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10 takeaways: Lineman sets record

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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INDIANAPOLIS

I’ve grabbed the torch from my FOXSports.com comrade Peter Schrager to provide you 10 takeaways from the NFL Scouting Combine.

1: The fine folks who run this event recently showed willingness to change when introducing a new written aptitude exam to augment the oft-criticized Wonderlic test given to every participant.

It’s time for two other significant modifications: Eliminating the need for offensive linemen to run the 40-yard dash and introducing tests of a player’s neck strength.

The 2013 crop of big guys lumbered down the fairway for all 1,440 torturous inches Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. It just isn’t necessary.

Think about it. Most linemen are never going to huff and puff that far downfield to deliver a block. Have the o-linemen instead sprint 10 yards to determine how quickly a guard, center or tackle can motor to pancake a defender.

As for the neck, a group of former and current NFL and college strength coaches led by Kim Wood and Mike Gittleson have advocated strength development for several years. Scientific studies show the larger and more muscular a player’s “cylinder,” the more potential concussive forces can be defused.

This type of neck testing won’t be as sexy as showing players bench-press on NFL Network, but it’s far more important to the long-term welfare of NFL players in the battle against brain injuries.

2: One player who drew some positive attention Saturday for his 40-yard dash was Terron Armstead. The 6-foot-5, 306-pound tackle from Arkansas-Pine Bluff set a combine record for offensive lineman with a time of 4.7 seconds.

Such a performance should make teams take a longer look at Armstead’s game film but hardly guarantees success. One workout warrior who generated similar buzz in 2010 was Bruce Campbell, who posted a 4.78-second time in the 40 at 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds. The Raiders were enamored enough to select Campbell in the fourth round but quickly learned his athleticism didn’t translate to the football field. Campbell spent two years on Oakland’s bench before being traded to Carolina last offseason and still hasn’t made an NFL start.

3: Speaking of concussions, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew admitted his team made a mistake when assuming last offseason that running back Jahvid Best would be able to play in 2012. The shifty, nimble Best was being counted upon to provide a one-two punch with bruising starter Mikel Leshoure.

Best, whose lengthy concussion history dates to his college playing days at Cal-Berkeley, never gained medical clearance to return. The Lions finished 23rd in rushing average, which contributed to quarterback Matthew Stafford setting the NFL single-season record for attempts with 727. Stafford had 663 throws in 2011 when Best, a 2010 first-round pick, missed another 10 games because of concussions.

“In hindsight, it would have been great to go into free agency to fill that role in our offense or draft a guy in the mid-rounds,” Mayhew said. “Every sign and indication was that (Best) was going to be cleared. To date, I’ve asked a lot of people and can’t find one guy who was asymptomatic who wanted to play football who wasn’t allowed besides Jahvid Best. We made a decision based on the history of the NFL. Obviously, it turned out to be wrong.

“We’re hopeful at some point he will be cleared, but we’ve got to move forward and find guys who play roles in our offense.”

This will probably have to come through the draft since signing a veteran probably won’t be viable. The Lions are scrambling for salary-cap space to try and re-sign some of its top defensive players set to become unrestricted free agents — most notably defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Louis Delmas — and have approached Stafford about restructuring his contract for some relief.

4: Although New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese provided little insight into his team’s offseason plans during a Saturday morning news conference, it does appear the franchise has a plan at tight end if Martellus Bennett leaves in free agency. That’s Adrien Robinson, a 2012 fourth-round pick from Cincinnati. He appeared in only two games as a rookie but has intrigued with athleticism Reese compared to that of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

“He flashed a lot of good things at practice,” Reese said. “I just think he needs to get out there and play. That’s what’s most important for me — to get him out there.”

Some might consider these comments a clever negotiating ploy toward re-signing Bennett. I don’t. While he was a nice free-agent addition in 2012 with a career-best 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns, the Giants have a whole bunch of contract issues both short- and long-term that have higher priority than signing Bennett to the type of lucrative deal he should command on the open market.

5: With so many team executives not being open about their team’s offseason needs when speaking to the media, it was refreshing to see candor from new Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley.

Bradley admitted the Jags need a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker on the right side to spearhead the pass rush. He even offered the physical specifications of what he’s looking for in the “Leo” position. The player should stand about 6-foot-3, weigh about 250 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in between 4.5 and 4.6 seconds. The prototype for the “Leo” is Chris Clemons, who Bradley coached the past three seasons as Seattle’s defensive coordinator.

“Anybody that knows our scheme we've incorporated, we like those rush-type people on the end,” said Bradley, whose team will likely target a “Leo” with the No. 2 overall pick. “We’ll take a hard look at the outside linebacker-types in the draft.”

No quarterback is considered worthy of being selected so early, but it may be premature to assume that Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne will be the only ones vying to start under center for Jacksonville in 2013. Bradley said he and new general manager David Caldwell want to upgrade the roster to create “a sense of discomfort” at every position

There was nothing more uncomfortable for Jags fans than watching Gabbert go 5-19 as a starter his first two NFL seasons with little upside displayed.

6: One potential No. 2 overall pick who fits the “Leo” profile is Jarvis Jones, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound pass-rushing demon from Georgia. Jones, though, may draw a medical red flag with some teams because of stenosis in his neck.

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Jones told the media Saturday that he has narrowing between his C-4 and C-5 discs but has received encouraging medical reports about the condition. Jones also said he hasn’t experienced any issues since the problem was discovered two seasons ago.

Even so, it would be understandable if Jones slid in the first round because of concerns this may later become a career-ending issue. Neck conditions are far trickier than bone/ligament/tendon injuries and teams may hesitate to roll the dice early considering the cost and value of early picks.

7: Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix has drawn heavy criticism for not selecting a quarterback in last year’s draft, especially with the 2013 class drawing scant praise. Nix, though, has a rosier view as the Bills seek an heir apparent to inconsistent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

“Once you get started saying it’s not a good class, no first-rounders, this and that, it catches on. It just grows,” Nix said. “But two or three years from now, we’ll say, ‘We’d pick this guy first if he were coming out now.’ It would be just like Russell Wilson, (Joe) Flacco and some of those guys who you didn’t think would be Top 10 guys they would turn out to be.

“Now, the question is which ones? That’s the big thing.”

Although concerns about his arm strength makes it unlikely he would get drafted by a team that has to frequently deal with windy conditions like the Bills, one passer who will draw at least a cursory look is Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley. Just like Nix made a mistake not selecting a quarterback in 2012, he believes Barkley did the same by not turning pro after his standout junior season when he would have been a much hotter pro commodity.

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“He made that decision and bad things happened to him. He got hurt,” said Nix, referring to a shoulder separation that is preventing Barkley from throwing in Combine drills.

“I think you go back and look at him as a junior. It would have been a good time for him to come out, especially since things happened like they did. But I don’t think you can second-guess that. It’s an individual thing. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t.”

8: Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray isn’t missing any meals. The early-entry junior’s weight has ballooned from 209 to 232 after extensive training at the Athletes’ Performance Institute (API) in Carson, Calif.

Bray may have returned to Tennessee to build upon an up-and-down junior season and quash NFL concerns about some off-field incidents and his maturity. Bray, though, said that wasn’t a good option with the Volunteers’ switching to a run-heavy offense under new head coach Butch Jones.

9: The pre-draft period is a rough one for Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. He’s dealing with a lingering nerve injury in his right arm that may require surgery while trying to make the difficult conversion to NFL wide receiver. Robinson was barely able to practice at the Senior Bowl last month but will attempt to participate in all Combine drills except the bench press.

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10: Last but not least, props to Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o for how he handled the questions posed about his infamous fake girlfriend during an outrageous Saturday media scrum. Te’o’s work, though, is hardly done. Not only will he be facing more inquiries while meeting with 20 teams during the Combine, NFL teams may be more worried about something other than his intelligence, maturity and off-field decision making. Among them: Whether his lousy performance in Notre Dame’s BCS championship game loss to Alabama was an anomaly for college football’s top defensive player in 2012 or an early sign of things to come at the pro level.

Alex Marvez and co-host Jim Miller interviewed Martin Mayhew, Buddy Nix and Tyler Bray on SiriusXM NFL Radio

Tagged: Bills, Lions, Giants, Panthers, Jaguars, Martellus Bennett, Matthew Stafford, Bruce Campbell, Jahvid Best, Adrien Robinson

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