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Notes from Indy

Johnson, Thomas top my post-Combine storylines

Posted: Monday February 26, 2007 8:27AM; Updated: Wednesday February 28, 2007 1:23PM
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Here are the 2007 draft storylines I know about after spending four days at the Scouting Combine:

1. Calvin Johnson is atop everyone's draft board. Two team executives told me that not only is the Georgia Tech wide receiver the No. 1 player on their boards, but also he might be 32 for 32. The amazing thing is, there's a good chance he'll last until the fourth overall pick.

Oakland is 1 and has to pick a quarterback. Detroit, 2, would be excommunicated from the NFL if it picked its 43rd wide receiver in the last four drafts. Cleveland, 3, recently took Braylon Edwards in the first round, and its coach, Romeo Crennel, craves meat and potatoes. Tampa Bay, picking 4, already has Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway and needs help elsewhere, but I don't see Jon Gruden passing on the best receiver to come out in a while.

I'm not a big wideout guy this high, because I think you can find receivers down the line and the washout factor of first rounders -- by my count, only 10 of the last 30 wideouts picked in the first round are what I'd call impact players today -- is far too high. "Not many people have my size, speed and strength,'' Johnson said while in Indy. Right. Like, none. Not many 6-5, 239-pound wideouts with 4.4 speed and production.

2. Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas was a breath of fresh air. He's a left tackle who runs like a linebacker (4.92 in the 40), looked svelte doing all the drills here, and looked very, very much like Rod Marinelli's kind of guy. Marinelli is trying to rework the Detroit locker room and make it an egoless place. Imagine getting a fixture tackle for a decade who thinks like this:

The Wisconsin defensive front had a spat of injuries near the end of the 2005 season and so Thomas, who played defense for one game as a freshman, volunteered to fill in at defensive end. In his first game back at defensive end, he tore his ACL, threatening his draft prospects for this year. Why'd he do it?

"We had a couple injuries during the year, and I just raised my hand and said I'd like to step in and help the team win. And we won. So who cares about the injury?''

I don't know Thomas. Maybe that's rehearsed. But if the Lions can determine that Thomas is legit and not the best actor in the '07 Combine, they've got to take him. "I'd love to play for Detroit,'' he said. Send the plane, Mr. Ford.

3. The Raiders have debriefed the new mentor of JaMarcus Russell, leading to rampant speculation (mine) that the fix is in and that Randy Moss is about to be a very happy man.

You may have heard that California quarterback consultant Tom Martinez, the mentor of Tom Brady since Mr. Super Bowl was 13, worked with Russell for a week at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona and came away highly impressed. You have not heard that the Raiders, prior to the Combine, summoned Martinez to ask him about Russell. Martinez says he told the Raiders, "There's nothing you'll ask him to do that he can't do. Nothing.'' Here are some other interesting tidbits Martinez shared with me Sunday night:

a. He told Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Knapp to remember how good Russell is, and he's only 21.

b. He told Russell after analyzing LSU tape he too often looked sluggish, like he was carrying too much weight. And the one thing he stressed with Russell is consistency with the passing motion. "Like a golf swing -- you get really good when the swing's exactly the same every time.''

c. "I told the Raiders, 'The worst thing you could do with this kid is give him four coaches in his first four years,' " said Martinez. "He needs stability. He needs the right guy coaching him the first two or three years, where he'll be taught consistency and stay on him about his technique. That's what every young quarterback needs.''

d. Everyone's talking about how well Russell throws the deep ball, and they're right. "But he makes such beautiful throws on the curls and the comebacks," says Martinez, "like an outfielder hitting the cutoff man perfectly. And his touch is so good. He throws it short with touch, deep with touch. Every throw looks so natural.''

e. Martinez worked with Russell on throwing the ball more over the top. "When Tom Brady throws an interception, it's very rarely a tipped ball because he's releasing the ball high, so it's hard to deflect it." said Martinez. He said the 6-5 1/2 Russell, releasing the ball high over his head, would, in effect, make him about 7-3 and make it very hard for defenders to tip his passes.


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