tears to my eyes when I think about what could’ve been,” he said. “But now it’s an afterthought. The good thing is those guys who sat out are getting a chance to come here and showcase their talents.”
Finally, a familiar name to Florida fans and Steelers fans alike stepped to the podium — Mike Pouncey, brother of Steelers center Maurkice.
Mike said he knows it was hard for his brother to miss Super Bowl XLV.
“We’ve both played football together since we were 6 years old and he hasn’t missed a game, so it was shocking that he missed that,” he said.
When Maurkice left, Mike moved to center for the Gators. It took him one game to get accustomed to it, and now he’s potentially set to be one of the top linemen taken in this year’s draft.
“I knew all the line calls, it was just tough after that first game,” he said. “I went out there and had a bad game, felt like crap, told myself when I left the locker room I would never play like that again, and since that game I went on to have a great season.”
5:38 p.m. EST: Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams just concluded the final press session of day two. We will be back tomorrow with our first look at the defensive side of the ball. Look for a notebook on the day’s events and video from a pair of National Champions, Alabama’s Mark Ingram and Greg McElroy on DenverBroncos.com.
– Gray Caldwell & Kyle Sonneman