Friday February 22nd, 2008

Also in this column: Colt Brennan's tumble, more notes. INDIANAPOLIS -- Joe Flacco Fever is raging here at the NFL Scouting Combine, and I just might have caught it.

Got my first exposure to the University of Delaware quarterback here Friday morning, and what's not to like? The kid's glib, self-deprecating and he's treating the pre-draft buzz that surrounds him with just the right combination of self-confidence and a jaundiced eye.

"I'm a little bit surprised [by it],'' Flacco said. "I keep saying if I wasn't myself, I don't know if I'd like myself too much right now. I'd probably be sick of myself. But I don't think I have too much to prove at this point. If you watch the film, you can see enough.''

I haven't watched any film of Flacco yet. I've seen a few highlights from his days as a Blue Hen, but that's about it. But people I trust in the NFL have him pegged as a definite second-round prospect, with an outside shot of cracking the bottom of the first round if some team falls hard for him as their starter in 2010.

Flacco has a swagger to him, but he seems more bemused by his new celebrity than anything else. Asked if the hype surrounding his climb up teams' draft boards -- which started in earnest with a strong Senior Bowl showing last month -- gives him added confidence, he deflected the opportunity to strut.

"No, it doesn't give me any more confidence,'' Flacco said. "All I had to do was go home and get made fun of by all my family for how dorky I looked on TV.''

Having played at Division I-AA Delaware, Flacco carries the small-school label, but you can tell it kind of sticks in his craw. He played some at Pitt in 2004, but wound up transferring to Delaware and sitting out 2005 after coming to the conclusion that he wasn't going to beat out the Panthers' Tyler Palko.

"I think if you can play, you can play,'' Flacco said. "There's a lot of different reasons that guys play at the smaller level, but I think at the quarterback position, the competition is all relative. There are open guys and there are covered guys.

"I tell [teams] my story and they're going to take it for what it is. Hopefully they can see past a lot of it. I guess there is a little bit of difference, but everybody wants to make a big deal out of it. We played pretty good competition. We made it to a national championship, which nobody wants to talk about.''

But NFL people are talking about Flacco. At 6-foot-6, 236 pounds, he's a big-bodied quarterback with a big arm. The kind of arm that has scouts drooling. He had trouble taking snaps at the Senior Bowl after playing mostly from the shotgun formation at Delaware, and teams here want to see how much mobility he has for a big man (he said he's "4.6 or bust'' in Sunday's 40-yard dash). But nobody's questioning his ability to deliver the football.

"Flacco's exploded this year,'' NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Friday. "I went to watch him practice in Delaware [last season] and I went, 'Wow.' He's got a huge arm, the best arm in the draft. His feet need a lot of work, but he can make every throw. I think he's two or three years away, but some people think he can be the best quarterback of the entire class. He's got that kind of ability.''

Flacco might be a reach in the first round, but only because he probably won't be ready to play from day one. Mayock has Boston College's Matt Ryan going in the top eight picks, with Louisville's Brian Brohm and Michigan's Chad Henne both slotted for late in the first round or early in the second. But Flacco is at least gaining ground on the big three, putting himself into a position he never really dreamed of.

"Last year at this point, I was thinking how important it would be to get here [to the combine],'' he said. "I had no idea what people would think of me. Was I thinking about being a first-round draft pick last year at this time? No, I was thinking about being a draft pick, period. So anywhere I'm taken, I'm going to be happy.''

I got a few minutes solo with Flacco outside of the media work room Friday morning, and he's one of those guys who isn't going to find the NFL stage too large. I got the same sense listening to Ben Roethlisberger at the 2004 combine, and Flacco reminded me a bit of Big Ben in other ways too. He's good, he knows it, and he can't wait to show it.

"I don't know what people are going to think of me, but I'm just trying to do my best and hopefully make a lot of people think they have to pick me high,'' Flacco said. "I think I've been rising all season. With the way I play, I believe the more people see me, the more they're going to like me. They should know that by now, but if they don't, I'm happy to tell them.''

• My how Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan has tumbled in terms of his perceived draft status. Brennan wasn't even allowed to address reporters from one of the two podiums in the media room that big-name prospects use. Instead, he was shown to one of the several round tables in the middle of the room, like a punter from Wake Forest or something. That's what happens to guys who are now expected to go in the sixth or seventh-round range.

Brennan's weight was a big topic Friday. He weighed in at just 185 pounds at the Senior Bowl, where he said he was recovering from a case of the stomach flu. On Friday however, Brennan said he weighed in at 207, a whopping 22-pound gain. I couldn't help but notice that he revealed all this while a can of Coke and a partially eaten oatmeal-raisin cookie sat before him on the table. Guess he's taken this weight gain thing seriously.

Brennan said he'll throw at the combine in Sunday's workout, but due to a hip problem that surfaced at the Senior Bowl, he won't run until his April 1 pro day at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles.

Brennan spent a lot of time talking about his 2004 arrest for burglary and trespassing at the University of Colorado. He alternated between claiming that the media didn't treat him fairly in the incident and admitting that he was far from innocent in the whole affair, in which he walked into a female student's dorm room uninvited and refused to leave.

"I was drunk and I put myself in a bad situation,'' said Brennan, in a sentence you don't hear every day at the NFL combine.

• Quarterbacks generally skip the bench press portion of the combine workout, because what would it really prove? One reporter asked Flacco why he wouldn't be doing the bench press on Sunday, and he had just the right answer ready.

"I'm a quarterback, man,'' Flacco said. "What do you want me to do, one (rep)?''

• If you're scoring at home, it took just four minutes into Packers general manager Ted Thompson's media session before anyone asked him if there was anything new in regards to which way Brett Favre is leaning on retirement?

Thompson's answer was no, but that's not the point. I thought we showed great restraint in waiting six questions into his briefing to bring up Favre's future. I thought it'd be broached by the two-minute mark, tops.

• Getting their first break in at least a year, the Falcons won that coin toss with the Raiders for the No. 3 pick in the draft early Friday morning. It might just earn Atlanta the right to take top-rated passer Matt Ryan of Boston College and solve a long national nightmare at quarterback.

Then again, the cash-strapped Raiders, who already took the franchise quarterback plunge with JaMarcus Russell last year, are probably thrilled that they'll only have to pay No. 4 slot money rather than No. 3 slot money.

• There's no better name in this year's NFL Draft than running back Tashard Choice of Georgia Tech. There will be many draft choices made in late April, but only one real Choice.

• Sounds like Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has had just about enough of the "kinder, gentler Tom Coughlin'' storyline, which got beat to death at the Super Bowl. Asked about his 2007 personality transformation in a Friday session with the media, Coughlin was having none of it.

"I don't think I'm any different than I ever was,'' Coughlin huffed. "I just have a good football team and we achieved the ultimate goal.''

• Washington's new head coach, Jim Zorn, came into the media room for a Q&A session with reporters and I couldn't help but be struck by the notion that the guy looks like he could still play. Which is pretty good for a 54-year-old former NFL quarterback who made his living with both his left arm and his feet.

I asked Zorn if he was concerned that fourth-year Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell now faces learning yet another new offense -- Zorn's version of the West Coast offense -- and working with another new coordinator?

"That's the way it goes,'' Zorn said, without sounding mean about it. "He has to be (adaptable). It's just the way it is.''

Zorn quickly made it clear that despite Todd Collins' strong late-season work, there will be no quarterback controversy this summer in Washington, a city that lives for quarterback controversies.

"Jason Campbell is our starting quarterback,'' Zorn said. "And that's that.''

• I listened to both Matt Ryan and Brian Brohm, and while neither one of them said anything remotely eyebrow-raising, they're no Joe Flacco when it comes to churning out a colorful quote.

Ryan said he won't throw here on Sunday, instead saving it for his pro day on March 18 at Boston College. He didn't take part in the Senior Bowl, either, so he's got a non-participatory streak to protect, I suppose.

The most startling thing I heard Ryan say was that he has never met Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. I mean, they've both played in the Boston area for a number of years now, and quarterbacks are usually all as thick as thieves, so it's a bit surprising that they've never once run across each other at so much as a passing clinic or awards banquet.

Then again, all of Brady's spare time has been kind of ... uh ... spoken for the past couple years.

• Brohm was diplomatic to a hilarious fault when asked about his former Louisville head coach, Bobby Petrino, bailing on the Falcons late last season. Petrino quit after 13 games to take the Arkansas head coaching job.

"Maybe his style of coaching isn't necessarily the best fit for the NFL," Brohm said, giving us our early leader in the clubhouse for understatement of the year.

Efforts to reach DeAngelo Hall for independent confirmation were unsuccessful.

• You're hearing a lot of the notion that Arkansas running back Darren McFadden can be this year's version of Adrian Peterson. At least from McFadden, that is.

"I could have the same type season he had,'' McFadden said of the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. McFadden also said he considers himself "the best player'' in the 2008 draft.

But apparently not the most understated.

• McFadden isn't the only prospect here with an abundance of confidence. UCLA receiver Brandon Breazell was asked Friday which NFL receiver he most compares to. His reply? "All the great ones.''

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