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All hat, no cattle

Combine makes for good talk, but little intrigue

Posted: Monday February 25, 2008 9:02AM; Updated: Monday February 25, 2008 2:22PM
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Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco opened some eyes at the combine, but likely didn't cause any teams to scrap their draft plans.
Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco opened some eyes at the combine, but likely didn't cause any teams to scrap their draft plans.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- I actually saw the scouting combine Sunday afternoon for the first time in my life, and I came away thinking, "Is that all there is?"

A group of pool reporters, each assigned one player during the quarterback/wide receiver practice session, was allowed behind the iron curtain into a suite in the mezzanine of the RCA Dome, just above where the coaches and scouts and general managers sat. I volunteered to watch and make notes about quarterback Matt Ryan's workout. Tough duty.

After deciding he'd throw for teams in his comfy Boston College environment next month, Ryan only ran a 40-yard dash -- we were let in too late to see it -- then stood around and did a lot of chatting and a little bit of opposite-handed throwing to break up the monotony at one point. I'm not sure, but I thought I saw him make a Seinfeldian pick at one point. I could not confirm this, however.

Pet peeve about the combine: Unless some player runs a 3.86 40 or gives the finger to Jon Gruden between drills, talking about guys who improved their draft stock from a fourth- to first-round pick, or vice versa, is pretty lame.

Now, Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco threw like Randy Johnson here Sunday. By throwing better than any passer in the workouts, Flacco certainly helped himself. Now maybe -- and I mean, just maybe -- some team with a pick low in the first round or high in the second round might be thinking of him more seriously than they were a week ago. But to change one team's opinion of the kid by three rounds? If that ever happened, I wouldn't trust that team's scouting process.

Flacco didn't jump 75 picks by throwing 30 good fastballs. Still, you're going to hear things in the coming weeks about guys moving up and moving down because of their combine performances, but I wouldn't put a lot of stock in it. If anything, players move up and down based on the body of work teams are studying now that they've got the NFL season in the rear-view mirror and can focus fully on dissecting film and reading scouting reports.

But this is a valuable long weekend for a few reasons. This year, in particular, there's a lot of news happening. I'll get to that in a minute. But the scene here is pretty wild. Reminds me of something Don King once said. Or something Don King said 10 million times. Only in America! You've got to see it to believe it -- 430 news-media members, 333 players, a slew of agents everywhere, a cheerleading competition, a gymnastics event, all clogging the wide hallways of the Indiana Convention Center.

It's like opening day of the NFL's second season. Draft season. And while draft chatter will be everywhere for the next two months, there are more pressing matters. Like these:

1. Spygate is not going away. Bill Belichick is not here, though that's not such big news; he didn't come a year ago. But on all sides, you feel the hum of Spygate, and rumors are everywhere. In general, this situation reminds me of a murder trial in a small town and a judge trying to seat a jury for it.

Getting a fair trial in this league right now is tough. You can't find 12 people in the league who don't have a strong opinion on this, and most of those opinions are very anti-Patriot. The consensus is there's too much smoke around the story for it to either be false or for it to go away. That's why it's so important for the league to get former New England video assistant Matt Walsh to talk as soon as possible, so this story, which has amazed top league officials with its legs, can be vetted for good, one way or the other.

Over the weekend, I spoke with former Rams coach Mike Martz about the allegation that the Patriots videotaped St. Louis' walk through practice the day before Super Bowl XXXVI. He says the Ram practice that day consisted of the offense running its red-zone plays at half speed. I hear that Martz and other Ram people are privately talking much tougher, and I think it's possible, if there is tape of the walk through, the Rams may press the league to have the outcome of the game overturned.

It's crucial for the Patriots -- and for Belichick's future as a head coach in the league -- that Walsh not have a tape of that practice. All we can do is speculate on that right now, but I, for one, believe that tape does not exist. I believe it's more likely Walsh has some tapes of the Patriots videotaping opposing signals. That's not going to get the Patriots, or Belichick, in more trouble. The Pats have already been sanctioned for that.

But if that's all Walsh has, I'll tell you who's in trouble -- the Boston Herald. I'd be surprised if New England owner Bob Kraft doesn't sue the pants off the paper, which reported the Patriots videotaped the Rams' walk through the day before Super Bowl XXXVI, for damaging his brand if the story is not true.

Finally, I'm like every other media type when it comes to the Patriots' curious hire the other day of two-time NFL head coach Dom Capers as a defensive assistant. Belichick's track record is not to hire head-coaching retreads; usually he takes on young coaches and trains them in his system. Could he, or the team, be lining up a replacement for him if he's suspended or fired because of Spygate in the future? I don't buy it. Belichick has control over his coaching staff, and I doubt he'd be thinking about hiring his heir in the middle of this maelstrom.

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