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Fractured bone in foot to keep Stephon Tuitt from participating at combine

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Notre Dame produced a pair of defensive linemen that could wind up going in the first round of May’s draft, but only one of them will be working out at the NFL Scouting Combine on Monday.

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com reports that defensive end Stephon Tuitt will not be able to work out because of a fractured bone in his left foot. Tuitt has not been medically cleared after the injury was discovered during a scan at the combine and is expected to have surgery in a week. Tuitt is expected to recover in six-to-eight weeks and Jeremiah reports that he may hold his own pro day for scouts when he has recovered from the operation.

Tuitt had 19.5 sacks for the Fighting Irish over the last two seasons, making him a potential pick in the first round for a team looking for more pressure from their defensive linemen next season. Kony Ealy of Missouri and Dee Ford of Auburn are also expected to be in the mix of defensive ends taken after Jadeveon Clowney goes near the top.

Defensive tackle Louis Nix III, who played with Tuitt in South Bend, is also expected to be off the board on the opening night of the draft.

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Dee Ford: Jadeveon Clowney “plays like a blind dog in a meat market”

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In an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio on Sunday, Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was asked if he was better than South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

As would be expected, Ford answered in the affirmative.

“I’m better. I’m better,” Ford said.

Then, as he expanded on his answer, Ford offered something of a critique of Clowney, who had just three sacks in 2013 but is widely regarded as of the top prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft.

“People are just looking at the fact that he’s a physical specimen,” Ford said. “It really don’t matter. Honestly, if you watch the film, you know, it’s kind of like, he plays like a blind dog in a meat market, basically.

“I play with a lot of technique. I watch a lot of film. These are the things that make you a great player, and these are the things that I do, and it shows up, know what I’m saying?

“This is all my opinion, you know what I’m saying? And you can see these things. You can see these things on film. Go watch the film. You know, it’s a lot of intangibles that you need to have to be a great player. You can’t just look at the fact that he’s a physical specimen. I think the NFL should have learned by that by now.”

Ford certainly was the more productive player in 2013, notching 12.5 sacks for Auburn. Per NFL.com, he measures at 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, but Ford, in his interview with SiriusXM, noted that Elvis Dumervil, Robert Mathis and Von Miller are all successful pass rushers of somewhat shorter stature.

Nevertheless, Clowney — who’s three inches taller and 14 pounds heavier than Ford, per NFL.com — is very likely to be drafted earlier than Ford in May. Clowney’s sheer skill set makes it just about a cinch.

In some ways, Ford’s confidence and willingness to talk about his strengths is understandable. If he’s not going to talk himself up, who will? Also, by talking about Clowney — one of the draft’s marquee prospects — he indirectly draws some attention to his cause.

Anyways, it just so happens that linebackers and defensive ends work out Monday at the Combine, and anything Ford does at Lucas Oil Stadium will mean more to his draft stock than anything he says.

Clowney? His draft stock is pretty solid.

After all, Ford’s not the one doing the drafting.

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LSU’s Jeremy Hill timed at 4.66 seconds in 40-yard dash

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LSU redshirt sophomore tailback Jeremy Hill was timed at 4.66 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine on Sunday, according to NFL.com.

Hill — who measures at 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, per NFL.com — is one of the more intriguing big backs in the 2014 NFL Draft. He rushed for 1401 yards on just 203 carries in 2013, racking up 6.9 yards per attempt. Just 21 years old, Hill had just 345 collegiate attempts to his credit.

However, he’s had some off-field issues, with a pair of arrests since 2011.

At the Combine, Hill took responsibility for the incidents.

“I put myself in those situations,” Hill said, according to a transcript from Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune for the Pro Football Writers of America. “I can’t really focus on that. All I can do is make the right decisions going forward and put myself in the best position possible.”

Hill’s size, production and youth are his greatest assets. His 40 time, while not great, wasn’t terribly slow for a back who’s work is probably going to come between the tackles on the next level. For instance, the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell was timed at 4.60 seconds last year at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, per NFL.com. For Hill, the Combine interviews might have been the most important part of the process, given the off-field incidents.

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Carlos Hyde hurts hamstring while running 40 at combine

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Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde said this weekend that he expected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 second range when he got his chance to show his speed on Sunday.

Hyde’s official time wasn’t quite that fast. He clocked a 4.66 after pulling up with an apparent left hamstring injury during his first attempt of the day. Hyde received medical attention on the side and will have another chance to run the 40 at Ohio State’s Pro Day.

When he does, he’ll continue his quest to become the top running back taken in the draft. That may not be in the first round as it looks like a good chance that no running backs will come off the board in that round for the second straight season, but Hyde believes he’s the best in the class and that he’ll have no trouble transitioning to the professional game.

“When I think about my game, I think about guys like Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch,” Hyde said, via the Falcons’ website. “Those type of guys. I like to watch those guys play. You see them running the ball out of the shotgun, spread plays, kind of what I did at Ohio State. I watch them to see how they run, how much success they had in those run plays and that’s kind of similar to what I did at Ohio State.”

Tre Mason of Auburn and Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona are expected to challenge Hyde for the chance to be the first back selected this year.

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Mike Evans solidifies his draft position too

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Sammy Watkins continues to look like the first receiver that will come off the board in May, but he wasn’t the only wideout with first-round buzz to run in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Mike Evans of Texas A&M and Marqise Lee of USC are considered the leading possibilities to be the next receiver selected in the first round and they posted similar times in their 40-yard dashes on Sunday. That’s probably better news for Evans than it is for Lee.

Evans posted an official 40 time of 4.53, which is a good number for a player whose leading attributes are his size and the way he used it to catch passes from Johnny Manziel in college. Evans is 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds and the speed he flashed on Sunday will only strengthen comparisons to Vincent Jackson that have come Evans’ way.

Evans is running with those comparisons. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that he’ll work out with the Buccaneers receiver, who was the 61st pick in the 2005 draft. Evans could wind up going 50 picks earlier.

Lee had an official time of 4.52, which is a bit lower than you might like to see for a receiver who measured in just shy of six feet at the combine. Lee certainly played faster than that during a terrific 2012 season, but struggled with injuries during a less impressive 2013 effort.

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Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t run 40 at combine

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On the days leading up to Sunday, the expectation was that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater would run the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine on Sunday as he tries to convince the Texans of his worth as the first overall pick.

When the time came to toe the line and sprint, however, Bridgewater was singing a different tune. Like Jerry Seinfeld did when he was faced with a rematch with Duncan Meyer, Bridgewater chose not to run.

Bridgewater’s decision means that he will neither run nor throw at the combine, leaving both things for a forthcoming workout at Louisville. That doesn’t quite fit with the message Bridgewater sent on Saturday about being a “competitor,” but he is hardly the first player to choose the easily controlled surroundings of his college campus to show off his skills instead of doing it in Indianapolis.

That choice hasn’t hurt other draft prospects and isn’t likely to hurt Bridgewater if he performs well at Louisville’s Pro Day. The other top quarterback prospects all ran on Sunday, although Blake Bortles will be the only one to throw at the event.

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Johnny Manziel measures in at just under six feet tall

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Texas A&M quarterback and aspiring first overall pick Johnny Manziel said that he would measure in at 72 inches “on the dot” when he got to the combine this week.

It’s a good thing that Manziel’s football future doesn’t hinge on his ability to guess his own height down to a precise inch. Manziel came in a shade under six feet tall when he was measured in Indianapolis on Friday, landing at 5-foot-11 3/4 and 207 pounds in the final reckoning.

That’s hardly bad news for Manziel. Teams knew how tall he was generally and a quarter-inch isn’t going to be a deal breaker for a team that’s interested in Manziel’s overall package. Teddy Bridgewater came in at 6-foot-2 1/8 and Blake Bortles towered over the other two projected early picks at 6-foot-5.

Even if someone is concerned about Manziel’s height, they’ll likely be happy to see that Manziel’s hand size isn’t a problem at all. Manziel’s hands measured 9 7/8 inches, bigger than both Bridgewater or Bortles and big enough to handle the football as both a thrower and runner.

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Blake Bortles wants to be above-average in Combine drills

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Not only is Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles training for the Combine, but he’s reportedly done his homework on how past passers have fared in drills.

Bortles told Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel that he has a sheet with past average Combine results for quarterbacks on the wall of his hotel room in California, where he’s preparing for the Combine.

“I’m not the fastest guy or I won’t jump the highest or the furthest or any of that. But I’ve got that sheet . . .  and my goal is to be above that [average] in every single category,” Bortles told the Sentinel.

It’s unclear whether Bortles will do all of the workouts at the Combine; his father told the Sentinel on Monday that the quarterback was readying for all drills but that a determination on how much he would work out would be made closer to his departure for the Combine, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis.

One of the top quarterback prospects in the draft, Bortles’ workout will be one of the most eagerly anticipated of the Combine, especially if it’s clear he will be throwing.

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Michael Sam’s father says he was “terribly misquoted”

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Among the many responses to Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement that he’s gay came from Sam’s father, who the New York Times quoted as saying that he’s “a man-and-a-woman type of guy” and expressing reservations about his grandkids being raised “in that kind of environment.”

Michael Sam Sr. is now backing away from those comments. Sam Sr. spoke to the Galveston County Daily News and said that he was “terribly misquoted” in the initial article, saying that he never brought up anything about his grandkids and that a quote about Deacon Jones rolling over in his grave was taken out of context. Sam Sr. says he meant Jones was rolling over in his grave because his son “was going to be a star in the NFL.”

“My son did the right thing, and I am not against him at all,” Sam Sr. said. “He has made a great statement in coming out, and that he should be able to play in the NFL. I love him unconditionally. … Once he gets on the field and hits [someone] once, they won’t think he’s gay.”

The Times responded to Sam Sr.’s claims about being misquoted and said that they quoted Sam Sr. “accurately and fairly” in their article.

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Watkins could be the best WR prospect since A.J. Green, Julio Jones

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As scouting reports go, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins has received a favorable one from a noted evaluator.

In an interview with 104.5 FM The Zone in Nashville on Wednesday, NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell said Watkins was arguably the top draft-eligible wide receiver prospect since 2011, when Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones were both selected in the top six picks.

“I think that Sammy Watkins is hands-down the best receiver in this draft,” Cosell said, citing Watkins “size, speed, hands, shiftiness, explosion” as strengths.

Green and Jones were outstanding prospects who quickly proved ready for NFL play. Green has made the Pro Bowl in all three of his seasons with Cincinnati, while Jones, a 2012 Pro Bowler, looked on his way to a monster 2013 campaign for Atlanta before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

If Watkins produces like Green or Jones — and right off the bat to boot — then the Clemson star will make a WR-needy team quite happy.

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Greg Cosell sees “a wide variation” in Johnny Manziel’s quality of play

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Noted evaluator Greg Cosell of NFL Films has put on the tape of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

And as Cosell told 104.5 FM “The Zone” in Nashville on Wednesday, he has seen good and bad things.

“As you evaluate and transition him  . . .  there’s a wide variation in his play, so there’s a consistency issue,” said Cosell, the executive producer of “NFL Matchup” and a senior producer at NFL Films. “You have to decide how you want to deal with that issue. There’s a lot to like, but there’s also some that’s concerning, so how do you deal with that?”

Speaking on the station’s “The Midday 180″ program, Cosell said that Manziel’s final two regular-season starts of 2013 — losses to LSU and Missouri — were notable in how poorly the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner played.

“If those were the first two games you put on and watched, you’d say he’s almost undraftable,” Cosell said. “He was so bad in those two games that you’d struggle to figure out, ‘Can I even draft this guy?’”

In those defeats, Manziel completed a combined 40-of-76 passes for 419 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. He was also held to 75 yards rushing on 23 attempts.

Cosell noted that any team considering Manziel had to have an idea of what he did well and what he lacked.

“I would say overall, he’s a small quarterback with outstanding movement and improvisation,” Cosell said of Manziel, who was listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds in college. “At times, he showed very strong flashes of structured pocket play that clearly project to the NFL, so I think it’ll come down to how you balance these issues.

“The other thing I say about Manziel is he’s much more of a see-it-throw-it quarterback than an anticipation thrower. He’s not really a timing/anticipation thrower on film. So you have to figure out the pros and the cons and where you stand on those pros and cons.”

Cosell said that based on his study, Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles was the passer he liked most at this time.

However, Cosell also noted that none of the draft-eligible quarterbacks were of the caliber of a recent standout.

“When you talk about quarterbacks being high picks, there’s no Andrew Luck in this draft,” Cosell said of the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft by Indianapolis. “There’s no one who would even be in the same conversation.”

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Sammy Watkins expected to do all drills at combine

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Many projected top picks opt to do minimal work at the combine in Indianapolis and save their full workout for an on-campus pro day later in the predraft process.

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to go early in May, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that he won’t be following that blueprint. Rapoport reports that Watkins is expected to participate in all drills at the combine later this month.

Based on the explosiveness and athletic ability that Watkins showed throughout his college career, his efforts in Indy should make for a good watch. Watkins was unofficially timed with a sub-4.3 40-yard dash at Clemson last year and a repeat would likely make him one of the fastest players in this year’s draft class.

We’ve learned many times over the years not to make too much of splashy combine performances, but Watkins has already put together a body of work that makes him the favorite to be the first wide receiver off the board in the first round. If he does well in the drills, that status will only be solidified.

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Michael Sam went public now to avoid someone else breaking news

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While defensive end Michael Sam came out to the general public on Sunday night, his teammates at the University of Missouri and several NFL teams already knew about his sexual orientation.

That knowledge began to spread during the Senior Bowl last month and Sam’s agent Joe Barkett said that led to a change in how his client planned to handle coming out on a larger stage. Sam had planned to make a public announcement after the draft, but decided that now was the time to do it after the experience in Mobile.

“I think the timing of Mike’s announcement was really based off of the reactions that we’ve received the last few weeks from not only front-office personnel, but journalists, as well. When we were in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, Michael was being approached by people left and right by people trying to break his story, and it was something Mike wanted to do after the draft originally,” Barkett said on NFL Network. “Then we kind of regrouped and discussed if Mike would still be able to do it on his terms at that point in time. And Mike and the rest of us felt that now this time was a little more appropriate where he could take control of the situation instead of being forced to tell his story after somebody else had broken it.”

It seems that most teams already knew or suspected Sam’s orientation and announcing it now assures everyone has the same information and is going into things with eyes open. Whether that changes their read on Sam as a player is something for them to figure out, but getting the word out earlier should allow Sam to deal with many of the inevitable questions and attention at the combine rather than when he’s supposed to be focused on transitioning to life with his new team.

Barkett said he has had conversations with scouts and personnel who don’t think his draft status will be significantly affected by his decision, although we’ve already heard otherwise from others about a player who has been projected to be a picked somewhere in the middle rounds come May.

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Predictions of draft day drop for Michael Sam

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On Sunday, defensive end Michael Sam told the world the same thing he told his University of Missouri teammates before the season.

Sam publicly announced that he is homosexual, putting the 2013 SEC defensive player of the year in position to be the first openly gay player in the NFL after May’s draft. Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans of SI.com spoke to eight NFL executives and coaches, none willing to put his or her name to their opinion of a man revealing part of his identity, on Sunday to find out how Sam’s choice to take that on will affect his position in the draft.

Because Sam had come out to his teammates already, one person Thamel and Evans spoke to said that 90 percent of teams already knew and had dropped Sam on their draft boards as a result. Others said that the NFL would be ready for an openly gay player “in the coming decade or two” and that being openly gay would “break a tie” with another player going before Sam. An NFL assistant said Sam’s move was not a smart one.

“You shouldn’t have to live your life in secrecy,” the assistant coach said, “but do you really want to be the top of the conversation for everything without ever having played a down in this league?”

Thamel and Evans also spoke to a scout who said Sam was overrated because he inflated his stats against inferior competition inside and outside the SEC and Peter King of TheMMQB.com spoke to a G.M. who thought Sam would go undrafted (and two who didn’t seem to think it was that big a deal), but the consensus seemed to be that the same player with a girlfriend or no public sign of sexual orientation would go higher than Sam will go in this year’s draft. The consensus also felt that a team with an established coach and general manager would be the best place for Sam to wind up as a rookie.

This is a first in the NFL, so no one can really know exactly how things play out from here. Sam will certainly draw a lot of attention throughout the draft process and into his NFL career and the idea that Sam will be a distraction will be mentioned quite often between now and May. Sam surely knew that when he started talking to reporters about his orientation, which should at least let teams know that he’s not the sort to shrink from a potentially difficult situation when they decide whether or not Sam is a fit for their team.

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Franchise tag window, Combine next up on NFL calendar

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On the first Sunday without NFL football since September 1, it’s a good time to look forward to what’s next on the NFL calendar.

One of the next major notable dates comes Monday, February 17, when teams can begin to apply the franchise tag. Thus begins a two-week window ending Monday, March 3 in which teams can use the designation.

In that two-week window falls the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, where teams get one of their last major in-person looks at hundreds of top draft prospects. The Combine runs from Wednesday, February 19 through Monday, February 25 in Indianapolis.

After the Combine ends, free agency takes center stage. The three-day negotiating period between teams and representatives of free agents commences on Saturday, March 8. Free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, March 11.

In short, we’re two weeks from the Combine being all the rage and four weeks from free agency just nearing its boiling point.

Like your quiet Sundays? Enjoy today and the others to come later in the offseason. But the action will pick up soon enough.

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