Meet the strangers that top this year's draft; more from combine
INDIANAPOLIS -- The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft is two months from tonight, and consider these questions the first ones on the test in this year's Draftology 101 class.
Who are the five players pictured above and what is the significance of these five together?
Take your time. Study them for a second while I give thanks to
To be honest, I'd be surprised if many outside of Prof. Mike Mayock's tape laboratory went 5 for 5 on the IDs. They are (from left to right) outside linebacker Jarvis Jones of Georgia, defensive end Dion Jordan of Oregon, cornerback Dee Milliner of Alabama, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of Florida and tackle Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M.
The significance: Fifty-nine days out, those five players are as good a guess as any for the top five picks in the draft -- in some order.
I'll give day-one starting left tackle Joeckel to the Chiefs at one, Jones and his freaky 24.5 tackles for loss in 2012 to Jacksonville at two (provided his spinal stenosis is not a huge issue), Floyd to the tackle-light and rebuilding Raiders at three, Jordan to the Eagles for a reunion with college coach Chip Kelly at four, and the most obvious pick in any draft in recent years, Milliner, to the cornerback-starved Lions at five.
Get to know these guys. I just laid eyes on all of them over the weekend, and you're going to become very familiar with them, and other newbies, in the next eight weeks.
Before interviewing Barkley Saturday night at the combine, I asked three scouts about him. One spent two days at USC last season, and he looked at a lot of Barkley tape. The verdict: They liked his junior year (69 percent accuracy, 39-7 TD-INTs), didn't like his senior year (64 percent, 36-15) at all. One said he consistently put too much air under his throws and didn't have a good fastball. One thought he was a victim of poor coaching and a deficient offensive line last year, particularly when his starting center went out against Stanford and Barkley was beaten to a pulp.
I watched extended highlights of the Stanford and Oregon games from last season on YouTube. I didn't see the too-much-air thing, but I did see him trusting his receivers too much to make tough throws, throwing into traffic too much, and too many batted/deflected balls. He was a quarterback under siege against Stanford, once getting pummeled almost before the snap arrived on the goal line by an attacking Cardinal front. It's tough to dissect decision-making without knowing the offense or sitting down to watch tape with the guy, but he took too many chances for my taste.
At the combine, Barkley didn't throw because of a shoulder injury (rehabbed, not surgically repaired) suffered 14 weeks ago. He impressed several teams in his interviews; he probably could go as high as No. 7, to Arizona. But it's still a very fluid situation. I got the sense he could go seventh or 37th. The big question now is whether his damaged shoulder will allow him to throw free and easy four weeks from Wednesday at his Pro Day in Los Angeles.
Barkley told me he'd been throwing for a week and a half now, and, in his words, "I've definitely gained some zip on the ball. I'm rehabbing really seriously, like guys do after they have Tommy John [elbow surgery], and I believe I'll be able to throw the ball better than before I was injured. I've been able to really refine and improve my throwing motion.'' He's on a pitch count now, and he's been told he'll have no limitations when he throws for teams on March 27.
"My Pro Day will dispel those myths about my arm,'' he predicted.
Barkley seems very confident and very sure of himself without being cocky. "As I start my NFL career,'' he said, "I really want to set the record straight on a few things. People look at me like I'm some Cali boy, but I'm not that way -- I don't even know how to surf. I'm a football junkie. I'm football, 24/7.''
He talked ruefully of his challenging sessions with teams. Teams can speak with players for 15 minutes at night during the combine, and Barkley had nine such sessions (Jets, Eagles, Steelers, Raiders, Chiefs, Bills, Jaguars, Cardinals, Bucs) and informal sessions with Seattle, Cleveland and Atlanta. "We watch tape,'' he said, "and I haven't seen one TD of mine. I've seen a lot of interceptions, and they want to know why they happen. I think a couple of teams wanted me to throw coaches or whoever under the table. One team gave me sort of a trick question: 'Would you rather ride the bench and win a Super Bowl, or be a starter and not make the Super Bowl?' That's a trick question, really. I just said, 'I want to be a starter. As much as I want to win a Super Bowl ring, I don't want one handed to me without deserving it.' ''
Several teams asked about a fight in the locker room while USC was at the Sun Bowl this year, and whether he was involved. "Other than breaking it up, and saying, 'Guys, let's calm down?' No.''
He understands there's a prejudice against USC quarterbacks because of the recent failings of Mark Sanchez and Matt Leinart, and because Carson Palmer's career has declined. My thoughts: Sanchez started one full season and Barkley four, so that's not really apples-to-apples. Leinart's been a total bust. Let's not revise history on Palmer, who, from 2005 through 2007, threw 20 more touchdown passes than Brett Favre. He hasn't had staying power, but he's no bust. "My story's so much different,'' said Barkley. "When the big sanctions came down, coach [Pete] Carroll is gone, we have no A.D., it's the spring of my freshman year and I've got to stand up and speak for the program. We've got all these penalties, and I helped rally the troops. That actually helped me -- helped me become more of a leader. I think I bring a lot that's not quantifiable, starting with the fact that I've been a four-year starter.''
One of the last things we discussed is Barkley's trip to the Manning Passing Academy last July, his first trip to see into Peyton's and Eli's worlds. "I learned a valuable lesson from Peyton, about sometimes you have to be a d---,'' he said. In other words, if players don't want to work out in the offseason, you tell them there's no option; you tell them when and where to be somewhere. Now, maybe that doesn't happen in the first year. But a quarterback has to have the respect and authority to make sure players do what's necessary, particularly in these days of less intense offseason programs. NFL players are off until mid-April now. Next year, wherever he is, Barkley's going to have to get his guys in gear to work out somewhere before that.
"Doing what is asked is not enough to win in the NFL, I know that,'' he said. "You've got to do more. And I intend to.''
Television cameras focused on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o during his media period at the combine: 46. In total, it was the biggest media horde in combine history. "I'd say one-third more media than Tim Tebow got,'' said combine godfather Gil Brandt.
Reporters who stayed for Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree's complete media period at the combine: about 35.
Te'o was asked about the case of the phony girlfriend we're all familiar with. Ogletree was asked about a positive substance test that resulted in a four-game suspension last season, and about his arrest for driving under the influence earlier this month in Arizona.
What is wrong with this picture? Ogletree and Te'o are first-round inside linebacker prospects. Ogletree has two huge red flags, the second one even bigger because who takes a risk like he did, driving while impaired, on the eve of the biggest job interview of his life? Te'o has one bizarre red flag that landed him in the cross-examination chair with Katie Couric. He never met a girlfriend who turned out to be fake, and when he finally found out she was fake, he perpetuated it for a time, he says, because he was so embarrassed by it.
All I can say if Te'o drops precipitously -- and I do not believe he will; I think he goes no lower than the early 20s of the first round -- this league needs to have its collective head examined.
"I'm sitting here watching all this,'' said Nevada coach Brian Polian, the point man in the Notre Dame recruitment of Te'o, "and it's driving me out of my mind.''
Polian, son of Bill, was Notre Dame's special teams coach and the chief West Coast recruiter when Te'o was wooed. He went to Hawaii 15 times in a 13-month period, including once a week for six straight weeks during the NCAA's official contact period. He got to know Te'o the high schooler and his parents very well, obviously. "It got to the point where I'd be on the same Wednesday morning LA-to-Honolulu flight so often that the flight crew knew me and would say to me, 'Well coach, are we gonna get the guy?'
"The reason I've been so upset at how Manti has been portrayed is that I know him. He doesn't conspire to trick anyone. The people who would be so cynical, so jaded or such Notre Dame-haters simply don't know him. You have to see how he grew up. He lived in a little town on the north shore [of Oahu], where everyone knows everybody. Then he goes to a prestigious private school and, I'm not going to lie, he was sheltered. Then he goes to Notre Dame, and there aren't many places that protect and shelter their students like Notre Dame. This whole story happens, and he's guilty of one thing: trusting some sicko, because that's what he does, he trusts people. He's not jaded, he's not worldly, he's naïve. So he trusts someone who doesn't deserve to be trusted, then he's totally embarrassed by it when he finds out it's phony. Really, what is this kid's crime?
"Any NFL team that really looks into this kid is going to find out what a great person he is. I guarantee it. This thing will be a punch line in two months. He'll get to a team, players will have their fun with him for a couple of weeks, and then it'll come down to playing.''
I don't know Te'o at all. I have spent three minutes of my life with him. That happened Saturday after his press conference, which opened with Te'o looking out and saying, "Wow. That's a lot of cameras." Not just the 46 TV cameras and the 15 or 20 still photographers. But as he spoke, dozens of reporters lifted their phones up to take photos whenever he turned their way. And as he walked away from the scene and into an elevator to return him to his testing duties at the combine, I asked him a couple of questions.
"Do you think this weird girlfriend incident matters to football teams?'' I asked.
He didn't know how to answer it, and hemmed and hawed for a second, then said: "I truly believe what I did on the football field matters,'' he said. "That's what's important to being a football player."
And I asked, "What did you think of that scene in there?''
Te'o smiled. "That was a great experience,'' he said. "People were nice to me. I enjoyed it." And then he was gone.
Now there's an answer I didn't expect. Maybe, "Holy crap! That was incredible!'' But, "People were nice to me?'' I spoke to Polian after this, and it all seemed to fit -- this bizarre thing may have made him trust fewer people, but he still seems like a truster of people he's just met.
One last story: Our combine photographer Rosenberg had a short session with Te'o Sunday. He had quite a few players in his home-made studio in the Lucas Oil Stadium concourse, and he'd ask them all to pose, and then to do some action things. Rosenberg had to tell most of them to really give some effort, because it was strange to run or make sudden actions in such a confined space. When Te'o was in there, and Rosenberg asked him to run, he sprinted past Rosenberg, past the camera position, into the concourse. Sprinting. That's what he was asked to do, and so he did it.
Maybe Manti Te'o is the greatest actor in combine history. Who knows? I doubt it. I don't know how good he'll be in the NFL, but I can predict this: He's not going to be a phony.
In the last two seasons of his 15-year career, Birk won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in one, then a Super Bowl in the next. Not bad. No player's ever capped his career with those honors in the last two years. Fitting that Birk announced his retirement at the Battle Grove Elementary School in Baltimore, where Birk was in the process of building a reading oasis for parents and their children, with comfortable chairs and a fortified library, in hopes of making reading a bigger part of the lives of some Baltimore families. On Sunday, he talked about his career, and why he ended it now.
Quote of the Week I
"Do you think when we see each other at league meetings we can still be friends?''
Quote of the Week II
"My best friend right now is honesty."
Quote of the Week III
"Of all the people here at the combine, the one person you don't want to be is him. Seriously, I'd rather have six positive drug tests, a DUI, a domestic abuse charge and some theft incidents than have to deal with all the questions that guy's going to face. He's going to be probed by most of the teams, and all of you guys, until his head is spinning.''
So ... let me get this straight, Mr. NFC Head Coach. You think that a prospect who is addicted to cocaine, beats his girlfriend and steals cars would be less investigated and fine-tooth-combed by NFL scouts, coaches and private investigators than a player who was catfished by a stranger pretending to be a girlfriend, either with or without his knowledge?
There is so much wrong with this NFC head coach's opinion that I do not know where to start.
Quote of the Week IV
"You hurt me bad. I'm a Bengals fan."
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me I
Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears The Crown Dept.: Of the 11 members of the league's General Managers Advisory Committee last season, six have been fired: Scott Pioli (Chiefs), Rod Graves (Cardinals), Gene Smith (Jaguars), Mike Tannenbaum (Jets), Marty Hurney (Panthers) and Tom Heckert (Browns).
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me II
Troubled former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said he was awakened at 4 a.m. Sunday to take a drug test.
Stat of the Week
A measure of the impact of Matt Birk, who retired Friday after 15 years at center with the Vikings and Ravens: Since Birk turned 30 in July 2006, his teams played 120 regular season and playoff games. Birk started all 120. The 120th, as mentioned earlier, was Baltimore's win over San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I have two.
1. Why, oh why, have I missed the breakfast gem in downtown Indianapolis (with other locations in the area) called Patachou? Aptly nicknamed A Student Union for Adults, the wide-open breakfast room had NFL people there all weekend. "Shhhh,'' Eagles GM Howie Roseman said Saturday morning. "This is the best hidden secret in Indianapolis."
It must be shared, Howie. I recommend the broken yolk sandwich with the Smoking Goose Apple Chicken Sausage.
2. Remind me to skip the Hotel Cecil on my next trip to L.A. Per CNN: "The decomposing body of Elisa Lam floated inside a water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel while guests brushed their teeth, bathed and drank with water from it for as long as 19 days ... Strange things began happening with the hotel's water supply later in [February], according to Sabina and Michael Baugh, a British couple who spent eight days there until checking out Wednesday. The water pressure dropped to a trickle at times. 'The shower was awful,' Sabina Baugh said. 'When you turned the tap on, the water was coming black first for two seconds and then it was going back to normal.' The tap water 'tasted horrible,' Baugh said. 'It had a very funny, sweet, disgusting taste. It's a very strange taste. I can barely describe it.'
"But for a week, they never complained. 'We never thought anything of it,' she said. 'We thought it was just the way it was here.' New guests continued to check into the Cecil in the hours after firefighters removed Lam's body from the water tank. But each guest was asked to sign a waiver releasing the hotel from liability if they became ill. 'You do so at your own risk and peril,' the hotel's release said.''
Gee, what a swell place!
Tweet of the Week I
"True combine tales: I'm sitting at my laptop Saturday in the media room & someone flicks my ear. I turn around to see Andy Reid walking away"
Tweet of the Week II
"Rex says #NYJ aren't trading Revis unless they trade him, which isn't happening but could happen."
Tweet of the Week III
"I would love to see Dwight Freeney in a falcon uniform next year I hope that's not tampering."
The Colts aren't going to care, Roddy. You're in the clear.
Tweet of the Week IV
"I could listen to Adele sing the phone book. In fact, I'd order multiple copies."
Ten Things I Think I Think
Who knows? He still might, but if the Chiefs get Smith, they should just let Brandon Albert walk (he's not worth $10 million a year), take Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel No. 1 overall, and if Barkley's there at the top of the second round, consider taking the USC passer there. But he wouldn't be essential then.
"I want to be as open as possible because I'm trying to rebuild people's trust, and I want those guys to be able to trust me and I hold myself accountable,'' Mathieu said of his interview here with NFL teams.'' He was asked if, looking back, he can see how it is that he lost his way. "Definitely'' he said. "I think half of it is you actually start believing the hype. You actually start believing the newspaper clippings, and the other half is,
"The over-under is two on the quarterbacks in the first round,'' Mayock said a couple of hours before the Alex Smith-to-K.C. reports began. "Smith will be there somewhere. We're all off Barkley right now because he kind of disappeared this week, but when it's all said and done, people go back and watch his junior tape and put him up on the board and see what kind of football mind he has, he'll end up somewhere in the first round. If history tells us anything lately, it's that somebody else is going to rise.
"There are at least three teams in the top 10 that we all know about that need a quarterback desperately with Kansas City, Arizona and Buffalo. So yes, there will be some activity between 20 and 32, and some of those teams trying to get back up into the first round. I don't know who the third guy is ... Some teams are going to like [Mike] Glennon because of the big arm. Tyler Wilson, if you watch the junior tape, it's good. Landry Jones, if you watch the junior tape, it's good. Last year I knew it was going to be [Ryan] Tannehill; I told people he was going to be a top-10 pick right around this time last year because I could see he was going to be a riser. This year, I'm not sure who it is. There is just too much inconsistent tape amongst the top guys. Ryan Nassib is another guy who coaches are going to like a lot; he reminds me a little bit of Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins with the way he approaches the game." My money's on Nassib.
I asked new Jags coach Gus Bradley about it at the combine, because he's had as much experience as any defensive coach in the league at handling all the mobile passers; Seattle, with Bradley, as coordinator, played Washington, Carolina, San Francisco and Russell Wilson (every day in practice) last season.
What position is most important against the move quarterbacks? "You want to say the cover corner who can press receivers at the line is important, and of course it is,'' said Bradley. "But you play a Tom Brady, and you're going to have to get ready to play 90 snaps against a pocket guy. You play a Cam Newton, and you know he's going to run X number of times. You play a Colin Kaepernick, and you've got to be ready for the read-option; is he going to hand off or run himself or throw it downfield? So there is no one answer.'' I wrote about it in the magazine this week.
a. Daniel Day-Lewis. Slam-dunk Best Actor, and best speech on Oscar night, by far.
c. Who's classier than Meryl Streep?
d. I know basketball as well as I know horticulture, but after a long weekend and lots of
e. Feeling so great about the Red Sox's chances, what with John Lackey starting the spring lidlifter.
f. I not only think it's possible Toronto and Baltimore could finish ahead of New York and Boston in the AL East, I think it's probable.
g. Don't know about you, but I'm not feeling great about the chances for an Oscar Pistorius conviction, unfortunately. Maybe I'm wrong about thinking Pistorius has to be guilty. I hope I am.
h. My thanks to the many who arranged and went out of their way to promote and sponsor the fourth annual Scouting Combine Tweetup: my friend Will Carroll; 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis for the use of their building, and their labor; Weber Grill for the food; Sun King Brewery for the beer, Google+ for making it an interactive affair with football fans across the country; pals in the media for attending and legitimizing the event; and, of course, the scores of sports writers (and sports knowledge) fans who attended. Thanks to all for a fun Saturday evening.
i. Coffeenerdness: If you go to the aforementioned Patachou in Indianapolis, the coffee selection is good. The Simon Blend is the best. Good and dark.
j. Beernerdness: And if you go to the aforementioned Sun King in Indianapolis, give Scottish ale Wee Mac a shot. Heavy on the malt, and creamy, like a dark cream ale. Liked it a lot.
k. Good luck at the
The Adieu Haiku
Draft's two months away. I know but one thing for sure: Mike Mayock knows things.