Once the coaches and general managers fielded questions, the prospects themselves took the floor. Today's group included mostly offensive linemen, tight ends, kickers and punters. With lots of speculation surrounding the Bengals possibly taking a tight end or guard, today was a big day for me.
I talked with a few tight ends; the highest profile of which was Arizona's Rob Gronkowski. Recently Gronkowski had surgery on his lower back, but says he has no lingering effects from the operation.
“The back's holding up great. It's one hundrered percent; no pain. I haven't felt this good in a while.”
Gronkowski is entering the draft after his junior season with the Wildcats because he doesn't like waiting on the things he wants. While not performing a complete workout at the Combine, Gronkowski conducted interviews with teams and will lift weights for scouts while in Indianapolis. He will undergo a complete workout during his personal pro day in Tuscon at the end of March that, according to him, should include running 4.6 in the forty-yard dash during that workout.
He calls himself a tough, physical player who likes to do the dirty work and make big plays down the field. He's a large target; 6'6'' and 265 lbs. Some teams have told him that he needs to improve with his blocking, but no one seems concerned with his pass-catching ability, especially Rob himself.
“I have great hands and I can catch anything.”
He's clearly a confident young man.
Another interesting tight end prospect is former University of Miami football and basketball player, Jimmy Graham. After deciding to forsake hoops and focus on the gridiron, Graham hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow basketball player turned tight end, Antonio Gates. Graham also has blocking concerns, but his 6'6'' frame and his basketball athleticism make him a receiver that could be lethal in the red-zone.
The last tight-end I spoke with was Pitt's Dorin Dickerson. He's a smallish player for his position—225 pounds—but he feels he could find a niche with a team as an H-back (a smaller fullback or tight end used in two tight-end sets). He feels that his experience playing in Dave Wandstadt's pro-style offense will help acclimate him to the NFL. He too acknowledges that the scouts want to see him prove he can block, but he said he's worked on that facet of the game with his coaches.
“I work on my blocking by doing drills with heavy bags and the coaches have helped a lot with my footwork,” Dickerson explained.
As for the guards, the biggest media crowd hovered around Idaho big man Mike Iupati. Most of these athletes don't appear as heavy as they are listed but that isn't the case with Iupati; he is giant. The thing I liked hearing from him was that he likes to pull on running plays. There were a lot of questions thrown at him about moving to tackle. While he said all the right things about being versatile and of how playing at different spots can only help his draft stock, it was clear the man prefers staying at guard.
Illinois guard Jon Asamoah was also asked about playing tackle, but he sounded much more receptive to the idea of shifting over on the line.
“Every team wants you to be versatile; it keeps you on a roster,” said Asamoah.
He then went on to answer a lot of questions about his father being a diabetic and of how, even though he is big, he didn't have many sweets around the house. These are the kinds of questions these guys have to answer.
Take Texas Tech guard, Randy Carter. Before I asked him what he thinks the scouts want to see from him the most, he spent 10 minutes explaining why he no longer has crazy hair or face paint and had to describe the tattoos that are hidden behind his now normal hair. This guy is another load; I wouldn't label him svelte. He said he needed to prove he was fast enough for the pros, something at which he claims to have worked diligently, and he has lost nearly 15 pounds for the Combine.
In general, these players don't give us reporters much with which to work. They are as thoroughly coached on how to answer (or not answer) our questions as they are coached on how to play on the field. The media, of course, asks the dumbest questions, which doesn't help discerning any real information on the players. It's one big square dance where a person walks away knowing little more about the players than they did when the day started.
I did meet former Bengal John Thornton, though. He's a really nice guy who mostly hangs back and observes. He told me to introduce myself to Geoff Hobson but the situation never adequately presented itself—maybe tomorrow. I also want to say hello to both the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy, and ESPN's James Walker.
I'll have lots more the next two days. Stay tuned.