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February 23, 2011

College Football Report - 2011 NFL Combine Storylines to Watch:

The NFL Combine is finally here. The seven day NFL scouting event kicks off Wednesday, when the first group of players report to Indianapolis for check in.

The first players headed to Lucas Oil Stadium will be groups of offensive lineman, tight ends and special teams players, which includes kickers, punters and long snappers.

Day two, groups of wideouts, quarterbacks and running backs will arrive. Day three, defensive lineman and linebackers will report and on day four, the final arrival day, defensive backs will arrive.

On the first day players arrive, participants will perform pre-workout medical exams, including x-rays, followed by interviews with NFL team personnel who would like to speak to individual players.

On day two, measurements of the players are recorded, including heights and weights, then more physical exams, as well as psych exams and NFL interviews. On day three, the NFLPA will meet with players.

The workouts begin on day four. Timing stations are set up, as well as skill drills. Players are broken into position groups, and in some cases where there are several players, multiple groups within their positions are made.

Following player workouts, participants are allowed to then leave the event.

Combine participants, more than 330 players from all divisions of NCAA football, will participate in drills that include: the bench press, 40-yard dash, broad jump, vertical jump, 3-cone drill, and three variations of the shuttle run. Prospects are not required to participate in all events.

Every year, media, a few scouts and NFL fans often drool over the 40-yard dash times and bench press numbers, but they're not particularly the drills I look forward to the most every year at the combine. Personally, I like to keep an eye on the offensive and defensive linemen’s vertical jump and broad jumps numbers. The drills show lower body explosion, and while they may not be as high of numbers as the defensive backs and wideouts, the numbers are more pivotal in evaluating players.

The 3-cone drill is also another one of my favorites. Sometimes referred to as the L drill because of the arrangement of the cones, players accelerate off the starting line, drop to touch the first line, then again the start line and back out to weave around the cones.

It’s a pivotal drill for defensive linemen, defensive backs and wideouts. The 3-cone measures flexibility and fluidity of the players hips, as well as their acceleration and their change of direction skills, which are all pivotal requirements for each position.

For the 2011 combine, there’s quite a few storylines to pay attention to going in. Just like every year, they seem to focus around particularity the same positions and areas. Below is the top storylines to follow heading into the 2011 NFL combine:

1.) What teams are looking for a quarterback?

Within the top ten picks of the draft, seven teams could be looking for a quarterback. The Bills (No. 3 pick) are the latest team to show interest in a possible new passer. Others include Cincinnati (No. 4) Arizona (No. 5) San Francisco (No. 7) Tennessee (No. 8) Washington (No. 10) and I’m not yet ruling out Carolina, who has the first overall pick. Outside the top 10, both Minnesota and Seattle could select a single caller.

2.) Who will/won’t throw?

Every year, talk surrounds the quarterbacks. The biggest focus is always who will throw at the combine and who will wait until their pro day to throw for scouts. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton has already come out to say he will throw at the combine, as has Washington’s Jake Locker and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, the drafts other top quarterbacks. Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, who may be the first quarterback selected, has declined to throw, which was confirmed by his agent Tuesday. Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, Andy Dalton of TCU, Ricky Stanzi of Iowa and Christian Ponder of FSU will be full participants, which includes throwing. Alabama's Greg McElroy will be forced to sit out throwing drills with a hand injury sustained in the Senior Bowl.

3.) Who will blaze the fastest 40?

The excitement around the 40-yard dash never seems to die out. East Carolina running back Chris Johnson set the bar higher than ever in 2008 with a combine record 4.24 40 time. This year’s long candidate list of potential record setters and fastest players includes Kentucky running back Derrick Locke, LSU corner Patrick Peterson, Maryland wideout Torrey Smith, Virginia Tech corner Rashad Carmichael, Miami corner Demarcus Van Dyke, West Virginia running back Noel Devine and Fort Valley St. wideout Ricardo Lockett. All have been timed within the 4.3's, with Locke, Peterson, Carmichael and Van Dyke all in the 4.2 range. Another to watch is Nevada outside linebacker Dontay Moch, who has been reportedly timed at 4.25. It'd be a shock to see those numebers from Moch at the combine, but I can't doubt it just yet.

4.) Is there more than one first round running back?

Alabama running back Mark Ingram appears to be a near lock as a first round selection. Many mock drafts have the Tide product heading to the Dolphins or Patriots in the first. But will there be anyone who follows Ingram in the first? Illinois back Mikel LeShoure was a surprise early entry and has seen his stock rise greatly, with potential first round talk surrounding him. At 230-pounds, the biggest question surrounding LeShoure is his speed. The other possible candidate is Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams, another early entry that came away with a first round grade from the draft committee.

5.) Small School guys to watch

There are a number of small school players who will walk into the combine as unknowns, but will leave as potential first round and mid round round picks. A few to keep an eye on are Villanova offensive lineman Ben Ijalana, Mount Union wideout Cecil Shorts III, Hampton defensive tackle Kendrick Ellis and West Texas A&M wideout Stephen Burton. I like Northern Iowa tight end Schuylar Oordt a lot, as well. In a weak tight end class, Oordt has a lot to gain at the combine. All have a chance to greatly improve their draft stock with impressive workouts.

6.) Defensive lineman separation

The 2011 defensive line class is one of the best in the history of the NFL Draft. Half of the entire first round could be dedicated to college defensive ends and tackles, with as many as six of the first 10 picks going to down lineman. Nine defensive ends and six defensive tackles could end up on day one. The top players include: Clemson end Da’Quan Bowers, Auburn tackle Nick Fairley, North Carolina end Robert Quinn, Cal end Cameron Jordan, Wisconsin end J.J. Watt and Alabama tackle Marcell Dareus. Hopefully the combine can help even out where the talented group will spread.

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