Combine notebook: The great unknown?

Charles Robinson
Yahoo! Sports

More combine – NFL's growth industry

INDIANAPOLIS – Despite the national championship and the ensuing gushing only seven weeks ago, Vince Young apparently still has plenty of selling to do in NFL circles.

A poll of a handful of coaches and personnel men at the NFL scouting combine on Thursday revealed plenty of uncertainty about the Texas quarterback. Questions ranged from the garden variety (throwing motion, ability to fit him into an offense, etc.) to concerns centered on risk (Does Young's unique talent override the financial and schematic gamble that will have to be taken by whoever drafts him in April?).

"You're probably going to hit a double every time with [USC quarterback Matt Leinart]. With [Young], you're going to strike out or hit a home run," said Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, who rated Leinart as the safer pick at this point. "When you're talking about $40-, $50- and $60-million contracts, you might be better off taking the double. But there's always a team or two that's willing to take that chance.

"The same questions that [2005 No. 1 pick] Alex Smith had to answer last year are the same ones Vince Young is going to have to answer this year."

Among those questions are whether Young can operate primarily from under center rather than a shotgun set; whether he can be productive in a traditional offense rather than one that is suited to his current talents; and whether his sidearm throwing mechanics will hinder his ability to be an efficient passer.

"I've seen tapes on him and obviously he's a very good athlete," Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow said of Young. "Until you get to know him better, you'd be crazy to make those kinds of statements [about where he ranks]. I don't know enough about him, … Not only what you see, you have to get a feel for him – what he understands, what he knows, what he doesn't know."

And those appear to be significant questions.

While workouts have the potential to change perceptions, the sense here was that Leinart – and in some cases, even Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler – rank ahead of Young on draft boards.

Excluding Savage and Chow, a poll of four personnel men and two offensive assistants (all from different teams) revealed a strong lean toward Leinart. Only one assistant thought Young was the best quarterback prospect in this draft. Two of the six thought both Leinart and Cutler ranked ahead of Young.

"If you think he's a pure athlete like Michael Vick, then how has that worked out?" said one personnel man. "Atlanta still hasn't figured out what he is, and they've had [five] years and two different coaching staffs working on it."

When told of Savage's comment that Young faces the same challenges Smith did coming out of Utah last season, the personnel man remained skeptical.

"Does [Smith] look like it's going to be an easy transition?" he said. "Not to say Alex Smith isn't going to work out, but you see they [the San Francisco 49ers] are going uphill with it."

Savage's thoughts were particularly interesting, considering the Browns aren't in the market for a quarterback and he has no reason to be elusive with his evaluation. Asked about Cutler, Savage added that the Vanderbilt product "has put himself in position to be either the second or third quarterback taken," seeming to indicate the possibility of Young dropping to third in the quarterback race.

"If you take a Vince Young, you take a Michael Vick, you take some of these [spread offense] players that are going to be coming through the ranks the next few years, you have to decide, 'Are you going to revamp and change everything and try to fit it to that quarterback?' or 'Are you going to try and put a round peg in a square hole?' " Savage said. "… That's the advantage Matt Leinart has. He's played in a pro-style system.

"With Vince Young, you see a handful of plays [in his college film] that really translate into an NFL game. You can watch 30 games of Vince Young if you want to, and you're going to come up with maybe four or five games worth of tape that really applies. Whereas Leinart, you can watch four games, and you're going to see four games of NFL-style offense."

That will be a significant reality in the coming weeks, considering the vacuum of workout information at the combine. Outside of Cutler, very little light is expected to be shed on the trio of QBs this week.

Only Cutler is expected to throw, and there continues to be a strong belief in league circles that the New York Jets are interested in taking him with the No. 4 overall pick. Jets head coach Eric Mangini refused to comment on any of the team's draft evaluations and general manager Mike Tannenbaum said it was too early for the Jets to form opinions about prospects.

"We're still in the data-collection stage of college scouting," Tannenbaum said.

For now, Young and Leinart only plan on throwing at their respective pro days – March 22 for Texas, and April 2 for USC.

COMBINE CHATTER

  • There may not be such a big payday waiting for Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antwaan Randle El in free agency. The prevailing thought was the multitalented Randle El would cash in on his versatility and strong postseason performance.

But a sampling of personnel men downplayed the market for Randle El – who will have to find a team willing to tailor its offense in a way that maximizes the 5-foot-10 receiver.

Right now, it looks like Randle El would be fortunate to wrangle a deal similar to the one David Patten received from the Washington Redskins last season. Patten signed a five-year pact worth $13 million, including a $3.5 million signing bonus.

"We certainly have an interest in keeping Antwaan," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "Antwaan would like to stay. He doesn't know what kind of offers he's going to get. Anytime you win a Super Bowl, it enhances your value – maybe artificially, too.

"You have to be careful you don't place too much value on being a part of a successful organization."

  • Though nobody said as much, Reggie Bush must have disappointed some onlookers when he checked at 201 pounds and also opted not to work out. He looked very defined, but several scouts said last week that they expected Bush to arrive bulked up to anywhere from 205 to 210 pounds.

That didn't happen and it should continue to fuel the questions about whether Bush is durable enough to survive on the NFL level.

One of the most interesting comments about Bush came from former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Chow said he believes Bush has the ability to be successful in the NFL, but added that he will have plenty of significant hurdles to clear.

"They're huge," Chow said. "Pass protection, blocking, running pass routes. He's played in a good system with a good staff, but the speed of the game – they're all going to be as fast as he is, you know?"

Elsewhere, the transition tag on DeShaun Foster takes the Carolina Panthers out of the potential Shaun Alexander sweepstakes. It also guarantees that the Panthers won't be focusing on running backs early in the draft.

One surprise tag was slapped on guard Steve Hutchinson, who only drew a transition designation from the Seattle Seahawks. Under the terms of the transition tag, Hutchinson is tendered a one-year contract for the average of the top-10 salaried offensive linemen in the league ($6.391 million).

Had the Seahawks slapped Hutchinson with the franchise tag, the tender would have been the average of the top-five offensive linemen ($6.983 million). Essentially, Seattle saves $592,000 between the two designations if Hutchinson played under a one-year tender next season.

But the gamble is steep. Under the franchise tag, the Seahawks would have been owed two first-round picks if Hutchinson signed with another team this offseason. But with the transition tag, Seattle gets nothing if Hutchinson signs elsewhere and Seattle chooses not to match the offer.

  • Some notable measurements: The heights of UCLA running back Maurice Drew (5-foot-6 3/4) and Georgia tackle Dennis Roland (6-9 5/8), and the weights of Pittsburgh tackle Charles Spencer (352 pounds) and Georgia guard Max Jean-Gilles (355 pounds).
  • The best two quotes of the day:

Buffalo Bills general manager Marv Levy on the prospect of building for the future in the draft: "If you say you're building for the future, that's an incomplete sentence. You're building for a future coach and general manager if you're building for the future."

San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan on why he likes to see guys work out at the combine: "A great example is Tedy Bruschi. When he came here, he was too short, too slow, too a lot of things. But I remember – I was coaching linebackers when he came here – I followed his group around and every drill he did, he was berserko about being first. He wanted to do every drill. You only do the vertical jump twice, and I think he wanted to do it four times so he could beat the guy who was already No. 1. That told me a lot about him."

  • Odds and ends: Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said quarterback Rex Grossman is still his guy. … Carolina running back Stephen Davis could officially retire if he is released by the Panthers in the coming days. … Multiple sources said there still hasn't been any indication a new collective bargaining agreement will be hammered out by the start of free agency. … The coin flip to determine who gets the sixth and seventh picks in the draft between the 49ers and Oakland Raiders will take place Friday night. … After not receiving the franchise tag, it's likely linebacker Julian Peterson has played his last game for San Francisco. … The 49ers will be instituting a new offense under coordinator Norv Turner. … There is still no timetable for the return of Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. … The Bills declined to commit to a starting quarterback in the race between J.P. Losman and Kelly Holcomb.