Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Combine Conversations

NFL.com contributor Pat Kirwan talked to coaches and scouts during his week at the NFL.com Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and came away with several strong observations

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Virginia Tech CB DeAngelo Hall reportedly made a good impression on several teams during combine interviews

(by Pat Kirwan, Special to NFL.com)

I spent a lot of time discussing combine results with coaches on Monday and the reactions they had from the young players who crossed their path this week in Indianapolis.

Most coaches and personnel people are trying to get a grip on the talent pool for the draft ASAP so they can respond to free agency in an intelligent manner. Questions like, "Is there enough depth at a position in the draft so we don't have to go out and spend the big bucks on a free agent?"

It's not just the measurable tests that weigh heavy on the minds of the evaluators, it's a number of other issues. Let's look at a few things that are going on in Indianapolis.

For coaches, more than any group, the interview becomes a valuable tool. The coach has to teach the player what to do and so often the ability to "get a feel" for the young man becomes a critical component. I asked a number of coaches who impressed them during the interview process so far. The best interview didn't mean who gave the perfectly prepared answers, but the guys who made you want to coach them. When a coach comes out of an interview and says, "I want to coach that young man on my team," then there's a fit. A large number of players did a great job during the interview process and here are a few that stood out.

I couldn't find an NFL employee that wasn't impressed with receivers Larry Fitzgerald of Pittsburgh or Roy Williams of Texas. One coach described Fitzgerald as the most engaging interview he ever had. One GM described Williams as the whole package after he sat down with him. But everyone knows about those high-profile players.

I asked some coaches and front-office people who really helped themselves. A number of coaches were intrigued with DB Joey Thomas from Montana State. First he announced he wasn't going to work out and a few defensive back coaches told him that would be a mistake. Thomas listened to the coaches and cranked out 17 reps on the bench press. It wasn't the number of reps he did but his ability to hear what the coaches said about the importance of working out.

Two defensive backs that clearly made favorable impressions in the interview process were DeAngelo Hall of Virginia Tech and Will Poole of USC. Two defensive coordinators really liked what these young men had to say about their passion for the game. One GM said he was very impressed with the way Oregon defensive lineman Igor Olshansky sat and talked football with his head coach. He made an impression and it stood up against some of the other interviews the team had that same evening. An offensive line coach told me his impression of Alabama offensive lineman Justin Smiley had risen after he sat down with him. The word "intriguing" is how an interview with Virginia QB Matt Schaub was described. One offensive coordinator said when he left the room, "I felt like I just got done talking with Matt Hasselbeck or Pat Ramsey."

That leads me to my second point about the interview process. Making an impression is important; leaving the coach with an image of an already successful NFL player is priceless.

The next thing I asked some evaluators was who impressed them on the field that they weren't prepared to see do as well. Two players who were mentioned quickly and echoed by others were tight ends Ben Watson of Georgia and Jason Peters of Arkansas. Watson measured at 6-foot-3½, 258 pounds, ran a 4.51 and did 34 reps on the bench press. He caught the eye of a number of people, but not as much as Peters. Peters measured at 6-4½, weighed in at 336 pounds and ran the 40 in 4.9. Plus, people said he had soft hands. As one coach said, "He is just the kind of guy someone like Atlanta offensive line coach Alex Gibbs could make an All-Pro."

I asked a top quarterback expert where he thought Drew Henson would stack up with the draft class now. He agreed with the popular opinion that Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger would go one-two and loved his time with Philip Rivers, but he thought when the work was all done that Henson would be closer to the elite QBs than many think at this time.

The impression Manning made in one interview was that he was more laid back than his brother and that didn't hurt him one bit. On Roethlisberger, one personnel director said the workout was just OK, but it wasn't his fault. He called it "unfair" for Roethlisberger and he thought most teams in the market for a QB wouldn't be tainted by what he described as an average performance. The personnel director asked, "What would be gained by watching a guy throw two passes to receivers he's never worked with and go to the end of a line and wait his turn again?"

As for receivers, it may be easier to tell more about them and there was definitely some sentiment created for Devery Henderson from LSU. Henderson isn't even the top guy from his school (that belongs to Michael Clayton), but he has caught the eye of more than a few coaches this week. Guys like his suddenness, the ability to pull the ball off his hip and his athleticism. Lee Evans of Wisconsin ran fast (4.4), but some question his ability to get in and out of breaks, and the word I got is they are heading to Wisconsin's Pro Day to see Evans run routes. This is a goal teams have as they leave the combine. All the good evaluators get as many questions answered as possible in Indianapolis and narrow the list of things still left to be done before the Pro Days. Evans has established that he's healthy after multiple knee surgeries and now it's his route running that needs a final check, according to one coach.

One topic unrelated to the combine process but surely one that most wanted to talk about was the notion that at least one draft-eligible player was rumored to be charging agents to make their presentation about why they were the right representation for the young man. He was attaching a $2,500 tag to meet with him. He apparently had picked five agents to present. Coaches were torn between finding it humorous in one sense and possibly an indication of what the young man's motivations really are.

Finally, the consensus is that the combine process is a success this year and coaches like the schedule with some break time between the workouts and the interviews. The men I spoke with said they and the athletes aren't so tired during the interviews that they are getting more out of what one coach calls the most important job interview of their lives, and the NFL doesn't even charge them to take it. How nice and old fashioned of them!

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