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Notre Dame's Te'o, West Virginia's Smith face scrutiny at NFL Combine

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West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's stock could change after the NFL Scouting Combine. (AP)

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By Alan Robinson
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

For Geno Smith and Manti Te'o, the NFL Scouting Combine will begin with grueling, repetitive and seemingly endless questions from the media. It will end with grueling, repetitive and seemingly endless questions from the 32 teams.

In between, the scrutiny might only intensify.

The midwinter NFL showcase — the place where talent is alternately discovered or exposed as overrated — starts Thursday in Indianapolis, where careers effectively have taken off and all but ended two months in advance of the NFL Draft.

Among the most scrutinized players of the 300 players will be Smith, the West Virginia star regarded as the best of a rather thin quarterback class, and Te'o, who was considered perhaps the elite linebacker available until a) Weaknesses were exposed by Alabama in the BCS title game and b) The late girlfriend he talked about repeatedly was exposed as being nonexistent.

Let the questioning begin.

Te'o, the Notre Dame middle linebacker, will be forced to answer some of the toughest questions because the fictional girlfriend tale raised questions about his character, judgment and leadership ability.

Te'o will talk with an estimated 800 media members on Saturday, his first such session since the girlfriend story broke.

“I would tell Te'o, ‘You'd better look people in the eye, and I know you're going to be embarrassed and I know it's going to be uncomfortable,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “All weekend plus all the way up through the draft, it's not going to be a comfortable situation for this kid.”

Mayock, who was an analyst for the Notre Dame telecasts on NBC, worked with Te'o regularly during the season.

“I think he's a good kid, and he made a mistake and he's naive and all that stuff, but don't back away,” Mayock said. “You did what you did. Tell them the story, and let the (game) tape do your talking for you. Your performance this weekend? Run your tail off.”

Still, Mayock said: “He lied to the nation. Do you want a liar in your locker room?

Smith will try to answer some of the questions that were raised about his game during West Virginia's late-season collapse. Mayock calls him a player who deserves to go in the bottom third of the first round but likely will go much higher because quarterbacks are so coveted.

West Virginia might have two first rounders in Smith and Tavon Austin, among the top wide receiver prospects in the draft.

“Geno Smith probably is the best all-around quarterback in this class. But I hesitate because there are still some many concerns,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “He's inconsistent with accuracy, and he does not always process information fast enough.”

Considerable information will be processed as teams watch players run 40-yard dashes, do bench presses, vertical jumps, broad jumps, agility drills and shuttle runs. And answer questions: Teams can interview as many as 60 players each for 15 minutes at a time.

One of the players Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and his staff would most like to see, Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, will sit out with a hamstring injury. Lacy could be the first running back chosen, and he might be there at No. 17 when the Steelers make their first-round pick.

Mayock pointed out that running backs such as LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce went in later rounds.

“As far as the Steelers are concerned, Kevin Colbert has always been a guy that values needs,” Mayock said. “If Eddie Lacy's sitting there, which I think he could be, that's the only guy (running back) that I would put a first-round grade on.”

Other players who will be closely watched include cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (failed drug test) of LSU and linebacker Alec Ogletree (driving while intoxicated) of Georgia. Mathieu, known as the Honey Badger, was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 who left the team following multiple violations of the team's substance abuse policy.

Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones will undergo medical tests that could determine where he gets chosen: He has a spinal problem.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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