The 12 Best Things We Heard at the Combine

The Scouting Combine isn't only about 40 times and the bench press. Between the coaches, GMs and players, a dizzying amount of football is discussed. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy will address reporters on Friday, but there was plenty of talk about the Packers on Thursday, anyway.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Here are some of the best things we heard at the Scouting Combine on Thursday, with an NFC North focus to start and a few of the key players.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz

How do the Lions take the next step, get past Green Bay and win a championship?

I don't know that you look at it like we have to get past Green Bay. Where we got from 0-16 to being a playoff team was not really comparing ourselves to any other teams and not doing anything else other than trying to improve step by step every single day. If we take that same approach, then we can be in that (upper echelon). I think the way you look at it is this: Our goal was to be good for a long period of time. Our goal was not to turn it around quickly and it was not to make the playoffs and it wasn't to beat Green Bay or anything else. Our whole thing was to be good for a long period of time. To do that, we've got to make good, long-term decisions and we need to stick with our plan and have confidence in the plan, and I think we've done that in our first three years.

Are you concerned that Ndamukong Suh is getting a dirty rap around the league?

Ndamukong is a very, very productive player for us. It's sort of the opposite of what we said when we were sitting here last year. Usually when you talk about rookies and young players, you're saying he played a lot better than the stats indicate. And his rookie year, he also had the stats. It's very, very difficult for a defensive tackle to get double-digit sacks, and he was able to do it as a rookie. I think when you do that, all of a sudden everybody assumed, ‘OK, next year it's going to be 15 and then next year it's going to be 20,' and there's an adjustment period that goes on there.

But when we left Detroit, we just finished up our offseason cut-ups. It's an interesting perspective when you sit back and you look at every single play from the season over again from a lot of different angles: third-down reels and red-zone reels and scheme reels and all those different things. Ndamukong played very well this year.

I think some of the things that happened with him, particularly the Thanksgiving Day game, sort of overshadowed that. But he was an improved player. Also, the thing we saw is offenses knew what number he wears and they also took an approach of trying to sort of limit his effectiveness. So, there's still an adjustment period that was going on there, but played very, very well, particularly through that part of the season where he really wasn't getting sacks. There's a couple plays in there, had a great pass rush, quarterback threw the ball before he wanted to. He's free to the quarterback, the quarterback gets rid of the ball, throws an interception. No stat at all for a defensive lineman. No sack, anything that people in the media or fans can look at, but obviously that's an impact play. A quarterback gets an intentional grounding, that's not a sack but it's one of those things.

And I think, particularly over the last couple games, we sort of put some of those other things to rest --- the after-the-whistle type things. But when you're a player that opposing teams want to try and target – target from a scheme standpoint to take away – you're going to have to adjust to that, and I think that's one thing that he can still work on.

Bears coach Lovie Smith

Are the Bears a healthy Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and a few roster tweaks away from being a contender again?

I think, just that in itself, I think most of the teams that didn't go to the playoffs, we have an excuse for why we didn't make it there, but that was a pretty good football team. I thought we'd be able to handle that situation better, but we didn't play with two pretty good football players and I just can't wait to get them back on the field and go through an entire season with them.

Team President Ted Phillips said a new GM (Phil Emery) would have to keep you aboard for at least a year. Does that make this a win-or-else season?

Win or else: Every year I've been a head football coach and pretty much as a position coach, I felt like we had to win the next year or else. There's a standard that we're going to try to get accomplished. That hasn't changed at all. As far as more pressure, new GM having to keep me, I don't think any of the guys looked at it that way. Hopefully, they looked at it as a great situation they were coming into, a team that two years ago was in the NFC Championship Game, a team that was 7-3 this past year before injuries happened. I don't look at it that way.

Do you need to overhaul the wide receiver position?

In the offseason we look to improve our ballclub – wide receiver, linebacker, defensive line, O line, running back, the works, coaching staff. Wide receiver is a part of that.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman

What's the outlook with the third overall pick?

I'm not excited about being the three. That means you didn't have a very successful year. But to take advantage of that No. 3 is going to be huge for the success of our organization moving forward. With the new CBA and the financial commitment to the top-five picks not as significant as it has been in the past, I think there will be a lot of potential movement, especially in that top five, depending on where these quarterbacks fall, the top two quarterbacks in the draft and who's going to need quarterbacks. There could be a lot of activity that first day and especially those first three spots.

What do you look for in offensive tackles?

There are some very good left tackles coming out in this draft, not only (Matt) Kalil, but there's a lot of other guys that are going to be able to play left tackle in this league. You want to look at their ability to protect the quarterback's blind side. Does he have the athletic skill-set and does he have the feet and does he have the arm length to do everything to make him competitive at left tackle?

There's the adage that you go back and forth on -- is the left tackle that important or is it more important to have playmakers on offense? Because as your quarterback evolves, he learns the system, he gets the ball quicker out of his hand and all of a sudden that left tackle doesn't need to be a Pro Bowl left tackle. He can be a functional left tackle because the quarterback evolves and he's got playmakers. I just remember Aaron Rodgers and how the media were criticizing their offensive line when Aaron Rodgers took all those sacks his first year as a starter. Now, their offensive line has gotten better, but Aaron Rodgers has also gotten better … and they've got tremendous playmakers around him.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin

What did you learn from Mike McCarthy during your time together that will carry over to this job?

I thought Coach McCarthy had a great balance, a great perspective. He created an excellent work environment. He had confidence in the people that he hired and let guys do their job and function. He wasn't a micromanager. He had a lot of outstanding qualities. Hopefully, some of those – everybody has their own style and their own way of doing business – but I thought his results speak for themselves. He's an excellent football coach. Hopefully some of those traits will carry with me.

Seahawks GM John Schneider

When you were in Green Bay, do you remember interacting with Joe Philbin and thinking, 'One day, this guy can be a head coach in the NFL.'

You know, I was blessed in 1992 to start with a group of guys that was on coach (Mike) Holmgren's staff. It was unbelievable. It was kind of a who's-who. So, going back to Green Bay with coach (Mike) Sherman's staff, and Joe had been at Iowa so I had known him in his days at Iowa, first of all, he's a phenomenal person. Honest. His integrity is very high. He just has that 'It' quality as a leader. He can step in a room, and he's just got a natural presence about him. He's going to do a great job.

Jets coach Rex Ryan

First off, I know what everybody is thinking, all right. The return to the infamous Super Bowl guarantee was here. You know, in all seriousness, looking back, obviously it was a huge mistake to make that guarantee. At the time, we were coming off two championship games (and) I really thought it would be a thing that would actually motivate our team to really talk about the Super Bowl, to focus on the Super Bowl.

But in hindsight, I think it put undue pressure on our team and we kind of lost focus and really we lost focus on what we do best. So, it's obviously a big mistake. When I go back and I look at it, I think it contributed to the season we had. It was something that I've been thinking about a great deal. Obviously, we had a terrible season. I'll take full responsibility for it. I think part of that guarantee really contributed to that.

BYU OT Matt Reynolds

Can you talk about the play against Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, when you made the key block without a helmet?

It was a really fun play. My coach told me to be a little more aggressive on that particular pass play. When the ball was snapped, I set pass and then tried to dive at his ankles, I tried to cut him. He sidestepped me, and as he did, he swiped and knocked my helmet off. As I stood up, I saw him going after my quarterback and I really didn't think much about it. If Riley (Nelson) is going, I still need to be going. So, I ran after him and was able to catch up to him before he was able to put a hit on the quarterback.

Who's the best offensive tackle?

USC's Matt Kalil: I would definitely say I am the best tackle in the draft. Especially at my position, or quarterback position or any big-time position, confidence is definitely a big part of your game. And I think they want to hear that you do think you're the best tackle. And I think I am. And I think I've worked hard going through SC working on everything I can to become a better player. And I'm ready to take my game to the next level.

Stanford's Jonathan Martin: Without a doubt. As a competitor, you've got to think you're the best. Matt's a tremendous player, but I think I'm better than he is … It's nothing cocky about it. It's just how I approach my game when I'm preparing for an event like this. I'm an athletic tackle, I'm smart, I don't make many mistakes, and that's helped me a lot the last couple years.

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