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Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Combine primer: We're off to Indianapolis

By Rich Cimini

In 1996, I sat down with Keyshawn Johnson for a one-on-one interview at the players' hotel. The following year, I was invited up to Bill Belichick's hotel room to interview him during his brief run as the coach of the New York Jets -- a few days before they received permission to hire Bill Parcells. Unless he was acting, Belichick looked and sounded like he was ready to dive in as HC of the NYJ.

Those were the days when the NFL scouting combine wasn't a major media event, when one-on-one interviews were possible and everything wasn't orchestrated by the league. Now the combine is a mini-Super Bowl, with live television, a "radio row" and wall-to-wall news conferences. You might say it's less intimate than the old days, but to use one of Belichick's pet expressions, it is what it is.

The fun starts Wednesday in Indianapolis. For the record, ESPNNewYork.com is scheduled to be on the ground late Wednesday, providing updates through the weekend.

Wednesday's combine schedule:

Placekickers, special teamers, offensive linemen and tight ends arrive. There's a medical pre-exam, X-rays, orientation and team interviews. No formal media sessions are scheduled.

One of the most laughable aspects of the combine is how teams fall in love with prospects based on how well they run and jump and lift weights, forgetting the most important part of the evaluation process is ... you know, how they play football. You will hear coaches and team officials insist they don't place added emphasis on the combine, but they're all guilty of it, including the Jets, who unwittingly provided the rest of the league with the cautionary tale.

Vernon Gholston.

Gholston blew up the combine in 2008, running the 40 in 4.67 seconds after weighing in at 266 pounds -- freakishly fast for a man that size. He also did 37 reps on the bench press and, just like that, the Jets were smitten. They picked him sixth overall and you know the rest. Right now, I can say I have as many sacks as Gholston, whose career flamed out after three years.

The Jets learned a hard lesson, but they did it again in 2012 with Stephen Hill. His measurables were off the charts -- a 6-4 wide receiver and a 4.36 time in the 40, the 40th-fastest 40 in combine history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Seduced by those numbers, the Jets' scouts bet on Hill's potential, overlooking his limited production in college. He was given a mid-first-round grade and selected high in the second round. You know the rest.

So here we go: In Indianapolis, a city famous for speed, the mantra for the week will be, "Gentlemen, start your stop watches."