Packer Report publisher Bill Huber, still in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, chatted with subscribers on Monday night. Here are the highlights:
So, what is the combine like?
Weird. The NFL, because they are so desperate for the NFL Network to work, doesn't let us watch. So, we get to talk to a lot of people, which is great, but I can't offer any observations on athletic ability. But I can't complain. I have stories for about 100 prospects on my tape recorder. It's interesting to talk to the kids. Either they're well-coached by their agents or (most of them) are genuinely nice guys.
From being around the Packers during the combine, do you have any idea as who they will draft in the first round?
I really am not sure. I can chop it down to some names – all of which you've heard … Orakpo, Brown, Raji, etc. -- but as to who they like out of that group, it's impossible to say. This is such a tight-lipped group. They don't say anything to us or to anyone that will give away their intentions.
Do you think the Packers will resign Colin Cole?
I think they have to re-sign Cole. This free agent group is so bad, especially for defensive linemen, that Cole seems critical just to add some depth. Thompson (like most GMs) makes it a priority to re-sign their own players because they know what they have. So, I'm guessing they'd really like to, unless Cole just gets blown away by an offer. Which is possible, considering how bad this year's free agent crop is.
What time in the morning does the combine start and what time in the evening does it end?
The players say they have to get up at 4 p.m. We're allowed to be there from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The players are there before we show up and after we leave.
At the combine, what is the media allowed to watch?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. NFL Network gets to be inside the stadium. We're allowed only in the media room (think Lambeau Atrium, but not quite as cool). It's all part of trying to build their network, which makes sense. Might make more sense to work out a deal with Time Warner Cable. So, we're limited to interviews. They shuttle players in and out all day, and from Friday-Sunday, coaches and GMs talked to us. So all of that is great.
Have you heard if the packers will be trying to go after any free agents starting on Friday?
The Packers just don't talk about such things. We talked to Thompson on Friday, and he says he likes free agency. But, as he said, for every player that is signed in free agency, that might be one less player he can keep later. Not that that makes free agency a bad thing, he said, but I think he he's keeping his eyes set on re-signing next year's free agents (Collins, Kampman and that 2005 draft class). I just keep looking at the free agents, and it's horrible. Fourteen guys were franchised. A whole bunch of other good players were re-signed before the franchise deadline. One guy who makes sense to me is Dallas DE Chris Canty, since he's proven he can play in a 3-4. He's going to get $8 million a year from someone.
Do you think then he will just try to resign his own players then?
I'm not sure if he'll try to keep Montgomery. I don't think he's strong enough to play end. Other than that, it's just Cole and Tauscher.
What is the Colts' new stadium like?
It's beautiful. For $770 million or whatever it was, it had better be. Their version of the Atrium is really nice, though not nearly as nice as Lambeau's. It's always easy to fall in love with something new, but after spending five days there, I'll take Lambeau. Lambeau is second to none.
Bill, in the section on the Web site where we could ask you question at the combine, I like that feature.
Thanks. I wish I got more questions. Packer Report has been around awhile, but we're trying to build the message boards for the first time as far as putting "insider" give-and-take in there. It's been a slow process.
Bill, from what you know about Thompson, do you think he would consider Andre Smith since it looks like he will slide out of the Top 5, or is he too much of a flake?
Remember Thompson's phrase "Packer People" .... does Smith sound like "Packer People" to you? I just can't imagine it. Really, this is akin to a job interview, and if you're in Smith's shoes, you're looking at $25 million guaranteed (that's just the guaranteed money, never mind base salaries). And then to show up out of shape and then leave? Unbelievable. And this is a guy who let his team down by talking to an agent and couldn't play in a BCS bowl game. I wouldn't touch him.
I dunno', he apparently likes buffet lines.
Yeah, I heard he stepped on Michael Crabtree's foot to be the first in the door at the buffet.
I saw some reports that said he was not dressed appropriately for the Interviews. What was he wearing and what are the prospects supposed to wear?
It's a business interview, in essence. I would think you'd want to dress professionally. Not saying shirt and tie, but slacks and a nice shirt would seem appropriate. I heard he was wearing a baggy T-shirt and sweatpants and sort of looked like a thug, but I can't say if that's accurate. I didn't look into it.
Which player at the combine impressed you the most?
Again, just from the interviews .... Jason Smith of Baylor (the big OT) was great. He's top five. Orakpo and Everette Brown (the OLB prospects) were good to talk to. Zack Follett, a mid/late-round draft pick at linebacker, I'd take him in a minute. Guy just loves football. Clay Matthews Jr. was impressive to talk to as well. He's probably gone long before the Pack picks in the second, though. Alex Mack, the center, for Cal, same thing. He can play all three interior spots and clearly just loves the game. But he's probably long gone by No. 41, too.
What were your impressions of B.J. Raji?
He might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but boy, is he big. Someone said he reminded them of a Coke machine. It was a good comparison. He's 6-1, 337, but it's not like he's a fat turd, though. He had seven sacks as a senior, so that's a nice bonus that he could at least put some pressure on the QB. He's still my guy, just because big NTs are so hard to find. Maybe Orakpo or Brown is a bigger difference-maker in the long run, but at least you can find those types of guys every year.
Do you think he will be available when the Packers pick at No. 9?
I really wonder if he'll be there at 9. He's the only big DT in this draft. I wonder if some team will grab him just because of that. No. 9 seems the right place for him, though. Packers are really in a good position though. They need a NT (Raji) or an OLB (Orakpo or Brown) or a LT (there are three or four top-10-worthy guys). So, however it works out, the Packers will get a guy who can make an impact.
If Raji is gone along with the Two LTs and Jenkins, I wonder if Thompson will consider trading back to the late teens or early 20s, assuming someone would want to move up to No. 9. I know the Packers are supposed to be among the more secretive about the draft, so I guess it would be hard to get a read on such an idea.
You're right about the secretive part. You know, it's possible. Say, Thompson really loves that Larry English kid from Northern Illinois to put at OLB. You can probably get him at No. 20. So, I could see that.
Bill, is there any talk about opening up the combine to fans?
Actually, it was asked to the guy who runs the Combine. He said probably not, just because of the distraction it would cause for everyone, from the media to the players to the coaches/scouts/GMs.
How do you think the Packers will do in the 3-4 defense?
At first blush, I say poorly at first. But McCarthy keeps saying the 3-4 is just the base defense. We asked him if that's 50 percent of the snaps. He said it was "150 to 200 plays" ... so that amounts to maybe 20 or 25 percent of the defensive snaps. The rest of the time, they're in nickel or dime or in short-yardage. Here's a whole bunch of ifs … IF they can get Raji … IF a quality OLB is there in the second … IF Barnett comes back healty … IF Hawk turns into the player everyone expects. … IF Bigby's late-2007 play wasn't a fluke. … IF Woodson and Harris continue to defy age. … If that stuff happens, I can see the Packers turning it around right away and winning 10, 11 or 12 games. Capers has a pedigree as a coach that can really make a difference if the players are in place. I think the Packers have to get defense with the first two picks and one of those two third-rounders. Get a good offensive lineman with one of those picks. And away we go. After typing all of that, maybe trading down isn't a bad idea if the player you REALLY want is gone.
The way the economy is do you think Teams will be spending big money during the free agency period?
Great question. Happened to ask someone about that (I forget his name ... but it was a GM). He said the big names will get big money. But it's the middle-of-the-road guys who are going to be hurt.
What is the food like in Indy?
Expensive! I miss Green Bay where you can have a nice dinner for two for $30! I also miss home cooking. God I am sounding like a crybaby now!
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.