• More Robinson at the combine – Notebook: Running backs in business
INDIANAPOLIS – A year ago, Maurice Clarett stood before NFL executives and smiled like a cartoon cat with canary feathers hanging from his mouth.
He had used the legal system to bully his way into the NFL draft, then arrived at the 2004 NFL scouting combine unprepared, overweight and with his ego having chomped through its leash. He was the draft's out-of-control televangelist, sinning, spinning and winning.
And then he lost. Over and over.
Almost nine months have passed since Clarett was denied admittance into the 2004 draft, and it has been nearly a full year since he tried to put his act over on the NFL's combine congregation. Here on Thursday he met with the media and claimed renewed faith in doing things the right way. The performance lacked only Jimmy Swaggart's tears.
Here's what you are going to hear in the aftermath of Clarett's meeting with the media on Thursday: He's a changed man, he's been humbled, he's learned his lesson and he's oh-so-much more mature than a year ago. And here's the truth: Clarett indeed has changed. You could see it in his face, which seemingly lost some baby fat, and in his arms and legs, which have a definition they lacked before.
What we know for sure is that Clarett solved two problems since his last appearance at the combine, and they had everything to do with his preparation. He is touting a chiseled, 232-pound physique – on Thursday, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 22 times, which is an impressive total for a running back – and he sounds right mentally.
What we don't know – and it's preposterous to parse a 15-minute media session for real answers – is whether Clarett's character is similarly transformed.
That will be left to the executives he trampled on last year. And it will be the difference between Maurice Clarett the third-round pick and Maurice Clarett the sixth-round draft pick.
To his credit, Clarett said all the right things Thursday. He seemed more introspective and contrite, a drastic departure from the giggly what-me-worry attitude he arrived with last season. When Clarett was baited on the issue of Ohio State, he steered clear of the negative comments that had become a staple over the previous months. When he was prodded one more time, he spun away again.
When he was asked what had changed about him, he said, "Probably humility. Being humble. I don't want to say I was humble in the past all the time. I might have said some things to the media I shouldn't have said and things like that.
"I had to take a look at myself from outside myself. When I looked at myself sometimes, I kind of looked like a joke to myself. I guess it was a part of growing up and becoming who I am today."
Now comes the hard part. Will executives believe Clarett when he says these things to them? Better yet, will they believe him when he tells them who inspired this change – his, ahem, lawyer.
That would be David Kenner, a man who (and we would be remiss not to mention this) stands to gain financially from his relationship with Clarett. Not to be cynical, but politically correct answers can be preprogrammed, and they don't prove maturity. They prove memory.
And memory is not in short supply in NFL circles. Many executives who torched Clarett publicly and privately last year still feel the same way about him. They point to the fact that Clarett hasn't played competitive football in two years and has only one year of college experience on his resume.
Buffalo Bills general manager Tom Donahoe, who blasted Clarett's actions at last year's combine as "a farce" and "ridiculous," said Thursday, "This is another opportunity. We'll see what he does with it. Based on what happened last year, maybe for once I was right."
When Clarett was asked if all of the criticism he got last season from Donahoe and others was on the mark, he didn't hesitate with an answer.
"I would say so," he replied.
It was a humble admission. If you believe it, then maybe you'll also believe that Clarett understands he is once again at the mercy of the NFL and not the other way around.