Wexell: Hot tips, rumors from Indy

From the notebook of a sportswriter who's tired of CBA talk and welcomes the flood of hot tips, rumors and innuendo bubbling out of the combine this week:

* One writer with his ear to the ground insists LeCharles Bentley will join the Cleveland Browns, whom, he writes, are also hot on the trail of wide receiver Joe Jurevicius. Those would be exceptional free-agent moves, un-befitting of what used to be a bungling front office. Replacing recent first-round pick Jeff Faine with Bentley would be a microcosm of the change-over.

* Jurevicius could've been the Super Bowl MVP had genius-slash-whiner-slash-wussy Mike Holmgren not switched his offensive emphasis to Jerramy Stevens in the second quarter.

* I really am losing respect for all of these pro-Seattle whiners. They say the game will be remembered for its poor officiating, but in fact it'll be remembered for the whining from a team that couldn't come close enough for a blown call to even matter.

* Raves are following Bobby Carpenter's interviews. Carpenter would be a perfect fit as a strong-side OLB in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 3-4, and he's being lauded as a future captain. Word is the Tennessee Titans won't let him get past the top of the second round.

* Carpenter can't work out because of a fibula he broke in Ohio State's game against Michigan, so it's natural that a bountiful crop of linebackers would push him down the pecking order. My outside-linebackers story for one magazine was changed after a pro personnel man looked it over. I had A.J. Hawk as an inside linebacker, so my OLB list read: 1. Chad Greenway; 2. Ernie Sims; 3. DeMeco Ryans; 4. Carpenter; 5. A.J. Nicholson; and 6. Rocky McIntosh. The scout made one change: He moved McIntosh to No. 3 and everyone else down.

* That makes McIntosh a potential bottom-of-the-first-round guy, and therefore a potential Steeler. He looks every bit the thick-and-quick linebacker at the combine.

* D'Qwell Jackson ran an unimpressive 40 time at the combine, so that could make him a Steeler, considering they prefer game film over triangle numbers. The kid is another big-time hitter at a position chock full of them.

* Not that the Steelers really need a linebacker, but isn't it about time they brought in a legitimate blue-chipper to bolster a position they consider the backbone of their scheme? Right now, the Steelers have a first-rounder, third-rounder, fourth-rounder, two fifth-rounders and two undrafted players in their seven-man stable. The first-rounder, Farrior, was acquired as an inexpensive free-agent. He's now 31 and playing the most wearing position of the four. This, the year of the linebacker, is the time to add that blue-chipper.

* Another name to remember, as an ILB, is N.C. State's Stephen Tulloch. The junior wasn't part of my top 10, but the scout took out my No. 7 guy, Nick Reid of Kansas, and installed Tulloch. Now, a scout normally wouldn't care much about some schmuck's top 10 list, but a move like that sent up flares in my mind. I suppose Tulloch is a guy to keep an eye on.

* Tulloch joins three other front-seven players from N.C. State who are considered legitimate first-day prospects. The others are defensive ends Mario Williams and Manny Lawson, and tackle John McCargo. Now, if Williams is Julius Peppers, and McCargo is Kris Jenkins, how did Lawson and his 4.4 speed manage only 20.5 sacks in four years?

* I watched Lawson play twice and am convinced he's more Steven Conley than Jason Taylor. The draftniks love him, and don't care that Lawson can't flip his hips the way a linebacker should, but I'm convinced he'll have to play defensive end. And at 240 pounds, that's a gamble because he's certainly not Dwight Freeney. I would pass on Lawson … with extreme prejudice.

* Other overrated prospects are Michael Huff and Haloti Ngata. Huff might be a great cornerback, but he's Chris Hope at free safety. The NFL Network showed its clips package of Huff and, while raving uncontrollably, the announcers failed to mention that every single tackle shown had Huff tackling someone's shoulder pads. In one of the three games I watched the Texas Longhorns play, TIVO-style, Huff nearly cost them a national title in the scare against Texas A&M. The Aggies exploited his poor angles and overaggressiveness with almost mocking persistence. Good luck at cornerback, Mr. Huff.

* As for Ngata, I'd rather draft the Oklahoma center who beat the hell out of him in the bowl game. Ngata will never play in a 3-4. He plays too tall for the nose and isn't athletic enough to play defensive end. If someone drafts Ngata before FSU wild man Broderick Bunkley, that someone should be fired within minutes.

* The safety who's intriguing the Steelers is Ohio State's Donte Whitner. His best attribute is the ability to wrap up and finish tackles. Send his cut-ups to Huff and Hope.

* Darnell Bing is interesting. He's a 227-pound strong safety who was exposed for his lack of tackling skills in the Rose Bowl. The guy's actually a better-looking free safety, considering his ball skills, but is he quick enough?

* Why can't safeties tackle anymore? I need to call the free safety of my generation, Larry Wilson, for his thoughts on the matter.

* Let's throw mouthy Virginia Tech CB Jimmy Williams into the overrated pile I have over here. Hasn't the NFL grown tired of these yapping poodles yet?

* The tight end crop is strong, and the Steelers will need one, even if they bring back Jerame Tuman. With the emergence of Vernon Davis and guys like Mercedes Lewis and Dominique Byrd, 6-foot-8 giant Leonard Pope could fall to pick No. 32. With his soft hands, no one would be able to stop Ben Roethlisberger-to-Pope in the red zone.

* I'm reading that Vince Young's downfall is not the 6 he scored on the Wonderlic, but his withdrawal from the media firestorm. Scouts say it wasn't a good precursor of leadership skills, which are kinda important at quarterback.

* One personnel man, who now has Brodie Croyle listed ahead of Young, believes Young will fall to pick No. 13 and the Baltimore Ravens.

* Let's all get behind Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski as a fifth-round choice at back-up QB. If he's gone, look at Furman's Ingle Martin, who had the best fastball (61 m.p.h.) at the combine, and is a quality punter to boot.

* Yes, the pun was intentional. I am now fair game.

* One scout said the "slash" order is Reggie McNeal, followed by Brad Smith, with Michael Robinson far behind. Smith looks like Randall Cunningham, but I'd take Robinson in the sixth or seventh round.


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