Notebook: Combine fuels debate

The NFL Scouting Combine could be pitting players against each other in the 40-yard dash. Plus, how coveted of a free agent will Mike Wallace become?

The league's plans to make some of the Combine events a pseudo-competition between players, first reported by The New York Times, has drawn early mixed reviews from team personnel officials.

Always interested in making a buck, and in using fan interest as its flimsy rationale, the NFL this year allowed 250 fans to sit in at Lucas Oil Stadium for some events. Admission was free, but the move is seen by some personnel people as a precursor to selling tickets.

The league is fueled, of course, by the passion of the fans it charged to view Media Day at the Super Bowl earlier this month, and by the ardent interest in the draft. The league has laid out the potential for making some events, like the bench press and the 40-yard sprint, competitions between the players.

In addition to generating some revenues and creating even more interest in the draft, the process would arguably make for more compelling viewing on The NFL Network.

But as one AFC general manager told The Sports Xchange on Thursday night: "They're going to bleed the golden goose for everything it's worth. You'd think $10 billion (in revenues) would be plenty, but enough is never enough for some of these guys."

DECREASING MARKET FOR WALLACE?

Perhaps the media- and agent-fueled speculation about the future of Mike Wallace will be accurate, and the three-year veteran wide receiver and big-play threat will eventually exit Pittsburgh via a restricted free-agent offer sheet that the Steelers can't, or maybe won't, match. But people close to the team told The Sports Xchange that they are more confident lately about being able to retain Wallace, 25, to whom they will at least apply a first-round tender.

That was evident again Thursday, in the remarks that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert made at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine. Part of that might be that a once-crippling salary cap overage is much closer to being resolved, especially since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has provided the Steelers some relief by restructuring his contract.

Pittsburgh is within shouting distance of the projected 2012 cap now, and still has several roster/cap moves it can make before the deadline. But an element of the team's improved confidence in being able to possibly keep Wallace might also be that the Steelers, as is the case with The Sports Xchange, haven't really identified many legitimate potential suitors yet for Wallace, teams that will part with a first-round choice in 2012 for him.

With the pro scouts to whom The Sports Xchange has discussed Wallace, outside of the Steelers' organization, of course, there is concern about the way he finished the 2011 season, a perception in some quarters that he is a bit of a pouter, and the suspicion he isn't as polished as Pittsburgh's two other young wideouts, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders (when healthy).

Over the first 10 games of '11, Wallace averaged 5.3 catches, 92.2 yards, 17.4 yards per reception, and had six touchdowns. In the final six contests, those averages fell to 3.2 catches, 45.2 yards, and 14.3 yards per catch, with two touchdowns. Wallace had only one of his seven receptions of 40-plus yards in the final six games, only two grabs of 30 or more yards.

In that closing six-game stretch, he had had three outings of less than 40 yards, and Wallace posted just one game of more than 68 yards over the second half of the season.

Coach Mike Tomlin used to needle Wallace that he was a "one-trick pony," a deep-threat boundary receiver with dubious route-running skills. Wallace has developed into much more than that, even the Steelers would admit, but there are some in the organization who feel Brown has a much bigger upside. And some, too, who won't lie sleepless at night if the team loses Wallace in free agency, and gains another first-round pick as compensation.

It's hard to ignore Wallace's career average of 18.7 yards per catch, but not quite as difficult to imagine that even teams with later first-round choices might not want to go through all of the mechanics of attempting to pry away a restricted free agent who might still be a work in progress. We may end up dead wrong on this one. But if you're a bettor, you might want to wager a buck or two that Wallace ends up in a black and gold uniform again in 2012.

All but lost in all of the discussion about Wallace and the Steelers' salary cap problems was the assertion of Colbert this week that nose tackle Casey Hampton, who is coming off anterior cruciate ligament surgery, will be back with the team in 2012.

Hampton is 34 years old, and is carrying a salary cap charge of just over $8 million for 2012, and was generally considered to be in jeopardy. But the guess is that the five-time Pro Bowl defender will probably re-do his contract and play one more season in Pittsburgh.

The news jibes with contentions from team officials to The Sports Xchange that the coaches would rather not move former first-round defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, who has been a lot better in the eyes of the staff than some outside analysts have assessed him, to nose tackle. Look for the Steelers to take a nose tackle in the early rounds of the draft, perhaps even in the first round.


Viking Update Top Stories

\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"The league's plans to make some of the Combine events a pseudo-competition between players, first reported by The New York Times, has drawn early mixed reviews from team personnel officials. Always interested in making a buck, and in using fan interest as its flimsy rationale, the NFL this year allowed 250 fans to sit in at Lucas Oil Stadium for some events. Admission was free, but the move is seen by some personnel people as a precursor to selling tickets. The league is fueled, of course, by the passion of the fans it charged to view Media Day at the Super Bowl earlier this month, and by the ardent interest in the draft. The league has laid out the potential for making some events, like the bench press and the 40-yard sprint, competitions between the players. In addition to generating some revenues and creating even more interest in the draft, the process would arguably make for more compelling viewing on The NFL Network. But as one AFC general manager told The Sports Xchange on Thursday night: \"They're going to bleed the golden goose for everything it's worth. You'd think $10 billion (in revenues) would be plenty, but enough is never enough for some of these guys.\" Perhaps the media- and agent-fueled speculation about the future of Mike Wallace will be accurate, and the three-year veteran wide receiver and big-play threat will eventually exit Pittsburgh via a restricted free-agent offer sheet that the Steelers can't, or maybe won't, match. But people close to the team told The Sports Xchange that they are more confident lately about being able to retain Wallace, 25, to whom they will at least apply a first-round tender. That was evident again Thursday, in the remarks that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert made at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine. Part of that might be that a once-crippling salary cap overage is much closer to being resolved, especially since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has provided the Steelers some relief by restructuring his contract. Pittsburgh is within shouting distance of the projected 2012 cap now, and still has several roster/cap moves it can make before the deadline. But an element of the team's improved confidence in being able to possibly keep Wallace might also be that the Steelers, as is the case with The Sports Xchange, haven't really identified many legitimate potential suitors yet for Wallace, teams that will part with a first-round choice in 2012 for him. With the pro scouts to whom The Sports Xchange has discussed Wallace, outside of the Steelers' organization, of course, there is concern about the way he finished the 2011 season, a perception in some quarters that he is a bit of a pouter, and the suspicion he isn't as polished as Pittsburgh's two other young wideouts, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders (when healthy). Over the first 10 games of '11, Wallace averaged 5.3 catches, 92.2 yards, 17.4 yards per reception, and had six touchdowns. In the final six contests, those averages fell to 3.2 catches, 45.2 yards, and 14.3 yards per catch, with two touchdowns. Wallace had only one of his seven receptions of 40-plus yards in the final six games, only two grabs of 30 or more yards. In that closing six-game stretch, he had had three outings of less than 40 yards, and Wallace posted just one game of more than 68 yards over the second half of the season. Coach Mike Tomlin used to needle Wallace that he was a \"one-trick pony,\" a deep-threat boundary receiver with dubious route-running skills. Wallace has developed into much more than that, even the Steelers would admit, but there are some in the organization who feel Brown has a much bigger upside. And some, too, who won't lie sleepless at night if the team loses Wallace in free agency, and gains another first-round pick as compensation. It's hard to ignore Wallace's career average of 18.7 yards per catch, but not quite as difficult to imagine that even teams with later first-round choices might not want to go through all of the mechanics of attempting to pry away a restricted free agent who might still be a work in progress. We may end up dead wrong on this one. But if you're a bettor, you might want to wager a buck or two that Wallace ends up in a black and gold uniform again in 2012. All but lost in all of the discussion about Wallace and the Steelers' salary cap problems was the assertion of Colbert this week that nose tackle Casey Hampton, who is coming off anterior cruciate ligament surgery, will be back with the team in 2012. Hampton is 34 years old, and is carrying a salary cap charge of just over $8 million for 2012, and was generally considered to be in jeopardy. But the guess is that the five-time Pro Bowl defender will probably re-do his contract and play one more season in Pittsburgh. The news jibes with contentions from team officials to The Sports Xchange that the coaches would rather not move former first-round defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, who has been a lot better in the eyes of the staff than some outside analysts have assessed him, to nose tackle. Look for the Steelers to take a nose tackle in the early rounds of the draft, perhaps even in the first round. 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