Combine: Digging a Little Deeper at Indy

The combine is the beginning of the end of the draft process. Jim Wexell has seen the players, but needs to learn a bit more from the following prospects:

I'm reading that today's combine is "the start of the process," when really 90 percent of the work has already been done in anticipation of the 2010 NFL draft. The combine is more of a finisher, a time to ask questions, a time to take a final peek if needed.

I've watched enough college football to know what I like, but these are the guys whom I'd need to see at the combine in order to call it a wrap:

Tyson AlualuI'd written this defensive end off early in the season as strictly a 4-3 end, but he impressed me so much with his motor during Senior Bowl week. I want to know if he can make it as a smaller 3-4 end.

Brandon DeaderickAlong those same lines, Deaderick played end in the 3-4 but had a slow start thanks to gunshot wounds that I understand were strictly of the wrong-time/wrong place nature. Deaderick came on strong down the stretch and is the Alabama defensive lineman I want to see and talk to at the combine, not the ridiculous Terrence Cody.

Clifton GeathersWhile we're doing that defensive end thing, let's finish with this South Carolina underclassman. His brother plays for the Bengals, his dad played for the Bills, and we all know about Uncle Jumpy. Clifton impressed me while watching and waiting for Eric Norwood to show me one, just one, reason that he's a linebacker and not the 4-3 third-down pass-rushing specialist I believe him to be. I didn't take notes on Geathers, but he's declared so I need to play catch up on a player who has the bloodlines and explosiveness to make it.

Bryan BulagaThe thyroid condition that cost him time early in the season must be investigated. I want this big OT to explain that he's healthy and that the condition was the reason he was schooled by Brandon Graham and O'Brien Schofield in consecutive games upon returning to the field.

Brandon Graham – I could list a number of mid-round 4-3 defensive ends to monitor as potential 3-4 OLBs this week but it's imperative to see Graham flip his hips and drop into coverage. I think he can, but in the first round I need to know he can.

O'Brien Schofield – This high-motored Wisky pass-rusher blew up his knee at the Senior Bowl and checking on the progress of such players is a combine precept. I'll also await reports on Micah Johnson, Sean Lee, Corey Wootton and Walter Thurmond. Johnson is the Kirkland-type buck backer at Kentucky. His knee ruptured on the final series of his bowl game. Lee has had knee trouble the last couple of years, and he played through it this season. From what I'm hearing, he's in great shape. Wootton blew out his knee during the 2008 bowl season and seemed to be rounding back into form late this season. Thurmond, a terrific and underrated ballhawking corner at Oregon, is also said to be making great progress after missing most of this past season.

Chad Jones, Kyle WilsonI really like these two as instinctive football players, but if I'm going to draft either in the first round I need to see their speed. Jones is a 230-pound safety who must show he could handle center field in the Steelers' scheme. Wilson is the second-best corner in the draft, and if he rips off a 4.3 I'd consider him with pick 18. Of course, I also want to see the timed speed of defensive backs such as Amari Spievey, Kareem Jackson, Devin McCourty, Darrell Stuckey and T.J. Ward, to name a few.

Akwasi Owusu-AnsahWhat a year for local TV not to put IUP on. Never had the chance to see this CB, but I heard a story: Early in the season he returned an opening kickoff for a touchdown, and a Bears scout stood up, announced "I've seen enough," and left the press box. Probably wasn't much to learn about a potential pro corner against that competition anyway.

Nate ByhamPlease, stop with the Dorin Dickerson nonsense. Byham is the Pitt tight end who interests me, only because he can block and will be a late-rounder. I need to see if he has better speed than he showed last season.

Colin PeekOn the other hand, I'm kind of hoping this tight end doesn't burn up the track. I've already seen his competitive speed. At 6-6 and with those hands, his blocking at Alabama is what I'd prefer with the Steelers. Go back and watch him consistently bury Sergio Kindle in the national championship game. But be very, very quiet. Don't wake the rest of the league.

Garrett GrahamNot that I need to see anything else from this prospect, an H-back who can actually block, but I'd pay him a few shekels to give Bruce Arians some tips on how to make the two tight-end base system work like it did at Wisconsin.

Cody GrimmRuss's son has so much heart, I need to watch closely for signs this linebacker can compete in the NFL.

Phillip DillardSame as with Grimm. Love this guy's heart. Love him as a late-rounder. Have to see if reports from Senior Bowl week that this Nebraska middle backer is hopeless in coverage are true, because right now I don't believe them.

Brandon SpikesLikewise, I need to see this future defensive captain's timed speed to continue considering him as the pick at 18.

John ConnerWithout a true lead-blocking fullback on my preseason prospects list, I didn't watch Conner play at Kentucky, but I'm hearing he might be Dan Kreider in blue and white. Another combine fullback I haven't watched is Manase Tonga from BYU. Hopefully one of them is a better lead blocker than Rashawn Jackson from Virginia. Jackson's not bad, but he's not Kreider. Most converted tailbacks aren't.

Brody EldridgeA few years ago I watched this 265-pounder from Oklahoma crush linebackers as a lead fullback. They moved him the next year to tight end and last year to center. Now, former fullbacks, like Sean McHugh, they can lead block.

Bruce CampbellHe's big, strong and fast, but only made 17 starts at left tackle for Maryland. My guess is he rocks the combine like no one else, but I'd want to get to know the mental makeup of this underclassman because he strikes me as a potential pick at 18.

Mike IupatiBy the same token, I want to know if this monstrous guard had academic issues simply because of his move from Samoa, or whether he's just not that bright.

Anthony DavisAgain, with a big, strong, classical-looking NFL left tackle, why the repeated minor suspensions at Rutgers? Was the coach too hard on him? Or is Davis just plain lazy?

John JerryThis second-round guard was listed by Ole Miss at 6-5, 350, but checked into the Senior Bowl at 6-6, 332. Now, that's exciting, particularly if he's grown another inch and lost more weight since then.

Matt Tennant – On the other hand, this technicially superior center weighed only 290 at the Senior Bowl. He needs to add the weight Jerry has lost.

Jonathan DwyerHe has the look of a true NFL power tailback, but he never lined up that far back in Georgia Tech's unique offense. I've never seen him pass block, either, since he only blocked away from the ball after carrying out those fake dive plays.

Toby GerhartI'll use him to head this list of tough, between-the-tackles backs who need to prove themselves against the stopwatch: Montario Hardesty, Anthony Dixon, Ben Tate and Javarris James. Let's throw Brandon Minor in there, too.


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