INDIANAPOLIS – Character has become a larger equation in the process of NFL talent evaluation each and every off season. The process at the 2011 Scouting Combine held in Indianapolis is a large indicator as to why.
Multiple players, including star-caliber names all the way through to lesser prospects, have had plenty of questions to answer from a feeding frenzy of media. Then the tougher part of the equation still lies ahead as they face the actual NFL team representatives individually in private quarters.
It starts at the head of the class when Auburn's Cameron Newton put on a show for the television cameras. He first felt the need to have a prepared statement (as prepared as it can be on a sheet of notebook paper tore out with raggedy edges still in intact). He then referred to himself in the third person multiple times. And when journalists continued to ask questions about his Auburn experience, he went Rogers Clemens on the reporters and decided to only talk about his future.
This was preceded by a seeming unwillingness to talk to the media a day prior.
Sources within his camp stressed concerns about his overwhelming schedule as teams have been filleting the signal caller during official meetings. Plus Newton still has to adhere to his precious sponsorship obligations. Apparently, it became an exhausting process. Enough of one where his camp has waffled behind the scenes as to whether or not he will address certain issues or even work out in front of scouts this week.
Newton basically painted himself into a corner and is trying to ineffectively swing his way out of the predicament.
Then there is the case of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallet. The 6-7 fire baller also has had issues off the field. He didn't help his cause when he abruptly ended his media session after taking one too many inquiries delving into his past, although the situation was somewhat overblown.
Mallett's NFLPA handler did state he would take only one more question (just like all prospects as they have to be on their way through the process). Mallett previously stated he would not answer any more questions along the aforementioned line of thinking. A lone reporter again asked about those non-football related issues. Mallett simply walked off the stage at this point.
Another example is hearing a source close to defensive end Da'Quan Bowers - potentially the top overall selection - stating, "Even Da'Quan will admit he was a jackass before this year."
Whereas those are individual examples, a major running story has focused on those top talents which were suspended from North Carolina this season. Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Greg Little have all taken their turn addressing everything the media has thrown their way.
Quinn, a potential top ten selection, refuted reports that he had an "I don't care" attitude regarding his suspension because he was still likely to be a top draft choice. Quinn stated that he took a trip to watch the team when they played LSU last season. As he sat there in the stands watching, he was nearly in tears because he couldn't be there for his team. He realized he made a selfish mistake for which others had to pay. He was quite adamant that football is a big part of his life, and that he should never take it for granted.
Austin divulged his suspension was the result of four trips taken, two to California and two to Florida. He didn't entertain any more details.
Greg Little may have proven to be the most interesting case currently in Indianapolis. In front of the public, he is remorseful for his actions which helped cause North Carolina's sanctions. Off the field, there is a completely different perception of the wide receiver held by NFL teams. The perception is dismal enough that some believe he may go undrafted. Why? Because they basically believe he is a con artist and a habitual liar.
These types of issues do not merely appear among big school products that are often handed the world without repercussions. Two small school examples are frightening.
California, PA. quarterback Josh Portis has had a long and winding journey to arrive in Indianapolis for the combine. He was Urban Meyer's very first recruit to Florida. After being caught cheating on a pop quiz, he decided to transfer to Maryland instead of facing the ensuing suspension in Gainesville. History repeated itself in Maryland, resulting in Portis eventually landing in Division II. Legal issues may or may not be pending based on credit card fraud.
Portis is one of the most engaging human beings to have a conversation with among the large contingent competing in front of the NFL viewing masses, but one can't judge this book by its cover.
Meanwhile, Walsh's Joe Morgan may be the fastest player at the NFL combine, but he can't run away from his past. The former Illinois Fighting Illini was dismissed from school after his "third strike". He attempted to lie to school officials for his teammate/roommate who was in possession of a firearm. He previously had a run-in with a woman and then tried to break up a fight which ended badly. This string of events is how one starts in the Big Ten and ends in the NAIA.
Maybe all of these previous players should have simply followed the lead of Boise State wide receiver Titus Young. When Young was questioned about a previous run-in with his coaching staff which resulted in a suspension, he simply stated, "I'm not going to comment on that."