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Dontari Poe is scary

Dontari Poe, Chris Relf, Jimmy Robinson AP

Robert Griffin III won the press conference. Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe could be winning the Combine on the field.

The 346-pounder has put together a crazy combination of size and strength at Lucas Oil Field.

The Memphis product put up 44 reps at 225 pounds, which was the most of any player at the Combine. That was impressive, but not shocking. Poe’s times while running on Monday were more eye-opening.

Poe ran an “unofficial” 4.87 forty-yard dash. That is a preposterous number for a man that big. Poe’s 1.7 ten-yard split is even more telling and more impressive.

Many 3-4 teams will see Poe as a nose tackle. That’s probably where he will get drafted, but Monday’s workout shows that Poe could be moved around in a variety of defensive line positions on a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.

While Poe didn’t play quite like a top-20 pick in college just yet, he was already seen as a first round pick. This workout should push him into the top 20 or higher. Athletic 3-4 nose tackles don’t come along every year.

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Lions working toward new deal with Eric Wright

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson cannot catch the ball against the defense of the Detroit Lions cornerback Eric Wright (L) in the first half during their NFL football game in Green Bay, Wisconsin Reuters

Eric Wright hasn’t gotten as much attention as Cliff Avril with free agency approaching, but the Lions are working to keep the cornerback off the open market.

The team met with Wright’s agent on Saturday in Indianapolis to discuss a new contract. No offer was put on the table, but Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free-Press reports that both sides would like to get a deal done before free agency opens next month. Wright started all 16 games for the Lions in 2011 and intercepted four passes.

The Lions secondary got torched in the playoff loss to the Saints, making it a focus of attention as the offseason gets underway. They are looking to trade Alphonso Smith and have been linked with Cortland Finnegan, Brandon Carr and other potential free agent cornerbacks, but getting one of them while keeping Avril and/or linebacker Stephen Tulloch won’t be easy.

Re-signing Wright to team with Chris Houston and a healthy Aaron Berry isn’t a perfect solution, but it would allow them to add help at corner in the draft while using their money to shore up other spots this offseason.

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Whitney Mercilus shows off his quick first step

Whitney Mercilus, Jonathan Brown, Braxton Miller AP

Whitney Mercilus of Illinois was one of the best pass rushers in college football last season, and he’s showing at the Scouting Combine that he has just the kind of quick first step that NFL teams look for in a pass rusher.

Mercilus ran the 40-yard dash in an unofficial time of 4.63 seconds, but the 10-yard split may be more important than the full 40-yard time for defensive linemen, and Mercilus had a very good 10-yard split of 1.57 seconds.

“I come off the line — I have a good first step,” Mercilus told reporters over the weekend. “I’m able to come off the line pretty quickly. Definitely I’m able to wear out players, too. I have a never-ending motor, and I’m able to keep going until the fourth quarter until somebody is dog tired and just take advantage of them.”

Although his workout numbers are great, the more important number is 16: That’s how many sacks Mercilus had last season.

“It’s just going out and there and getting it each and every down, each and every game,” Mercilus said. “There’s no fluke to it, 16 is 16. There’s no way you can just fall onto a sack.”

Mercilus decided to leave Illinois with one year of eligibility remaining after the NFL draft advisory board gave him a third-round grade. He may be boosting that stock today.

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League not commenting on possible Peyton tampering by Chiefs

Kansas City's interim coach Roeo Crennel looks around the field before the start against Green Bay in Kansas City, Missouri AP

If the NFL plans to investigate and/or punish the Chiefs for tampering based on coach Romeo Crennel’s recent comments regarding Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, the league isn’t saying so.

Spokesman Greg Aiello tells PFT via email that the league declines to comment on whether Crennel’s remarks constitute tampering.

But what of a recent tweet from Will Brinson of CBSSports.com, in which Brinson says an “NFL spokesperson told me Romeo Crennel’s comments on Peyton Manning won’t be considered tampering“?

As it turns out, that was a miscommunication.  Either way, Aiello says the league won’t comment on speculation about tampering.

But is it speculation?  Crennel made comments that either violate, or don’t violate, the tampering rules.  Examining that issue becomes speculation only if the league has a habit of not enforcing the rules as written, selectively nailing some teams and giving others a pass.

Um.  OK, under that standard it really is speculation.

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Rams see three windows to trade No. 2 pick

Robert Griffin III AP

NFL teams usually pretend that they aren’t set on trading out of a certain draft position; just that they are “open” to making a move.

The Rams don’t seem interested in playing this game. They don’t need to play games; they know how much interest Robert Griffin III will attract.

SI.com’s Peter King talked to Rams COO Kevin Demoff; King left the conversation writing that the Rams will trade the pick “for sure” in King’s words. The question: When will the trade happen?

Demoff points to three windows: Before free agency, at the late March league meetings, and in the few days before the draft.

The third option is the most likely. Teams usually don’t put all their cards on the table until the last minute. Then again, Demoff’s words may be a strong signal from the Rams that they’d love seriously consider aggressive offers early in the bidding.  (And why not? The price will only go up.)

“You can’t tell what the musical chairs will do,” said Demoff  in MMQB about the post free agency period. “Maybe someone will get left out and need Griffin. You don’t know.”

The risk for the Rams is that teams that sign Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn will no longer need a quarterback. The Rams need at least two teams dying to move up for Griffin to get the best deal possible.

Based on Griffin’s immense talent and character, we don’t think that will be a problem for Demoff and the Rams.

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Stephen Jones: We don’t have enough talent to win on defense

Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones AP

The Cowboys have struggled badly against the pass for two years running. The Jones family usually talks about the team’s talent level in flowery terms, but VP Stephen Jones got real with his assessment this week.

“Obviously we are not pleased with where we are on defense,” Stephen Jones said via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We got to get better over there. I don’t know that we got good enough talent to win over there. We have to improve it.”

Based on conversations PFT had at the Combine, we expect the Cowboys to be very aggressive in free agency in an effort to upgrade that defensive talent base. They may be especially aggressive try to improve the secondary.
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“High interest” in Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning AP

It’s easy for a team to claim, publicly and/or privately, that it’s not interested in Peyton Manning before Manning actually is available.  But as the divorce is becoming more and more inevitable, folks apparently are reconsidering those knee-jerk reactions of non-interest.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that, at the Scouting Combine, teams that “once said they wouldn’t pursue Peyton Manning [are] now pondering that possibility.”  Schefter adds that “[i]nterest in 18 is high.”

As it should be.  If Manning can throw even at 60 percent of his past arm strength, he’ll be in the top half of all NFL quarterbacks.  And the closer he gets to 100 percent, the closer he gets to the top of the heap.

Taking a quick look through the list of conferences and divisions, the following teams should be very interested:  Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Browns, Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs (the head coach has already said the team will be), Broncos, Raiders, Redskins, Vikings, 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks.

Even teams like the Bengals, Ravens, Texans, Eagles, Bears, and Buccaneers should consider the possibility of pursuing Peyton.

NFL coaches constantly talk about having a willingness to upgrade at every position.  Though tinkering with the starting quarterback can be problematic, especially if the team swings and misses and then has to love the one it’s with, the quest for championships begins and ends with a having high-level quarterback.

That’s why the Jets jettisoned Chad Pennington for Brett Favre, and why the Vikings twice told Tavaris Jackson to take a seat.  Once Manning is on the market, some other guy who’s supposedly a starter will soon find himself either not atop the depth chart, or not employed.

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Irvin, Coples run well at Combine

Q. Coplespoint AP

Every year, the defensive linemen seem to get bigger and faster at the Combine.  The start to Monday’s early workout was no exception.

West Virginia linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin ran an unofficial 4.43 forty at 245 pounds, although his long speed was not a surprise.  He could be a situational pass rusher.

Perhaps more impressive: Clemson’s Andre Branch ran a 4.62 with a 1.56 ten-yard split. At defensive end, the early split is a better sign of the player’s explosiveness.  Branch could be a late first or second round pick.

The big names at the position did not disappoint. South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram ran a 4.66 and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples ran a 4.72 at 284 pounds. That’s ridiculous. Coples also ranked in the top-five defensive linemen among his in his ten-yard split.

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Monday morning one-liners

Vontaze Burfict AP

Bills LB Nick Barnett is trying to help Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict learn to keep his emotions in check.

Former Dolphins DE Kenny Mixon was arrested in Broward County on a charge of domestic violence.

Would the Patriots take a chance on North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins?

Looking at some wide receiver options for the Jets.

After grabbing two last year, cornerbacks don’t figure to be high on the Ravens’ draft-day shopping list.

Said Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer on whether there’s a need to grab a cornerback with one of the team’s first-round picks, “Right now at this point and stage you’re probably correct.”

Virginia CB Chase Minnifield wouldn’t mind following in his father Frank’s footsteps with the Browns.

An inside linebacker makes sense for the Steelers in the first round.

If Mario Williams leaves, will the Texans try to replace him in the draft?

Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com senses impatience growing with the Colts’ timetable for a Peyton Manning decision.

Are the Jaguars picking too late to get LSU CB Morris Claiborne in the first round?

Titans CB Cortland Finnegan’s ability to play man and zone well make him appealing in free agency.

Undrafted free agents have done well in Broncos camps over the years.

Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden’s age might not be a big concern for the Chiefs.

Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp helped lead quarterback and wide receiver workouts at the combine.

The Chargers are in the market for a young tight end.

The Cowboys are being linked with a run at CB Brandon Carr in free agency.

LSU DL Michael Brockers is drawing some comparisons to Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer thinks there might be something to the Eagles’ meeting with Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.

Is Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill the right man for the Redskins?

Bears G.M. Phil Emery’s background as a strength and conditioning coach might help him assess draft prospects.

Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict fits what the Lions look for in their linebackers.

The Packers could take a quarterback late in the draft.

A look at reasons why the Vikings might pass on drafting USC T Matt Kalil with the third overall pick.

Former Falcons LB Chris Draft has kept up the fight against lung cancer that he started with his late wife.

The Panthers scouting department believes the combine reinforces things seen during games, but that the games are more important.

Are the Saints in the market for a new middle linebacker?

Said Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik, “But we’re learning from Coach Schiano, what’s the perfect corner for you? What’s the perfect safety? How do you like your linebackers to look? What do you ask them to do? What can our guys do? What don’t we have?”

The Cardinals have no problem playing in the Hall of Fame Game.

Cornerback is a big need for the Rams this offseason.

49ers president Gideon Yu said that team owner Jed York has “audacious big visions” for the team’s future.

Grabbing a pass rusher in the first round might be the best move for the Seahawks.

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Report: Packers pursuing Texans center Chris Myers

Chris Myers,  Arian Foster AP

In public, Packers G.M. Ted Thompson won’t reveal much about his plans for 2012, or any year.  Behind closed doors, he reportedly has begun pursuing at least one player who is under contract with another team.

Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that, with efforts to re-sign center Scott Wells going nowhere, the Packers have turned their attention to Texans center Chris Myers.  Specifically, McGinn reports that the Packers met with Myers’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to discuss Myers.

Wells is 31, but Myers isn’t far behind.  He’ll be 31 on September 15.  (That’s also Florio Jr.’s birthday.  Who is now nearly large enough to play center for the Packers.  Or the Texans.  Or any other team.)

It’s a clear and direct violation of the rules for the Packers to talk to Myers, but the Packers aren’t the only team doing it.  Indeed, if the famously rules-conscious Thompson is tampering, everyone is tampering.

“Almost every re-signing, waiver and UFA signing upcoming germinate from supposedly illegal club-agent meetings in Indy,” McGinn writes.  “All happens here.”

McGinn uses “supposedly” because the rules prohibit meetings with free agents who won’t be free until March 13 at 4:00 p.m. ET.  But no one follows the rules.  Indeed, as the Packers negotiate with Myers, Wells undoubtedly is negotiating with some other team, or teams.

Sometimes, this gauging of the market helps lay the foundation for a player to stay put.  The bigger issue is that tampering remains rampant, and the NFL will continue to look foolish until the rules are revised to reflect the reality.

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With 44 reps, Dontari Poe is the Combine’s strongest man

Marshall v Memphis Getty Images

Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe is the strongest player at the Scouting Combine.

Poe put up 44 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, making him the strongest player at any position. Poe’s mark tops Michigan center David Molk by three reps.

Prior to the Combine, Mike Mayock ranked Poe as the third-best defensive tackle in the draft, behind LSU’s Michael Brockers and Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy. The 6-foot-4, 346-pound Poe said he’s been eager to improve his draft stock through his Combine workouts.

“I’m doing everything,” Poe said. “It’s just competition. I like it. I like it all. I’ve been working out for it and just thought it’d be a good idea to do it all.”

Poe says the defensive tackles he models himself on are Casey Hampton, Ndamukong Suh and Haloti Ngata, and he said he thinks he can fit into any defensive line, in a 3-4 or a 4-3 front.

“I see myself as someone who can rush the passer a lot more than people think,” Poe said. “I am used to playing nose tackle and the 3-technique and I’ve played some 5-technique. I’m pretty comfortable anywhere on the defensive line.”

And he’s clearly very comfortable in the weight room.

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Reports: Browns cautious about potential Griffin trade

Robert Griffin III AP

It’s late February, which means the rumors and speculation surrounding St. Louis’ No. 2 overall pick have only just begun. In this infant stage, the Browns aren’t showing their hand by showing great interest in the pick.

John Czarnecki of FoxSports.com reports the Browns have been showing “weird, uninterested signals” in the pick.  Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com reports that Washington, Miami and Seattle have shown more interest in trading up for Robert Griffin III.

We’re not sure this means a lot at this point. Perhaps the Browns really would prefer to go after Matt Flynn in free agency. Or perhaps they just don’t want to show their intentions this early in the process, which makes a lot more sense.

Czarnecki, however, writes the Browns coaching staff “remains confused on what to do with RGIII.”

If that’s true, it says more about the Browns coaching staff than it does Griffin.

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Chiefs could face tampering charges for Crennel remarks

Romeo Crennel AP

When asked about the hottest topic in Indy at the Scouting Combine, Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli opted to say nothing about Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.  Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel was a bit more talkative.

“With a talent like that, I would be crazy not to consider it if he’s available.  I’ll leave it at that,” Crennel said.

The next question is whether Crennel said enough to trigger tampering charges.  Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star points out that, given the language of the relevant league rules, it could indeed happen.  The real question is whether the Colts or the league want it to happen.

Some would say the Chiefs are in line for a little karma, given that the Chiefs claimed that the Lions were tampering with Chiefs players who have a connection to former Kansas City defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.  But the Colts may not be inclined to demand that action be taken.

Then again, last week’s report from a Kansas City radio station that the Chiefs already have spoken twice with agent Tom Condon about Manning could prompt the Colts to decide to take a stand now, especially if owner Jim Irsay truly holds out hope of negotiating a reduced contract for Manning.  As long as he’s under contract with the Colts, only the Colts should be permitted to talk to Manning or his agent.  Discussions with any other teams would undermine the Colts’ ability to get something done, and tampering charges against the Chiefs or any other team could scare every other team away.

Even if the Colts have, as Mike Silver believes, decided to move on from Manning, there’s a strategic component to be considered.  With Crennel already providing enough evidence to prove a technical violation of the rules, and with the league typically fashioning tampering punishments that give the “victim” a bump in draft standing in one of the middle rounds, the Colts could choose to push the issue.

Of course, the league could decide to look into the situation even without a formal charge from the Colts.  That’s what the league did three years ago in light of evidence that the Redskins possibly had pre-negotiated with Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth before the free-agency market opened.  In that case, the league accepted the explanation that owner Daniel Snyder was having dinner with Haynesworth’s agent not to discuss Haynesworth but to talk about the agent’s only player on the Redskins roster at the time, receiver Malcolm Kelly.  (They supposedly discussed that Kelly could be the next Andre Johnson.  And it came true, to the extent that there’s a guy named “Andre Johnson” working at a Target store somewhere.)

Typically, the league isn’t inclined to even investigate tampering matters, absent obvious evidence.  Even then, the league at times will pooh-pooh the presence of a hand in the cookie jar, saying something like “everyone knows Peyton Manning will be cut” or “Crennel was merely speaking in hypotheticals” or “anyone would be crazy not to consider Peyton Manning” or a similar remark that minimizes the situation.

If, in the end, the league takes action regarding Crennel’s comments, the ultimate irony will be that he said what he said in the city where multiple teams have been deliberately violating the tampering rules by directly negotiating with agents for players who remain under contract with other teams until March 13 at 4:00 p.m. ET.

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49ers could be feeling some Fleener

Notre Dame v Stanford Getty Images

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh took the job in 2011 after a successful stint at Stanford.  And he seems to have a soft spot for the guys who helped him be successful in his prior gig.

Which could put the 49ers in prime position to take tight end Coby Fleener late in round one of the 2012 draft.

Coby Fleener won us games,” Harbaugh said, via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.  “I probably tend to be — I mean, I love these guys.  Maybe I am the over-evaluator.  My point was it probably takes us some checks and balances with those guys that I know so well.”

Harbaugh acknowledged that, in his first draft with the 49ers, an effort was made to land former Stanford running back Owen Marecic, who went to the Browns in round four.

“We did everything we could to get him here and we came up short on that one,” Harbaugh said.  “I texted him and said we tried.  It didn’t happen.  That was one that we didn’t get that is a 49er kind of guy.”

Though the 49ers have Vernon Davis, Harbaugh likes using multiple tight ends.  And teams like the Patriots have shown that having two tight ends running pass patterns can be very effective.

“The Jimmy Grahams, the Gronkowskis of the world have really done our class of tight ends a favor this year,” Fleener said.  “I can’t say enough about the guys that have already played, and I hope to one day go play just like that.”

With not many tight ends in the pool and teams fascinated with the prospect of having their own large, lanky, and fast football vacuum, Harbaugh will have to worry about getting leap-frogged by a team that sits below the 49ers, if Harbaugh hopes to add Fleener to the roster.

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Brandon Weeden: My age is my only red flag

Brandon Weeden AP

Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden had a good senior season and a strong Senior Bowl, and he says NFL teams have told him they’re impressed with everything about him, except the one number that sticks out: 28.

That’s Weeden’s age, and he says plenty of NFL teams are telling him they’re concerned about how much future a rookie that old can have.

“A lot is getting put into my age and rightfully so,” Weeden said at the Scouting Combine. “That’s really the only red flag I really have. And fortunately for me, that’s really the only I have to worry about. And fortunately, it’s a small issue. I’m not worried about it. I don’t’ think a lot of teams are worried about it. It’s a tough question to answer. I feel like with all these great quarterbacks, I belong in the middle with all of them. So if I was a few years younger, you never know, maybe I go a little bit higher. But I don’t think at the end of the day when it comes to draft time, it’s going to be that big of an issue.”

Weeden, who spent five years as a minor league baseball player, is being mentioned in Kansas City as a player who could interest the Chiefs. He’s hoping to sell teams on the idea that plenty of NFL quarterbacks have found success only after becoming NFL starters in their late 20s or early 30s.

“Roger Staubach, you’ve got Kurt Warner, I can go on,” Weeden said. “You’ve got Rich Gannon. Think of it, there’s a lot of guys. You look back at my time at Oklahoma State, I didn’t get hit. My body’s extremely fresh. No injuries. I’m healthy. Everything’s good. I think I’ve got a lot left in my tank. Those guys played into their late 30s. A ten-year career in the NFL is a great career, and I think I’ve got every bit of that. And barring any injury, I think I can play for a long time.”

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