Every year there are highly anticipated media interviews at the NFL scouting combine.
In the past, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton drew major crowds. Last year, the Chip Kelly and Manti Te'o press conferences were must-see events.
This year is no different. Missouri's Michael Sam and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel — for two very different reasons — are two of the most highly discussed prospects who will be in Indianapolis to meet with NFL teams and, yes, the media.
Shutdown Corner will be there Thursday through Sunday, and we'll bring you all the highlights of the event. Here's a look at some of the biggest stories we expect to touch on while there:
Sam's club could be crowded
The media crush for Tebow and Te'o reached estimated crowds of more than 400 apiece, and the NFL issues more press credentials every year. Expect Sam — who will talk openly, per reports — to push the boundaries of the foyer at Lucas Oil Stadium where the media access portion of the week is held.
The line of questioning will be interesting, but you can bet that Sam and his team of advisers, which carefully orchestrated the announcement a week ago Sunday that he is gay, will have him prepared for almost anything.
What colors the situation is the interestingly timed release of the Wells Report on the Miami Dolphins hazing incident from last season. The 144-page report contained some shockingly raw language between Jonathan Martin and his Dolphins teammates, much of which touched on the homophobic. That alone is proof that Sam could be subject to negativity in whatever NFL locker room he joins next season.
There's also this: Sam can change the narrative a bit away from his sexuality and remind NFL people he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year with a strong workout, especially in the 3-cone drill, the bench press and positional drills.
Amid the Wells Report, we still have a lot of questions for the Dolphins' brass. New GM Dennis Hickey gets a pass because he's new to the team and unsullied by the Martin-Richie Incognito mess. Hickey will give us some shlock about "turning the page," which will be met with collective media eyerolls.
But head coach Joe Philbin is not scheduled as of now to speak, otherwise he might not have gotten off as easily. Even though he was fairly well exonerated by the report, many have the same question: How could Philbin not have known what was going on in his locker room? That question apparently will linger into his access at the owners' meetings in late March.
We instead will have to ask Hickey his stance on Mike Pouncey, who played a big role in the hazing and is still under contract, and offensive line coach Jim Turner, who remains a paid employee despite his lack of care in the situation. Incognito and John Jerry are free agents come March 11.
No more Johnny Football?
One of the most interesting takeaways from Manziel's recent interview with the Houston Chronicle and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was that Manziel, whether he was coached up well to say such things, appears bent on proving that his gallivanting college days were but a folly of youth.
Manziel essentially is daring the Houston Texans not to draft him. He wants to be the first pick, and doing so will require Manziel impressing Texans owner Bob McNair, GM Rick Smith and head coach Bill O'Brien. Not all of them are sold on Manziel yet, but a strong interview in Indy and down the line could change that.
Although Manziel will not throw at the combine, he still can do himself a lot of good. Expect him to come across and charming and engaging with the media in what should be a spirited press conference, but the real interviews that will affect his draft position will be occurring behind closed doors.
There are still naysayers, and NFL.com's own Nolan Nawrocki wrote a biting analysis of Manziel's character this week. More than perhaps any throwing session or workout, Manziel primarily might have to slay the demons of his past reputation leading up to May 8.
The No. 1 pick debate
If not Manziel, then who?
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney says he wants to run a 4.4 40-yard dash. Physically speaking, he might be the most gifted edge rusher since J.J. Watt, or perhaps Julius Peppers. And Clowney is coming to Indy with a chip on his shoulder, ready to face anyone who says he loafed on the field or off of it last fall.
Blake Bortles is the flavor of the month. The Central Florida quarterback is more of a fit of what O'Brien has sought and worked with previously at quarterback, and Bortles' upside, arm talent, smarts, toughness and athleticism all could make him a candidate to go first. But Bortles might opt not to throw either.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, the odds-on favorite most of the college season to be picked first, has seen his stock cool a bit. He's still a first-round pick, and maybe a high one. But some scouts have talked about the lack of a "wow" factor in his game. His mission will be to prove to the Texans or the other QB-needy teams picking high that he's a safe choice. And he reportedly will throw, which certainly could make him stand out from the bunch in Indy.
There also is the lesser possibility of the Texans dealing out of the top spot, but the talk of that happening could crank up this week with all 32 teams in the same city.
The medical and interview portions of the combine (you know, the stuff that happens away from the camera eye) is really the most important stuff. But that doesn't mean we can't gawk at the sheer freakishness of some of these specimens.
Some big workouts last season portended draft greatness, such as Jamie Collins' 11-foot, 7-inch long jump, which helped land him in Round 2. Then again, Onterio McCalleb and his scorching 4.34 40-yard dash went undrafted. Everything must be put into perspective.
Nonetheless, here are some freaks who could stand out this weekend:
Clowney — Just a ridiculous freak who more likely will run in the 4.5 range, but at 266 pounds ... are you kidding me? His workouts could silence the public talk of his down senior season a bit, even if NFL folks will remember.
Arkansas State DT Ryan Carrethers — Has a chance to be this year's Terron Armstead, who ran a silly 4.71 40 at 306 pounds and was taken in Round 3 by the New Orleans Saints. Carrethers was a high-school wrestling champion, and he certainly won't run anywhere near that fast — not at a reported 329 pounds. But his extremely low body fat for a man his size and his bench-press prowess could make waves behind the scenes.
Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk — There might be seven or eight backs ahead of him on many teams' boards right now, but his running and jumping ability will be on display in Indy. At 212 or so pounds, Seastrunk might work out like a player 30 pounds lighter.
Bloomsburg DE Larry Webster — Don't scoff at the mailing address, which is the same school that perennial All Pro guard Jahri Evans attended. Webster is a former hoops star, and at 6-7 and 250 with vines for arms, he'll pass the eye test for certain. There's some real momentum for him right now, coming off a solid week at the East-West Shrine Game, and a passing grade in Indy could get him drafted early on Day 3.
Kent State WR-RB-KR-PR Dri Archer — Teams might be worried about Archer's NFL position or his durability at 175 pounds. But his speed? No questions there. A candidate for the fastest 40 in Indy, threatening to crack the 4.3 barrier.
Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman — When he strode across the Senior Bowl weigh-in stage, it almost looked like a 6-foot-6 heavyweight boxer coming in to toe the scales. (I made a mental note not to upset him that week, and thankfully I did not.) The thing is, Hageman isn't just big — he can do some freakish things. His vertical jump could pace all D-linemen, which is saying something, and the converted tight end and former hoops player will display some raw bench strength, too, and run well. Pay more attention to his 10-yard split than the 40 time, which is what NFL teams should marvel at.
USC WR Marqise Lee — He had a tough season in 2013 on the field, but we're talking about a former track star who should be primed to remind people why he was the most dangerous receiver after the catch in 2012. Expect Lee to put on a little show with his legs and kick start the talk about him being one of the better wide receivers in this class.
South Dakota OLB Tyler Starr — Starr interestingly says he thinks he can break the 3-cone drill record, which is crazy for a 250-pound edge player. He told CBS Sportsline that he has been timed at 6.29 seconds in the drill before, and the fastest time I could find in the past 15 years at the Combine was Texas A&M CB Sedrick Curry's 6.34 way back in 2000. As for players similar to Starr's size and his position, 236-pound Ben Taylor turned in a 6.56 back in 2002 and Texas' Sam Acho running a 6.69 at 262 pounds. Rare air — but is Starr an NFL player? We shall see.
Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief — At 6-3 and 226 pounds, he could move himself up into the late-first/early-second-round discussion with a huge performance on the 40, the high jump and the long jump. There are questions about his competitiveness, route running and polish, but specimens such as him do not come along often.
Ex-Oregon TE Colt Lyerla — He has character red flags galore, left school and later pleaded guilty to cocaine possession, which will knock him down or off some teams' boards completely. But that doesn't mean Lyerla can't knock a few socks off with how fast he runs and, um, jumps.
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