View Full Version : NFL Draft Combine starts

02-20-2009, 07:24 AM
The combine is on and I didn't think we wanted to clog up the mock draft thread with discussion.

Here is one that irks me. The Bengals are looking at drafting a tackle, and Michael Oher is on the list, and Paul Alexander hasn't read "The Blind Side", by Michael Lewis. It chronicles Oher's story. Any team that drafts him needs to know that he is a different cat, and that he requires special attention.

The Big Four
February 20, 2009

4:50 a.m.

INDIANAPOLIS _ The Big Four have already passed Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander's playground test.

"I size them up," he said of all the NFL prospects at this week's NFL scouting combine. "And if they can kick my butt on the playground, then they pass. Then you go to the next thing and project how they'll do against Robert Geathers in practice. If they can do that, the next thing is how you think they'll do against Albert Haynesworth and Dwight Freeney. And if you think they can beat them, then you've got a first-round draft pick."

But then there are the two guys that Alexander rejected out of hand during a series of first interviews Wednesday night. He's looking for athletes with a good attitude and they've got to be smart.

"Some kids are smart but don't get football," he said. "Some get football but dont really love pro football. I ask them who are their favorite NFL players (at their positions) and I talked to two kids last night that couldn't name one NFL offensive lineman. I told them, 'When I was coming out of college, I knew the name of every NFL left tackle. A negative? That's a reject."

But it sounds like The Big Four have passed that test, too, because Alexander and assistant Bob Surace pretty much agree that Virginia's Eugene Monroe, Baylor's Jason Smith, Mississippi's Michael Oher, and Alabama's Andre Smith are going in the first round.

"It's just a matter of who likes who," said Alexander, who refuses to say much more beyond the fact that he won't tip his hand.

They are extremely proud that the Bengals stunned the world in 2002 when they selected Arizona State left tackle Levi Jones with the 10th pick. Jones turns 30 in training camp and with a series of injuries that has taken big chunks out of two of the last three seasons, his questionable status highlights the most uncertain offseason status the line has faced since Alexander started three guys at new positions in the 1996 opener.

When his players have approached him since the season to ask where they're playing in '09, he tells them they won't know until after the April 25-26 draft.

But don't forget how good Jones was before his knee injuries piled up and how well he protected Carson Palmer's blind side in the sack-happy AFC North.

Jones came out of a similar draft, where three left tackles (Mike Williams and Brian McKinney) went in the top ten.

"Levi wasn't going to go past 13," Alexander said. "The only thing with him is that he had a very unorthodox pass set he was taught in college. People thought it was him, but I talked to his college line coach and saw it was him. We thought we could change it and we did."

There is spreading speculation that The Big Four are going to go in the top ten and each was asked in their media availability Thursday how they would feel about being the No. 1 pick.

The consensus through Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday seemed to be that Monroe and Jason Smith are the top two right now, Oher is a huge X factor, and Andre Smith is dropping because he is looking more and more like a right tackle.

Alexander scoffed and invoked his current left guard, Andrew Whitworth, a guy he says can play anywhere but center.

"All I kept hearing was Whitworth couldn't play tackle,' said Alexander of the club's second-round pick in 2006, "and then he couldn't play left tackle. He's fine anywhere you put him."

Whitworth holds a big key in the draft. If they think he can play left tackle and they can get a guy that helps them elsewhere, or if some of these guys are already gone, then he'll be the starting left tackle.

But no matter what, Alexander and Surace are looking for athletes because first and foremost, he says, they are looking for pass protectors. When they undergo drills Saturday, Alexander is looking at some pretty specific things.

"You're looking for the kind of guys that can accelerate differently than the guy who has the same speed. You have to be able to accelerate differently," Alexander said. "They say the 40 (yard dash) isn't a good test for a lineman, but I don't know about that. A lot of our players have ended up in the upper end of 40 speed. If guy can't run, I don't like them."

Four-time Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson ran well enough to clock 5.2 seconds. That's what last year's rookie left tackle Anthony Collins did in his pro day, which helped him because Alexander recalls him running only a 5.5 at the combine.

"Mike Goff and Richie Braham and Steiny (Eric Steinbach) could run," he said of former Bengals guards and centers. "And Levi could run, too."

The Big Four couldn't run from the media, where the most impressive guy had to be Jason Smith. He was also supposedly the biggest hit at the weigh-in at a very solid 6-5, 309 pounds.

There has been concern in some corners that he doesn't have a huge frame as befitting a former tight end that made the switch to right tackle as a red-shirt sophomore. But Alexander again pointed to Braham and Steinbach.

"That's a positive to me that he was a former tight end. So were Richie and Steiny," he said. "They're athletes."

He's even got an athletic nick name.

J. Smooth.

"I got it when I was younger and I just kind of carried it with me," Smith said. "A friend of mine at college came home with me and he heard my friends calling me that and he brought it to college. Over the years, I've developed that."

Smith is also a college graduate and so proud of it that he knows the date. May 17, 2008.

"It's very important for my grandmother, for me and for the program," Smith said. "I wanted to graduate. But overall I did it so fast because I was ready to get to the NFL."

Smith knows Collins from the Big 12 and struck up a relationship with him before the Bengals took him in the fourth round last year. He hasn't talked to him since the season, but remembers some of his advice and calls him a friend.

"We developed a line of communication last year. he told me to stay focused and play hard," Smith said. "Don't worry about anything that's going on. Just play football.'"

Smith made pretty persuasive pitch why he hopes he's gone before the Bengals pick No. 6.

"I'm tough, I'm physical, and I have a great attitude. I show up every day willing to work. And I'm productive. And I have 12 games that shows it. And I have 12 weeks of practice that also shows it," he said.

" So if you want to see a guy that practices hard, plays hard, look at my practice or look at my games -- you won't be able to tell the difference," Smith said. "I'll be going full speed, and every day you walk in there I'll have a smile on my face, ready to go to work. There's a lot of technique involved. You don't just walk out there and hit somebody. But once you get your hands on a guy and grab him and squeeze him and slam him, or whatever goes on20in the trenches, it's a great feeling."

If Jason Smith was the most impressive and Monroe the most polished and Andre Smith the most mysterious (he wouldn't talk about his agent problems or bowl game suspension), then Oher was the most interesting.

He has the most notoriety of The Big Four because his life story has been documented in the best-selling book, The Blind Side, but it turns out he hasn't read it.

"Hearing what a lot of people say about it, I think it was fairly accurate. I think it was a good look though," he said. "(Author Michael Lewis) talked to be about a lot about the stuff, and went over a lot of things, and I felt I didn't need to read it."

Oher has been getting plenty of questions about his background before an affluent Memphis couple adopted him out of one of America's harshest ghettos. Before he was 15, he barely went to school, but he also doesn't understand the relevance of it all now.

"Hurt me? Like what?" asked Oher of his background. "How could it hurt me? What do you mean by that? I think it should be all about the performance on the field and how I play as a player. If I keep doing the things I do, it shouldn't hurt me one bit."

Oher has the rep for being shy and non-communicative with people he doesn't know, but handled himself adroitly amid Thursday's media throng.

"I was on the dean's list my sophomore year," he said. "I was on the honor roll a couple of times. I'm a smart guy. I'm very smart."

Alexander, smart enough not to tip his hand, already has one thing in common with Oher.

He didn't read the book, either.

02-20-2009, 07:38 AM
I hadn't seen this article before I posted, the other, but I hope he reads the book before the draft. At least I hope someone does.

Bengals, NFL view Blind Side
February 18, 2009

Posted: 2:15 p.m.

For the first time in what looks to be ever in the history of the world's largest locker room laboratory, the NFL has the book on a prospect instead of the prospect of a book on a prospect coming out of the league's annual scouting combine.

The story of Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher has already competed with the unlikely tale of a small school quarterback named Barack Obama on The New York Times best seller list. So what more is left to know when the Bengals amp up their hunt for offensive line help when the NFL teams gather Wednesday in Indianapolis for the start of the six-day combine?

The 600 front office people and coaches will find something. The combine may have moved down the street from the RCA Dome to Lucas Oil Stadium, but the prime real estate is still the hearts and minds of more than 300 of the nation's top college players.

(Getty Images)
"They will find him physically shocking," says Michael Lewis, the man who wrote the book on Oher and knows him better than anyone outside his adoptive family.

"I think he's about 305 pounds now and a little bit skinny," Lewis says of the 6-5 Oher. "The thing about him is that he's so naturally wide. His quickness. His agility. He will physically floor them."

Lewis' previous work, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, surveyed how new age baseball thinking boosted the small-market Oakland A's past their free-spending foes. In The Blind Side, Lewis shows how fair and unfair life can be in documenting Oher's rise from basically being an orphan and a dead-end statistic on the mean streets and in the schools of Memphis to becoming one of the nation's top high school football recruits.

Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander has reads books by Tom Coughlin and Warren Buffett this offseason. But Lewis hasn't made the list yet.

"I thought about it," Alexander says. "But I didn't want my evaluation to be influenced by the book."

Not to spoil it for him, but it is 339 incredulous pages of how Oher went from the worst in America to the best. He barely went to school for the first 15 years of his life, didn't have a father, struggled naming all his brothers and sisters, and his mother came and went in a haze.

It all changed when he was adopted by an affluent couple in Memphis that extricated him from a failed education and put his frightening skills on the football field at Briarcrest Christian School and then on to Ole Miss while introducing him to everything from foyers to fractions.

No wonder Lewis' wife blurted out after she heard the story, "I don't understand why you are writing about anything else."

Now, because he calls himself "a serial monogamist," Lewis has moved on to a book about "the current mess," which is not about the uncertain status of the Bengals offense but the country's economic collapse.

Although he says he's not close to Oher, Lewis has talked to him a few times and is pulling for him. He finds Oher bright, is awed by his physical gifts, and, as a writer, you have to root for the story. And from the NCAA lady to the tribal rituals that are college recruiting, Michael Oher is a hell of a story.

But because of Lewis' book, at least some people are now wondering about who's not running the 40-yard dash or bench pressing 225 pounds this week.

"It's horrible. The failure that is out there. It can be discouraging," Lewis says of the would-be athletes that never make it out of poverty. "But it does show that people can be helped if the will is there. The problem is, it's hard to see government having that level of intensity."

It is not really Oher's story. It's a story how Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy willed a kid exposed to virtually nothing into the first round of the NFL Draft. Or, as Lewis says, "how Leigh Anne became a mother to him because that is really what did it."

When the Bengals or any other NFL team takes Oher, they may consider taking Leigh Anne with one of their extra third-round picks. But Lewis thinks he'll be fine away from home.

"The biggest social risk was the Ole Miss football team," Lewis says. "Much more than the Cincinnati Bengals (or any other NFL team) because those are grown men working for a living.

"Michael liked living alone. He's a good citizen.

"I think the difference is going to be just making him feel happy and at home. That first year (in college) when he was starting it took him awhile to get comfortable."

And Cincinnati would be a good fit.

"It's close," he says. "Sean has some restaurants there."

Scouting is as much about the head game as it is the fundamentals and this is where the questions on Oher begin and end.

For Oher, the 15-minute interviews with teams are going to be more important than the three-cone drill. Each team gets to talk with 60 prospects of its choosing during the week, usually with a room full of scouts and coaches, and talking to strangers isn't Oher's strong suit. Teams are concerned about his focus and learning ability and this is one of his chances to nip it in the bud.

Oher's disinclination to speak is a frequent topic in the book, best summed up by Sean with, "The right answer for Michael is the answer that puts an end to the questions."

Which certainly is a smart thing and no one believes he's stupid despite his poor educational start.

But that won't do in Indy and even though Oher has come a long way, Lewis says, "I don't know how he'll be in a room with (people) he doesn't know. If chatty Michael shows up, he'll be fine

"He's really an intelligent guy. It takes him a little while with people while he's figuring them out. You come up and start yabbering away, and he's going to sit back."

Alexander compares the first interview of a prospect to a book he has read about a museum trying to prove the authenticity of an archeological find. The experts are called in and while they have no proof, they just know it's a fake.

"It's a gut feeling and you know in that first meeting; the first impression is big," he says. "When you have to start finding reasons to draft a guy, you're in trouble."

Alexander was in on the best interview most of the Bengals staff can remember in 2006 when they met with LSU left tackle Andrew Whitworth. They asked him a question they didn't think could be rehearsed and were blown away with the response. Two months later he was a Bengal with the 55th pick and he could be the answer at left tackle now if they don't think Oher and the other candidates are worthy with the sixth pick.

"We asked him to go through a typical week on how he would prepare for an opponent," Alexander says. "And you wouldn't believe how thorough of an answer he gave."

Thanks to the Senior Bowl, Alexander has already had his first impression of Oher. When the Bengals coached the North last month, they were able to spend a night interviewing the South players, and he got Oher alone.

"I like that," he says, "because we we were able to get them before they were agent-trained for the combine.

"We had a good conversation," Alexander says of his session with Oher. "He seems like a good kid. Obviously he's been in a position of responsibility for most of his life and that's a positive. And I think how he's dealt with the pressures that come with the book has been a positive."

But Alexander won't elaborate. It will be recalled that the Bengals stunned the world in 2002 when they took Arizona State left tackle Levi Jones with the 10th pick and if they go tackle again he wants to surprise Mel Kiper Jr., again.

But what Alexander will say is when the Bengals interview Oher in Indy, he won't ask any questions. He'll leave that to others. He got his answers the first time.

"After I write my evaluation," Alexander says, "I may read the book. I hear it's pretty good."

It is.

Good enough that Lewis is open to writing a sequel of Oher in the pros.

"If," he says with a laughs, "he talks to me."

Hoosier Red
02-20-2009, 09:12 AM
I can actually see the logic in not reading the book. I mean Lewis is a pretty good writer, and by the end of Moneyball, weren't you rooting for Jeremy Brown to make it? I don't want Paul Alexander rooting for Michael Oher to make it, and then picking him.

But you're right, someone in the organization should read it.

02-20-2009, 07:14 PM
They're exposing my retirement plan. For a long time, I've been looking to find an athletic kid to adopt and turn into a professional athlete who can take care of me later on in life.

02-20-2009, 11:29 PM
They're exposing my retirement plan. For a long time, I've been looking to find an athletic kid to adopt and turn into a professional athlete who can take care of me later on in life.

I don't know if you are being cynical or not, but I just read the book, and I don't think that they have any hidden agenda. They are well off, and apparently own fast food restaurants all the way up in Cincinnati. The kid was living on the street. Bringing him into their home was a leap of faith.

02-21-2009, 12:03 PM
The biggest news out of the combine is that Michael Crabtree will not be performing at all due to a stress fracture and is out until the NFL Draft.

They are talking like it may cost him getting out of the top 5-7 picks. Wouldn't surprise me if he slid out of the top 10 alltogether.

If I were a Bengals fan and wanting offensive line (and I am), I wouldn't be too happy right now.

02-21-2009, 01:16 PM
Theres 0, nada, nil chance he lasts past 8. Jacksonville, Oakland, and Cincy one of those 3 need a play making wr bad enough to where they would be morons if they dont take him. So what if he cant run in shorts and a t-shirt, I dont care. Watch the film he's plenty fast enough and probably run at least as fast as Larry Fitzgerald. I always hate the combine because people get hyped up based on events that really dont neccessarily translate onto the field.

If they did the Boz would have been the greatest LB ever, Jeff George and Todd Marijuanavich would have been better than Peyton Manning, and Tony Mandarich would have been one of the all time great tackles in NFL history. If Crabtree falls much below 8 every NFL GM ought to be forced to resign or fired.

02-21-2009, 09:27 PM
I think Cincinnati will go with the O-Line.

Oakland possibly could take him. An offense of JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, and Michael Crabtree could be deadly if handled correctly.

Jacksonville has some other needs though, so I would say Oakland would be the best bet.

Seattle is where he "should" go. They need a playmaker and he would be the equivalent to Ken Griffey Jr. in football in the Emerald City.