Diary of a mad combine reporter

Jim Wexell returned from the combine in Indianapolis, only to watch a 12-hour marathon of track drills. Here are more of his thoughts on the draft and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

From the notebook of a reporter who's been pushed to the brink of madness by Rich Eisen and his combine cronies:

* Well, maybe not the brink of madness, but daffy enough to go back and watch the Shrine Game, which is something I only half-joked before the combine that I wouldn't do. I guess it wasn't a total waste of time, because the Shrine tape answered some questions. The big defensive end/tackle from San Jose State, Jarron Gilbert, whom some are now projecting to the Steelers as a 5-technique at pick 32, did nothing. He hurt his ankle in the first quarter and never returned.

* Another answered question – also brought up by the just-concluded combine – is that the big South Carolina tackle-guard, Jamon Meredith (6-5, 304), can indeed play this game. I must've watched one of his early games at guard, because he was awful, but his times and measurements at the combine – third in the 40 (5.04) and bench press (31) at his position – coupled with his performance at right tackle in the Shrine game, make him a legitimate pick at the bottom of the second round.

* Of course, more questions have arisen. Wide receivers Mike Thomas and Deon Butler played so well in the Shrine game that I now need to find out why Thomas shoved his offensive coordinator during a late-season game, and why the lightning-quick Butler wasn't the go-to guy at Penn State. These guys would be perfect slot receivers/return men for the Steelers.

* The people who point to Jarron Gilbert's 6-6, 288 frame, and the longest arms and biggest hands of any DE at the combine, and his 4.87 40, and his NFL bloodlines, tell me he's the ideal pick at 32. The people who watched his tape at San Jose State wonder how I could even ask.

* Assuming LSU DE Tyson Jackson doesn't somehow slip to 32, the only other defensive fit for the Steelers would be cornerback. The guy who impressed me during an interview and later during the workouts is Darius Butler of UConn, but I fear his stock has shot up too far.

* That brings me to king-sized Sean Smith, the 6-3½ CB from Utah who ran fluid 4.5 40s. The natural comparison is to Mel Blount, who forced the league to change the rules and really had only one more good season. The NFL likes big corners, but that might be too big. I'd love to see more tape of Sean Smith.

* Going into the combine, the CB I really liked was Gill Byrd's son, Jairus Byrd, a 207-pound junior with great ball skills. Not only didn't Byrd work out, he didn't interview with the media. I know nothing more about him. Maybe he's keeping to himself so his dad (an assistant with the Bears) drafts him.

* I didn't interview or see Tyson Jackson, either. So much for the two guys I liked. Didn't see them at the Senior Bowl, either. Must be a new strategy from the agents.

* Offensively, I'll take WR Hakeem Nicks off the Steelers' draft odds board. He ran a sub 4.5 40, and speed was supposed to be his weakness. In fact, most compare Nicks to Anquan Boldin, who ran a 4.72 40 at the combine. Nicks will be long, long gone, now.

* Before Deon Butler's time was shaved to 4.38, his TV clocking was 4.26. Mike Mayock mentioned that he was sitting with one team's group of scouts and they all confirmed Butler's time. That team was the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

* The Detroit Lions have been cursed ever since trading Bobby Layne to the Steelers in 1958, right? Well, Matthew Stafford, the highly touted QB from Georgia, went to Layne's high school in Texas. So it only makes sense for the Lions to draft Stafford No. 1, doesn't it?

* Yes, particularly since everyone I trust in the business has Mark Sanchez rated above Stafford. Remember, they are the Lions.

* No matter how hard I try to spin this thing, I keep coming back to offensive linemen. My man Eric Wood (6-4, 310) ran a 5.17 40 and looked fluid in all of his drills. The only two interior linemen to run faster (less than a tenth of a second) both weighed less and couldn't match Wood's 30 reps on the bench. He's still the odds-on favorite in the first round.

* A.Q. Shipley's still my guy in the later rounds. In fact, I could live with a draft haul that includes Wood, Jamon Meredith and Shipley. Yes, it would be dull, but it be a foundation draft, which is the perfect post-championship draft.


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