This is my first time covering the NFL Scouting Combine, so I'll use this blog to share my experiences. Here's a recap of my time in Indianapolis from Wednesday through Friday:
- After a five-hour car ride, I arrived here Wednesday night with Beacon Journal sports columnist Marla Ridenour. We went out to dinner and then made the rounds at several restaurants, bars and hotels downtown. This isn't unusual. The combine is essentially a huge convention for the NFL, so it's wise to hit the local hot spots. For example, we saw Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Denver Broncos coach John Fox eating dinner a few tables apart. Seeing them near each other at a swanky restaurant reminded me they were both often labeled as lame-duck coaches last season. Lewis, however, actually didn't fit the bill in the end. He managed to stay with the Bengals. Fox, though, wasn't brought back by the Carolina Panthers and eventually ended up with the Broncos. San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner was seen chatting with two NFL writers at a hotel lounge.
- Media access to the combine opened Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium, and about 400 reporters showed up. Members of the Pro Football Writers of America use a system to transcribe interviews with players, coaches and executives. Basically, every member of the PFWA is assigned an interview he or she must transcribe so it can be posted on a database and shared. On Thursday, I was assigned to Pittsburgh offensive lineman Jason Pinkston, but my job was easy because he never showed up to be interviewed. I did, however, chat with LSU's Joseph Barksdale, an offensive lineman whom the Browns have interviewed. He had an interesting story for me when I asked him about talking to NFL teams at the combine. During my chat with Barksdale, we sat at one of several round tables in the media center. Coaches, executives and top-level prospects don't typically do interviews at the tables. Instead, they hold court while standing behind one of three podiums. That, of course, was the set up for New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who attracted the largest crowd of reporters by far and didn't disappoint when he guaranteed his team would win the Super Bowl next season. I was particularly interested in Ryan because I wanted to hear what he had to say about his twin brother, Rob Ryan, becoming the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys after spending the past two seasons in the same role for the Browns. Therefore, I actually followed Ryan and a smaller crowd of reporters into the hallway after his session at the podium. I stood right next to him and was surprised that we're about the same height (I'm 6-foot-1). I always thought he looked like a pretty large man whenever I watched games and HBO's Hard Knocks, but he really is not. I hit the town again Thursday night with a few other Northeast Ohio sports writers. This time, we stumbled into New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley at a restaurant. Before I even knew Payton was in the house, I heard him being accosted by an Indianapolis Colts fan while I was in the restroom (awkward, right?). The fan told Payton he should go easier on the Colts and never call an onside kick against them again like he did during the Super Bowl in 2010. Payton laughed a bit and moved on. We also ran into Browns offensive line coach George Warhop. He was hanging out with two former Cleveland coaches -- special-teams coordinator Brad Seely and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith. Seely is with the San Francisco 49ers now, and Smith is with the Seattle Seahawks.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan made headlines Thursday, when he guaranteed his team would win the Super Bowl next season. "I believe we will be the team that wins it period, plain and simple," Ryan said. "I’m not afraid to stand up here and say we’re going to get it done. It’s not just going to be because of my efforts, it’s going to be from our team’s efforts, our fans’ efforts, our organization’s efforts."
- Friday was extremely busy because Browns coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert held an hour-long, question-and-answer session with local reporters at 11:30 a.m. at a hotel near the stadium. In his third meeting with Cleveland-area media, Shurmur looked much more relaxed than before. Heckert talked a bit more than Shurmur, but they both had plenty to say about the direction of the team. They talked about the draft, but they were cautious not to get too specific. I think I missed some valuable interviews at the combine during the meeting with the Browns' brass, but I obviously could be in only one place at the same time. I was fortunate to catch up with Walsh University wide receiver Joe Morgan in the afternoon. Morgan, a Canton McKinley graduate, started his career at the University of Illinois, but he didn't finish it there because he of disciplinary problems. Morgan expressed gratitude for the second chance he received from Walsh, an NAIA school in North Canton, and he said he learned a lot and matured after getting in trouble. He obviously defied the odds by being invited to the combine despite being from a small school, and he hopes to make the most of his opportunity by putting up "blazing" times in the 40-yard dash when he works out Sunday. For the transcription pool, I drew Hawaii wide receiver Greg Salas. He only talked for about five minutes, so I didn't have much typing to do. It was a good thing, too, because I was swamped with other work and didn't finish until about 10 p.m. The long day led to an anticlimactic night. I went to a late dinner at the T.G.I. Friday's attached to my hotel and went to bed.
It really didn't snow much Thursday night in Indianapolis, at least by Northeast Ohio standards. But the staff at Lucas Oil Stadium was well prepared to battle the elements on Friday.
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