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College, not NFL Combine, reflects ability

| Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — He anchored the middle of a ferocious defense that helped lead Alabama to a national championship. Yet Terrence Cody, a consensus All-American in 2009, stood out for a different reason at the Senior Bowl last month: The mammoth defensive tackle tipped the scales at an alarming 370 pounds, calling into question his commitment to the game that will soon become his full-time job.

The NFL Scouting Combine, which starts today in Indianapolis, will help teams such as the Steelers get a closer look at — and presumably a better read on — players such as Cody.

The Steelers could go in a number of directions with their first pick in April's draft, especially if they stay true to their philosophy of selecting the best player available.

They won't take a quarterback or a tight end with the 18th overall pick, but any other every-down position figures to be in play.

The Steelers could address the defensive line with their top pick for the second consecutive year. And they may need to draft an eventual replacement for nose tackle Casey Hampton if the Steelers are unable to sign the five-time Pro Bowler to a long-term contract.

That reality could thrust the player known as "Mt. Cody" — or perhaps Tennessee's Dan Williams — into the numerous discussions the Steelers will have leading to the draft.

Consider what ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently said about Cody:

"He's the clogger, he's the space eater. He occupies (blockers), he frees up linebackers, and he loves to play the game," Kiper Jr. said. "The weight's always going to fluctuate. That will always be an issue, but I think he's a first-round pick."

How much players help or hurt themselves at the Combine, where teams get their first in-depth look at those who have entered the draft early, has long been a topic of discussion.

Oakland has a recent history of falling for players who are impressive physical specimens or excel in Combine staples such at the 40-yard dash. That may explain why the Raiders haven't been relevant since playing in the 2002 Super Bowl.

As for the Steelers, director of football operations Kevin Colbert has said that 90 percent of a player's evaluation will be based on what he did in college, not the time he registers while running 40 yards in a straight line — something that is rarely done in football.

But the NFL Draft is such an inexact science, the line between taking a LaMarr Woodley or an Alonzo Jackson is so fine, that the Combine does matter.

The event may have a cattle-call feel to it, especially since the players who are prodded and poked by team doctors are also assigned numbers. But NFL teams wouldn't send large contingents of general managers, coaches and scouts if the physical examinations, drills and personal interviews that take place in Indianapolis weren't helpful.

The key is seeing the Combine as a place to gain clarity and not draw conclusions based on how many times a player bench presses 225 pounds or he how he fares in the various eye tests.

Teams such as the Steelers are in the process of compiling information on players that interest them. The Combine should only add to those dossiers, not carry them.

Strutting their stuff

Players from the Pittsburgh area and schools in its coverage area will be among more than 300 players that will showcase themselves at the NFL Scouting Combine, which starts Thursday and runs through Tuesday:

Player (Position) School(s)

Alric Arnett (WR) West Virginia

Navorro Bowman (LB) Penn State

Jarrett Brown (QB) West Virginia

Nate Byham (TE) Pitt

Selvish Capers (OT) West Virginia

Daryll Clark (QB) Penn State

Barry Church (S) Penn Hills/Toledo

Dorin Dickerson (TE) West Allegheny/Pitt

Josh Hull (LB) Penn State

Sean Lee (LB) Upper St. Clair/Penn State

Jared Odrick (DL) Penn State

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (CB) IUP

Andrew Quarless (TE) Penn State

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