Snap Judgments: QBs at combine
West Virginia quarterback Pat White enjoyed a strong workout at the combine
USC quarterback Mark Sanchez was not sharp in sideline passes
Bill Belichick met with the media and touched on a number of topics
INDIANAPOLIS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we wrap up Money Day at the NFL Scouting Combine, the day the quarterbacks show their stuff (at least the ones who deem to work out) ...
Score one for collegiate experience and a little old-fashioned perseverance, because of all the quarterbacks who threw on Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium, none looked better than West Virginia's Pat White, the record-breaking senior passer who many have been trying to project as anything but a quarterback.
White threw the ball accurately and with authority in his quarterback group, looking poised and comfortable in an unfamiliar setting that has thrown many a highly-ranked quarterback off his game. White was especially strong in throwing deep outs, which always catch the eye of NFL scouts.
"I'll tell you who looked good today and that was Pat White,'' one longtime NFL offensive assistant coach told me. "He really helped himself with that workout. He made people recognize him as a quarterback.''
In a draft class heavy with junior quarterbacks at the top, it was White who generated the most buzz Sunday. Not USC's Mark Sanchez, who was decent but far from spectacular, or Georgia's Matthew Stafford, the top-rated passer who ran a solid 40-yard dash (low 4.8s) but declined to throw here with the rest of the draft's quarterbacks.
White might still be thought of by some NFL talent evaluators as best-suited to be a team's Wildcat formation quarterback and part-time receiver, but all Sunday's throwing session has to do is convince one team to draft him as a full-time quarterback.
"He was sharp and he made all the throws you want to see,'' another NFL talent evaluator told me. "Our quarterbacks coach said he looked better than most people anticipated.''
Other quick-hit impressions from the player workouts on Sunday:
-- Southern Cal's Sanchez did nothing to make anyone believe he's top 10 material at this point. He struggled quite a bit on passes he threw outside the numbers, near the sidelines, and only looked great on slant patterns. I expect any potential chatter about Sanchez being a real option for the Lions at No. 1 to all but evaporate unless he has a boffo pro day workout next month.
-- Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman was thought to be someone who could really improve his draft projection based on his throwing session, but he was erratic in the drills and probably did nothing to help himself crack the first round.
-- Ball State quarterback Nate Davis wasn't too impressive either and is probably still in the range of the third round in terms of his draft status.
-- Michigan State's Brian Hoyer was a solid performer among a rather ho-hum quarterback group. He's an under-the-radar type product who didn't have much of a senior season for the Spartans, but he seems ready to climb a bit after Sunday. He doesn't have the deep arm that NFL evaluators like, but he at least looked good by comparison to his fellow passers on Sunday.
-- Among receivers, I heard rave reviews for Ohio State senior Brian Robiskie, who caught everything that came his way, and North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, who continues to look like a polished product who will wind up going in the bottom third of the first round. Neither player ran great, finishing in the 4.5 range, but there's plenty of room in the NFL for proven commodities like Robiskie and Nicks who lack blazing speed.
-- If there was a consensus Sunday, it was that most of the receivers ran faster than expected. That list included Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose 4.30 tied for the second-fastest 40 for a receiver at the Combine since 2000, Mississippi's Mike Wallace (4.33) and Abilene Christian's Johnny Knox (4.34).
I've covered plenty of NFL combines without ever seeing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick once all weekend, but he surprisingly gave reporters a rare audience for almost 20 minutes on Sunday morning in the media workroom, beginning with a rambling, almost 12-minute long opening statement that for a while struck me as a filibuster designed to avoid being asked a question. Eventually he took a handful of queries before returning to watch the player workouts that were beginning.
Wearing a red and black Rutgers lacrosse zip pullover rather than his usual loose-fitting Patriots gear, Belichick touched on a lot of topics, and we'd be remiss if we didn't hit the highlights for you. To wit:
-- Maybe the most interesting subject that he brought up, unbided by the way, is the drain of Super Bowl coaching talent that has left the league in recent years. Belichick is now just one of three head coaches in the league who have won a ring, joining the Giants' Tom Coughlin and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin.
In the past three offseasons, the NFL coaching ranks have lost the likes of Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Cowher. And not all of those left voluntarily.
"I can't speak for what other teams are doing or not doing, but as a coach, it's sort of a little bit of an empty feeling to see people like that not in the game,'' Belichick said. "It just doesn't seem right, really, not to have people like Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and Steve Mariucci, guys who I've coached against and in some cases not very well, not be head coaches in the National Football League. It's just hard to believe that coaches like (that) aren't coaching in the National Football League. It's just odd for them to be here (at the combine, in their NFL Network TV gigs), but not in a coaching capacity. But that's the National Football League.''
-- Belichick took pains to mention how good it was to see here at the combine all of his former associates in coaching or in personnel who have moved on to bigger things after branching off the Belichick tree. Well, almost all. He noted by name new Browns general manager George Kokinis, new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, new Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, new Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and others. Rather glaringly, he didn't find any reason whatsoever to reference new Browns head coach Eric Mangini, his former protégé turned enemy.
-- Belichick lightheartedly said he nearly fired Kokinis from the Cleveland organization in the early 1990s. "I was this close to firing him,'' Belichick joked. "One of his jobs in Cleveland was driving guys to the airport and he got in an accident.''
-- Before taking questions, Belichick told reporters with a smile that he wasn't here to give any "injury updates,'' which everyone quickly understood to mean no Tom Brady knee-rehab questions.
-- In assessing this year's crop of defensive backs, Belichick was fairly expansive about the changing role of the safety position in the NFL.
"The safety position is becoming more and more a corner position in the NFL,'' Belichick said. "There was a time when some of the safeties, particularly the strong safeties, fit more almost like linebackers than they did as defensive backs. That's changed gradually, but now to the point where the defensive backs a lot of times have to cover either wide receivers or tight ends who are very, very good in the passing game. So the demands of that position have changed and we have to change the evaluation of them.''
-- And finally this, when asked one too many follow-up questions about the NFL's coaching ranks, in particular the trend toward hiring younger, first-time candidates: "I don't know. I'm just trying to coach the Patriots, really. I'm not trying to solve the world's problems.''