Fears and regional team scouts have been spending a good deal of time working out some of the 2007 Draft's top talent at the running back position. Some say it's because the Patriots like to do their due diligence on all players in case they have the opportunity to acquire one of them down the road. Skeptics believe Fears and the Patriots staff are making the rounds because of the team's current situation at running back with Laurence Maroney's shoulder injury. In either case, the Patriots have been busy working out more top talent.
Monday, Fears was seen at the Louisville Pro Day getting a closer look at the Cardinals' other running back -- the one not named Bush. Kolby Smith (5'-11.5", 220 lbs.) was the subject of Fears' attention. Clocking a 4.5 in his 40-yard dash, Smith looked good in position drills according to TFY Draft Preview.
Smith wasn't as widely recognized as his teammate Michael Bush, but unlike Bush, Smith will be ready for action when rookie mini camps roll around in May and June. Bush will have to wait, as recent reports indicate that he will need a second surgery to install a metal rod in his leg. With Bush out of the immediate picture, Fears only had one option to analyze, and that was Smith.
Scouting "The" University
Scout.com reported late last week that Fears and the team scouts took a closer look at Ohio State back Antonio Pittman (5'-11", 207 lbs.). Pittman is ranked as the No. 3 back in the Draft, and carries a first round Draft grade by many.
Scouting the Western Front
On the heels of the Pittman news came word that the Patriots planned a pre draft workout with Arizona's Chris Henry (5'-11.5", 230 lbs.). Not known for having a productive college career, Henry has the size and speed the Patriots look for. With a body build similar to former Patriot Corey Dillon, it isn't hard to imagine what Fears is thinking when he sees Henry.
Previously Reported Sightings
Those aren't the only backs the Patriots are interested in. Auburn running back Kenny Irons (5'-10.5", 203 lbs.), and Florida State back Lorenzo Booker (5'-10.5", 191 lbs.) already worked out for the team earlier this month.
Players Strive To Make A Lasting Impression
Irons showed a little of what he could do at the Senior Bowl playing for the South team. "I think I showed how quick I am, how quick I hit the hole, how strong I am and my ability to break tackles," Irons said to AUTigers.com after the game.
For most Draft prospects, the Senior Bowl was the last significant football action they had. For those who had a good game, the tape helps, but private workouts are how coaches get a feel for a player who looks good on tape.
Pro Days are another opportunity for prospects to show what they can do. But not all players fully participate in the drills during their Pro Day. Booker was one of those who opted out of certain drills. He elected not to run the 40 during his Pro Day and felt that may have been a mistake.
"I ran a 4.45 at the combine, and they say that's the most important thing," Booker told RenegadeReport.com. That regret didn't dampen his confidence of being one of the top backs selected in the Draft though. "You can look at the film and know I'm faster than the 4.4," Booker remarked. "I feel like I'm a first round guy."
For Henry and Pittman, it's not about what they were - or in some cases weren't - able to do at their Pro Day, it's what they do to impress the teams that stop by to put them through their own private workout. Henry's speed was on display at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis where he turned in a pair of times initially reported to be in the mid to high 4.3 range - considered very fast for a running back his size. His actual times were adjusted to 4.41 and 4.45. That discrepancy tends to raise questions and those questions can only be guaranteed by having a coach, or a scout, pull out their own stopwatch and make him run it again.
For the Patriots, it's not about straight ahead speed though. Like all teams, they want to see of a player can do more than just run fast or look good in a swimsuit. They want to see if he has football sense.
One thing is for certain; Fears has a lot of work to do to figure out which prospect shave that "football sense." When he does, he is still faced with a tough decision to make if it turns out that Maroney will miss a significant chunk of playing time - Which back to take and when.