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Letters From Carucci's Mailbag


Regarding Maurice Clarett, why would someone who claims that his dream is to be in the NFL come to the combine out of shape? He didn't even have enough respect for himself or the NFL to show up in his best physical condition. Why would anyone want to travel to Columbus, Ohio, just to see him after that? -- Diane; Marysville, Ohio

Many coaches, general managers and scouts were just as baffled as you were when Clarett arrived in Indianapolis physically unprepared to take part in combine drills.

Considering the lengths he went to gain draft eligibility, you would think he would have been motivated enough to show every team that he is ready to make the jump to the NFL despite having played barely one season at the collegiate level. Instead, Clarett seemed to reinforce the notion that, as a 20-year-old college sophomore, he does not have the maturity to make the transition.

But if his eligibility holds up between now and the draft, I would anticipate some NFL teams showing up at Ohio State or wherever else he might stage an individual workout to see if he has managed to get himself in better physical condition. It is common for players to refuse to participate in combine drills so that they can perform in a more familiar setting and also have extra time to get themselves in the best shape possible. However, given the fact that NFL clubs have so little to go on in evaluating Clarett, it would have made more sense for him to have been ready to show more of his physical capabilities sooner rather than later. If he were ready, he could have done more to enhance his status by establishing a foundation upon which he could have built an even stronger case during individual workouts.

My sense is that more than few of the league's talent-evaluators see great potential in Clarett but believe he would have been in a much better position to make an immediate on-field impact as an NFL player after a couple of more seasons with the Buckeyes.

Could you tell me when the official NFL schedule will be released? It seems like every year it is released at a different time. I'm just trying to make plans for upcoming Green Bay dates. -- Scott; Milwaukee, Wis.

You're right about one thing: There is no set date for the release of the NFL schedule. Although each team's opponents are known well in advance, it takes time to arrange the specific dates and times to address the interests of the teams and television networks in the best way possible. When the schedule is complete, it is made public and we all get to see it at the same time. Generally speaking, I'd look for it during the first two weeks of April. Last year it was released on April 3.

Why do some players choose to do private workouts for NFL clubs rather than participate in the scheduled NFL Combine workouts? Is there any advantage/disadvantage to this? Why have the combine if a player can just schedule a personal workout? -- Mel; Redmond, Wash.

Players, and especially their agents, tend to prefer to go through physical drills on their respective college campuses because it is a more familiar environment than the RCA Dome in Indianapolis and because they feel they have more control over the nature of the workout. Additionally, staging individual sessions several days or weeks after the combine provides more time for the players to get in the best possible shape for a strong performance. Those are the advantages. The disadvantage is that, by skipping combine workouts, the player has one less opportunity for teams to see what he can do. As my esteemed colleague Gil Brandt always likes to say, "It's always better to have two chances to win the lottery than one."

But even if a player doesn't take part in the drills, the combine experience is still valuable. The several days coaches, scouts and other decision-makers spend in Indianapolis gives them their first opportunity to sit down and talk with all of the college prospects they are considering for the draft. Each player also undergoes physical examinations by team physicians and psychological testing.

The bottom line is that each draft pick represents a financial investment that can be staggering at the highest end. Therefore, clubs want every bit of information they can possibly gather to make sure that it is a good one.

Why do people keep insisting that the Chargers are going to draft a quarterback. They came out and said they aren't going to draft one, but people say they are. Is this true, or do the Chargers like Drew Brees? -- Jason

Last December, Chargers president Dean Spanos told a San Diego newspaper columnist that the team would not use a high pick on a quarterback.

However, since then, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said that the thinking has changed and that he is under no orders to avoid using the top overall choice on a QB. Furthermore, Smith said at the combine that the Chargers like the three top quarterbacks in this year's crop -- Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers -- although he would not reveal the way they have them ranked.

I'm not sure the Chargers have totally given up on Brees, but his performance last season was disappointing enough for them to at least consider finding a replacement. If they don't trade the pick, I think they'll use it for a quarterback rather than for a player at another position, such as receiving sensation Larry Fitzgerald. The obvious downside of going with a rookie quarterback, of course, is that sets up another period where the team takes its lumps while waiting for a youngster to develop.

Many mock drafts have the Steelers taking Steven Jackson, a running back from Oregon State. He is big (230 pounds) and has the speed to get to the outside, something Jerome Bettis really never had. If the Steelers like what they see in Jackson, either from all-star games or just watching tape, why go through this combine process? -- Jeff; Odenton, Md.

First, just because multiple mock drafts have a team selecting a particular player doesn't necessarily make it a foregone conclusion. Those of us who put together mock drafts for public consumption -- especially the ones you see a couple of months before the draft -- are mostly taking educated guesses based on early rankings of college prospects, glaring team needs before the free-agency signing period begins, and team profiles for certain positions (such as the Steelers liking big, powerful running backs). The closer we get to the draft, the more refined mock drafts will become because analysts get a better handle on the needs that haven't been addressed in free agency and on the interest clubs have in drafting specific players.

Even if, for instance, the Steelers loved everything they saw of Jackson's game performances in person and from videotape, they still would consider the combine important to their overall evaluation because it allows them to meet all of their prospective draft choices and gain critical information from physical examinations and psychological testing.

Did Carl Weathers (a.k.a. Apollo Creed) win a Super Bowl ring? I think he may have won one in Super Bowl XI under John Madden? How long did he play football for and did he only play for the Raiders? -- Scott

Carl Weathers never won a Super Bowl ring. He played linebacker for the Raiders in 1970 and 1971, appearing in a total of eight games. The Raiders' first Super Bowl victory came after the 1976 season, when they beat Minnesota in XI. They were the only NFL team for which he played.

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