NFC North: 2011 NFL combine

Early reports from Tuesday's workouts at the scouting combine suggest that Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara isn't going to fall to the Detroit Lions at No. 13 overall, as many of you have been hoping.

Amukamara ran his first 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds and his second in 4.44 seconds. I would imagine those numbers are fast enough to assuage any doubts about that aspect of his game, validating the work Amukamara has done with a speed coach as we discussed last week.

If speed was the final obstacle to locking in Amukamara as a top-10 pick, I'm guessing it's no longer a question.
As the sixth and final day of the NFL scouting combine gets underway, let's tap into Scouts Inc. for some highlights from Day 5.
  • Nevada defensive end Dontay Moch turned in one of the best workouts of the combine, running a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash, recording a 42-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-8 broad jump. But Moch is undersized at 244 pounds, and Scouts Inc writes: "His impressive explosiveness and straight-line speed are offset by his lack of lateral agility, hip fluidity and body control to bend the edge as a pass-rusher. He's also raw in terms of instincts and looked tight during drills."
  • Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus proved to be in excellent shape, running a 4.94 despite a 319-pound frame.
  • Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley is nowhere close to being assured he will be the No. 1 overall pick. Among other things, Fairley proved smaller than originally believed -- weighing in at 291 pounds.
  • California defensive end Cameron Jordan is proving to be a climber. He had a strong Senior Bowl, ran a 4.78 in the 40-yard dash on Monday and is now projected as a mid-first round pick.
On Friday, we opened our discussion on the Minnesota Vikings' difficult task this offseason: Finding a quarterback to take them through the next decade. One of my points was that the Vikings haven't had many opportunities to draft a blue-chip quarterback in recent years, short of trading up to grab a prospect. And based on the buzz at the NFL scouting combine over the past few days, they are in the same position again this year.

I spent some time speaking with ESPN analyst Todd McShay, who feels certain that the draft's top two quarterbacks -- Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Auburn's Cam Newton -- will be off the board when the Vikings' No. 12 overall pick arrives. That means the Vikings will need to trade up to draft one of them. Otherwise, they must decide whether they like one of two other quarterbacks -- Washington's Jake Locker and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett -- enough either to take them at No. 12 or grab them later via a trade-down.

McShay listed his top four quarterbacks as Gabbert, Newton, Locker and Mallett, in that order. He has Mallett as a second-round value. His second tier includes: TCU's Andy Dalton, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Florida State's Christian Ponder.

As a means for pushing forward the discussion, I'll pass along McShay's thoughts on that first tier below.

Player: Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.

McShay: "I think Gabbert should be the first quarterback. I won't change on that. Every game I've watched, I'm convinced. He's safer. That's not necessarily a reason to take him. But that [spread] system, I know they catch a lot of flak. But he has to make reads. He has to get rid of the ball quickly. His mechanics are good for the most part. He's accurate throwing in the face off pressure. People who say his completion percentage [was low before last season], they didn't watch. He's got guys in his face all the time. He's making accurate throws that guys are dropping. ... He just needs a little bit of time coming from that system. He'll be good. He's going to be a really good starter."

Bottom line: Gabbert didn't throw at the combine but proved athletic with a 4.62 time in the 40-yard dash. He'll throw at his March 17 pro day and has no character issues that have surfaced. The Vikings would be wise to study his every move over the next few months.

Player: Auburn's Cam Newton

McShay: "He is actually pretty accurate for a guy whose footwork is terrible. He opens one way, and throws [another], but he's putting it on guys. ... The only way he's available for the Vikings is if enough teams start to get really scared about Cam Newton the mental makeup."

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJake Locker may be available when the Vikings pick at No. 12.
Bottom line: Newton would probably generate the most excitement in Minnesota, and he would have more skill players around him there than in most places he might land. But any team that drafts Newton knows they're getting more than a quarterback. It's obvious he is determined to become a marketing brand of his own. Are the Vikings OK with that?

Player: Washington's Jake Locker

McShay: "Love, love Jake Locker the competitor. Love the physical tools. Tremendous athlete, obviously. He wants it. He makes accurate throws at times. He just hasn't put it together. I've taken a lot of heat for it, and I stuck with [him] because I thought it was going to click. And it hasn't. It just hasn't. At some point, you have to be honest with yourself. That point was three or four weeks ago for me. I was able to go back and watch the coaches' copy tape and watch the seven games. He just didn't improve at all [last year]. Injuries were a little bit of a setback, but ultimately his mind is going too fast. ... It's all in his head. Maybe one day it becomes a nice smooth process. But you can't risk a high draft pick on a player [with that history]. The most important thing you have to do is be accurate. He's not accurate now and he's not showing signs over the last year of becoming more accurate."

Bottom line: There are exceptions to every rule. But historically, quarterbacks don't improve their accuracy when they move from college to the NFL. They are what they are, and Locker was a 55.4 percent passer last season. The Vikings couldn't find a better leader than Locker, and his 4.59 speed is intriguing. That should all count for something. Perhaps the Vikings could coach him into being an exception.

Player: Arkansas' Ryan Mallett

McShay: "He is immature. And there are a lot of questions about his leadership and the consistency of his emotional level, and how he just carries himself. And there is also some off-the-field stuff that he is going to have to answer, that won't come out in [public] but will definitely be asked in closed doors. ... There is no question he has the strongest arm in this class. But he can't re-set his feet in the pocket. He's like Drew Bledsoe almost. Once teams catch on to that, how to stop him, they can really limit his effectiveness. It's not to say he can't be good quarterback. But put a ceiling on that. And if you add an attitude problem and immaturity, then you have a potential bust on your hands if you spent a first-round pick."

Bottom line: It's just as easy to get excited about Mallett's powerful arm as it is his snarling personality. But perhaps the biggest concern is his mobility. No modern-day NFL quarterback can succeed without an ability to move in the pocket. You can't use your golden arm if you're on the ground.

Combine'11: Day 4 news and notes

February, 28, 2011
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As the fifth day of the NFL scouting combine gets underway, let's tap into Scouts Inc. for some highlights of Day 4.
  • By now you've probably heard that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton proved athletic in running drills and shaky in the passing portion of his workout. Here was Scouts Inc.'s bottom line on his time in Indianapolis: "We've heard wide-ranging opinions on Newton's intangibles while talking to NFL types this week in Indianapolis, but overall he does not appear to be helping his cause much."
  • The fastest quarterback Sunday was Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor, who ran a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash. But it's also worth noting that Nevada's Colin Kaepernick (4.53), Washington's Jake Locker (4.53), Newton (4.59) and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert (4.62) weren't far behind.
  • Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Florida State's Christian Ponder were the most impressive in passing drills. Gabbert did not throw.
  • The fastest receiver was Edmund Gates of Abilene Christian, who ran a 4.37. That's the same small school the Bears plucked receiver Johnny Knox from in 2009.
  • Alabama receiver Julio Jones put on "one of the best shows we've seen at the position in recent years," according Scouts.
  • The fastest running back was Maryland's Da'Rel Scott, who ran a 4.34.
  • Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea set a combine record with 49 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.

Combine'11: Heading back to HQ

February, 27, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The media portion of the 2011 NFL scouting combine concluded Sunday, and my travel arrangements called for an early afternoon departure out of town.

Workouts and evaluations will continue through Tuesday, and I’ve got plenty of material left over in my notebook -- topics and discussion points that might have to carry us indefinitely as we face the postponement of free agency and an unprecedented player lockout later this week.

I’ll catch up Sunday evening if breaking news warrants. For those of you interested in immediate feedback on Sunday’s quarterback workouts, be sure to check out ESPN.com’s NFL index page and/or 2011 draft home page. Otherwise, have an outstanding remainder to your weekend.
INDIANAPOLIS -- We've spent some time discussing the top quarterbacks here at the NFL scouting combine, especially those who could fit into the Minnesota Vikings' future plans. We've looked at the dramatic, if fantastical, possibility of Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews joining his brother with the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeNate Solder
AP Photo/Darron CummingsColorado's Nate Solder recorded the top 40-yard dash time among offensive tackles (5.05).
Among all the angles I encountered in Indianapolis, one of the more intriguing is Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder, who has a mammoth frame combined with high-end athleticism, a combination that could put him into play for multiple NFC North teams.

He would be a nice value pick at No. 12 for the Vikings, who might want to start a succession plan for left tackle Bryant McKinnie or challenge right tackle Phil Loadholt. The Detroit Lions could target him at No. 13, as several early mock drafts have suggested. And there is no doubt the Chicago Bears would benefit from a left tackle prospect of Solder's level, even if they have to trade up to do it.

A converted tight end, Solder measured 6-foot-8 1/4 and a lean 314 pounds. Despite his frame, he also recorded the top 40-yard dash time among offensive tackles (5.05) and had the best 10-yard split among all offensive linemen (1.63).

(As Scouts Inc. points out, the 10-yard split measures an offensive lineman's burst and explosion.)

Need more numbers? Solder was tied for the third-best vertical jump among offensive linemen (32 inches) and the third-best broad jump (9-2). His bench press results were disappointing -- he managed only 21 reps of 225 pounds -- but it's safe to say he still needs to fill out his frame.

So we know Solder is an athletic specimen. But can he play? That's what I asked ESPN analyst Todd McShay during a break in the action this weekend.

"The biggest thing with him is his ability to move laterally and bend," McShay said. "He plays high too much of the time and you see him get in trouble when he does. But he's close. If he gets with a good coach, he could be a good starting left tackle for a long time in this league."

In honor of Solder's unique match with the NFC North, let's proceed with our three-question format, and add one more for good measure.

On moving from tight end after his freshman season:

Nate Solder: Some things came naturally. It takes a lot of athleticism to become a left tackle, same as a tight end. But some things didn't come natural -- knee bend, using your hands, those sort of things.

On his height:

NS: I think the worry of being a taller guy is not being able to bend and the thing I've done to counteract that is to show I can bend, work on staying bent. Now, the advantages are you've got a lot bigger wingspan and it's a lot harder to run around you.

On if he ever wanted to play basketball:

NS: I was a decent basketball player, I had much more potential at football, and that's kind of the way I was offered. And no it wasn't hard to give up, because I had an outlet in football and I love it now.'

On his 2010 game against Cal, when defensive end Cameron Jordan beat him for a sack and two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

NS: Well, that was a breakdown in technique from me. You learn not to take anyone for granted and that guy played a heck of a game, and you've got to give it to him and no matter who you go against, you can't break down in your technique. That was just a fundamental error on my part.

Combine'11: Day 3 news and nuggets

February, 27, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- As the fourth day of the NFL scouting combine gets under way, let’s tap into our friends at Scouts Inc. for a glimpse into the Day 3 workouts:
  • USC offensive lineman Tyron Smith was having a strong combine until medical staffers found fluid in his knee and shut him down. The fluid stems from relatively minor knee surgery last month. Smith is expected to be fully healed in time for his March 31 Pro Day, and could be a target for the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 or Detroit Lions at No. 13.
  • Colorado offensive lineman Nate Solder, who had a disappointing bench press Friday, had the fastest 40 time among tackles and proved quite athletic during agility drills.
  • Nevada tight end Virgil Green proved as athletic as advertised, running a 4.64 in the 40-yard dash and completing a 42 1/2-inch vertical jump.
  • Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, perhaps the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, measured smaller than advertised. He is officially 6-3 and 291 pounds.
INDIANAPOLIS -- I don't know how much attention NFL teams pay to the media portion of the scouting combine. After all, teams get 15 minutes of face time with 60 players to ask their own questions over the course of the event.

This much is clear, however: If the Minnesota Vikings were watching Saturday, they would have seen distinctly different approaches from two of the quarterbacks they are no doubt evaluating here. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett started it off with a series of increasingly testy responses to questions about character concerns. Auburn's Cam Newton, meanwhile, opened with a statement addressing an over-the-top comment he recently made and went on to project himself as a confident, passionate and well-spoken potential No. 1 overall pick.

Let's start with Mallett, who of the two is much more likely to be available to the Vikings at No. 12 overall. In the past week, there have been vague reports about his character and personal decisions. When the first question of his news conference centered around that issue, Mallett sneered at the reporter and said: "First one, huh?"

He added: "I'm not going to talk about that right now. I've got the interviews with the team, and the teams got to know what they need to know, and I'm going to leave it at that."

I'm not sure it's fair to judge a prospect based on his answers to a series of questions about unsubstantiated and unspecific allegations. And there is a big difference between a news conference and private meetings with teams. Hopefully, Mallett was more forthcoming in the latter.

But if part of any good job interview is to evaluate how a candidate responds to uncomfortable situations, Mallett failed Saturday. As the questions persisted, he suggested the original reports were planted "for a reason" but refused to address them in detail.

"I'm talking about it with the teams," he said. "We've discussed it and everything is good."

Again, I don't want to pretend that Mallett has an obligation to divulge his innermost secrets during a combine news conference. But his tone indicated an immediate frustration that, if it translates to his performance on the field, suggests he isn't mature enough to handle adversity at an NFL level.

Even when asked on-field questions, Mallett's responses bordered on arrogant. Queried about his accuracy and mental acuity, he said: "Seven thousand-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons. That's how I respond on that."

Newton, on the other hand, took a proactive approach to dousing his own issues. Speaking this week with Sports Illustrated's Peter King, Newton said: "I see myself not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon." The comment suggested that Newton might not be single-minded enough to succeed as a No. 1 overall pick, but Newton was quick Saturday to provide context.

"I understand that my obligation is to be the best possible football player that I can be," Newton said. "I know and believe that. The recent comments were made during the announcement of my new endorsement sponsorship. I want to be the best possible ambassador for them, just as I want to be the best possible ambassador for whatever team I am lucky enough to play for."

Newton said his comments were "somewhat misunderstood" but said it "was partly my mistake for not making myself clear, and that was my fault."

Newton stuck to some important themes for the rest of the session, noting several times that he is too competitive to skip the throwing portion of the combine, as many blue-chip quarterbacks have done in recent combines. It's obvious that Cam likes himself some Cam -- he referred to himself in the third person twice -- but his reaction to the pressure of the moment was especially enlightening in comparison to Mallett.

Some observers believe Newton won't get past the Buffalo Bills, who have the No. 3 overall pick. The Vikings will certainly have to trade up if they decide he is their top target. Mallett? If Saturday's performance was any indication, he still will be available even after the Vikings make their pick at No. 12.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It makes sense from a dramatic perspective and would be the latest chapter in a storybook period. In 2011, the Green Bay Packers could pair All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews with his look-alike little brother, Casey, with but a simple draft-day decision.

[+] EnlargeCasey Matthews
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOregon linebacker Casey Matthews has similar hair, but a different playing style than his brother, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
Many of you have asked if the Packers might draft Casey Matthews, a question that remains elusive here at the NFL scouting combine. Here is what I can report: Casey seems to have his brother's subtle, smirking sense of humor. He also has followed the family tradition by growing his hair long enough to flow from the back of his helmet.

But that's where the similarities seem to end. Casey is more of an inside linebacker, a position that currently is overstocked in Green Bay. At 235 pounds, he is at least 20 pounds lighter than Clay, and probably doesn't have the same pass-rushing capacity.

"Clay, he's more of an explosive athlete," Casey said Saturday. "I think my position requires a little more instinctive side and getting to the ball quick. I think that's a part of my game that Clay doesn't necessarily have as well ..."

Casey allowed that final sentence to hang in the air a minute. Realizing it could be construed as a shot, he chuckled and quickly added: "He has a pretty good game though."

The Packers finished the 2010 season with A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop as their two inside linebackers. Veteran Nick Barnett (wrist) was on injured reserve, but is expected to be fully healed when preparations resume for the 2011 season. That glut means the Packers could part ways with Barnett or Hawk. Would they re-stock depth with Casey Matthews? That's a question we won't be able to answer for months.

If it did happen, though, Casey admitted he would have mixed feelings.

"I guess it goes both ways," he said. "I would definitely like to go play with Clay. That would be fun [and] easy on my family. But then, again, I don't know how people might perceive it. You're playing in the shadow of your brother. That's what it would start out as. I would like to prove them wrong. I want to prove a name for myself, and not be known as Clay's son or Clay's little brother ..."

Another hanging sentence.

"It's definitely a compliment, though," he added.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The first two days of the NFL scouting combine has offered an overwhelming amount of NFC North access, forcing our player interviews to the backburner. So when able, I'll sprinkle in three questions and answers with some of the players who have relevance to our teams.

First up is Washington quarterback Jake Locker, who could well be available to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 overall. Locker was projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in 2010 before deciding to return to school for a final season that ultimately appears to have hurt his draft stock.

On what he might have gained from staying in school:

Jake Locker: As a player and as a person, I'm a lot more prepared for this process. Doing things like [interviews], going through this process and being comfortable going through it. I don't think I would have been as prepared for it last year -- to be able to go out and go through the workouts and have confidence in what I was doing personally. I feel a lot better after having another year playing with the coaches that I did and the system that I did. I'm very thankful for that.

On an NFL quarterback he models himself after:

JL: I enjoy watching Aaron Rodgers play. I think he's a very talented quarterback, who also has the ability to kind of extend plays with his feet. He's very good moving and making throws on the run, and is a good guy. A guy that plays hard, has a passion for the game that is undeniable in my opinion, and I respect that.

On his biggest strength and weakness:

JL: I think that to be able to bring good character into a locker room. Somebody that guys can trust and believe in. And then I also believe that I also have the opportunity to kind of improvise, create with my legs and extend plays, give guys the opportunity to work downfield. One thing -- it's no secret, I don't think to anybody -- moving in the pocket and throwing in the pocket is something that I'm working on and will continue to work on.
Nice! Some heavy hitters are beginning to join the chorus we sounded this month. In an op-ed published Friday in The Washington Post, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia called for NFL owners to open their books to a third party in an effort to build trust between the sides.
Rockefeller: What I'd like to see from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners is a simple display of good faith: Show the union your books. Don't keep secrets. If there are financial pressures that keep you from agreeing to the revenue-sharing plan proposed by the players, let's see the proof. Ask a neutral third party to review your financial data, redact anything sensitive and prepare an unbiased bottom-line assessment of the league's finances.

The issue is relevant in the NFC North because the NFL's only team with open financial books is the publicly owned Green Bay Packers. The Packers showed a $9.8 million profit in the most recent fiscal year calculated, down from $20.1 million the previous year.

It's one thing for some slappy blogger to make the suggestion. But when national politicians start banging the drum, you wonder if the NFL won't start feeling some pressure. A pre-agreement could help avoid the release of sensitive information that owners wouldn't want publicized. It would also rob the union of one of its most effective talking points. Stay tuned.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Last week, we discussed the availability of free agent safeties Bob Sanders and O.J. Atogwe. At the time, the Detroit Lions were following an alternate avenue to fortify their safety position prior to the lockout and draft.

Veteran Erik Coleman signed a one-year contract, and speaking here at the NFL scouting combine, Lions coach Jim Schwartz suggested the move was no flyer. Coleman was released by the Atlanta Falcons after an injury-plagued season, but if nothing else, Coleman appears to be a safety net should second-year player Amari Spievey not progress as hoped.

"[Coleman] physically fits what we're looking for, size-wise and things like that," Schwartz said. "He also has starting experience. Amari Spievey needs to develop for us. He did some things very, very well as a rookie. Other things, he played like a rookie. He has big development ahead of him, but it helps tremendously that when you have Erik -- who is still young, fits the job description, has starting experience.

"He can start, maybe can back up. That race hasn't been run yet. I think it was one of those situations where he was available, he fits the job description of what we were looking for. He was good to add."

This year's safety rookie crop was scheduled to arrive at the scouting combine Saturday and will work out Tuesday. But it's hard to imagine the Lions investing a high draft pick in that position. Between Coleman, Spievey and Louis Delmas, they probably have enough depth to focus on other areas.

An interesting swap for Edgar Bennett

February, 25, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- I have to admit being surprised Friday when the Green Bay Packers made Edgar Bennett their receivers coach. Bennett was a tailback in his playing days and has coached the position for the past six years.

My next thought: Bennett is a coach who has a chance to go places.

Already, Bennett has the good fortune to coach for a high-profile offense that just won Super Bowl XLV. That association, combined with a presumably successful transition to a new position, would make Bennett a hot offensive coordinator candidate in the next year or two.

I don't think that was the primary reason for the change, but coach Mike McCarthy said Bennett "jumped through the door" when he learned of the opportunity.

"Going back to his personal development, it definitely increases here," McCarthy said during a break at the NFL scouting combine. "I think Edgar Bennett is someone that will be looked at like a potential coordinator candidate in the future. It's like anything. You coach running backs, any position, it's easy to get into that box and stay in it. When you're not coaching the other parts of the offense, you know it but you don't know it.

"It's one thing to know the plays and know the adjustments. But when you're coaching every day, it's totally different. This a great opportunity for Edgar personally, but this isn't about personal opportunity. This is about what's best for our offense, and we're going to be better for it."

Bennett replaces receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, who left to take a similar job with the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Fontenot, who has spent the past four years as an assistant offensive line coach, will take over as running backs coach.

In reality, it's silly to presume that playing a position is a prerequisite to coaching it. McCarthy pointed out he was a tight end in college but wound up coaching quarterbacks in the NFL. If Bennett is as good of a coach as advertised, he'll have no trouble with the transition.

"I've seen that story written before," McCarthy said. "Edgar Bennett will do a hell of a job. It's a good opportunity for him. It will give him a chance to broaden his horizons and develop as a coach. This is an opportunity that he jumped through the door for. He wanted to do it."
INDIANAPOLIS -- I joined several reporters Friday for an extended interview with Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, spending most of the time discussing his team's urgent need to identify and draft a long-term answer at quarterback this spring. Supporting our earlier post, Frazier said: "We want a guy that we can say that's the Minnesota Vikings quarterback for years to come and not to be in this situation two or three years from now."

Frazier's personality is as steady as they come. But even his voice lowered and his eyes glistened when asked about the suicide of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, his teammate for three seasons and friend ever since.

Frazier revealed that Duerson called him "a couple of weeks ago" and left a message.

"I tried to call him back and I missed him and it haunts me knowing what has happened now that we didn't connect," Frazier said. "We were good friends, good teammates and it's still troubling that he's not here."

Duerson asked family members to donate his brain for research before shooting himself in the chest Feb. 17. He apparently feared he was suffering from brain trauma, but tests to confirm any diagnosis won't be completed for months.

Frazier said none of his recent interaction with Duerson suggested diminished mental capacity. Other former Bears have said the same.

Part of Frazier's sadness stems from the hope he sensed in Duerson's voice message. He wanted to speak about getting into coaching, having seen three members of the early 1980's Bears teams -- Jeff Fisher, Mike Singletary and Frazier -- ascend to head coaching jobs. Duerson had long followed and supported Frazier's career, even attending games and cheering him on as head coach at Trinity University near Chicago.

"It's just hard to come to grips with the fact he's no longer with us," Frazier said. "It's just very, very hard. It's just hard."

Combine'11: Bryan Bulaga's future

February, 25, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Friday brought us the rarely-seen glib side of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who said he saw through most of the congratulations he has received from contemporaries here at the scouting combine for winning Super Bowl XLV.

lastname
Bulaga
"I used to do the same thing and I didn't mean it," Thompson said. "It was just being nice. They're being nice, and that's just the way we do it. Everyone is very competitive in this league, and I'm sure we've got 31 teams that are wanting a piece of us."

I'll have more later on the Packers' quest to stay head of the league; coach Mike McCarthy's media availability is set for Friday afternoon. For now, I want to circle back on a question a number of you have posed over the past few weeks: Where do the Packers envision their 2010 first-round draft choice playing in 2011 and beyond?

Bryan Bulaga was drafted as a left tackle and saw some early-season action at the position before replacing injured right tackle Mark Tauscher in Week 5. Bulaga was a member of our 2010 all-NFC North team. And a bit more significantly, Thompson said Bulaga was "one of those guys who, if we didn't have him, we probably wouldn't have won this thing." Thompson strongly implied the Packers will maintain the status quo at least in 2011.

Under that scenario, Chad Clifton would return as the starting left tackle.

"We thought [Bulaga] played very well," Thompson said. "I thought [Clifton] had a good year at left tackle. You never know. Our offensive line, sometimes they're here one day and the next day they're somewhere else, which is exactly what happened to Bryan."

Asked if he thought Bulaga's long-term position was still left tackle, Thompson paused and said: "It could be. But he's playing fine where he's at." Thompson added that the Packers "are certainly kind of planning on" Clifton playing left tackle in 2011.

Thompson doesn't often show his personnel cards, but what I took from the exchange is he won't feel compelled to move Bulaga if he don't have to. It's possible Bulaga could shift in future seasons, but to me, every year that passes by with Bulaga at right tackle lessens the possibility that he will one day be moved to the left side.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's true that finding left tackles is more difficult than right tackles, but paramount is finding players who perform well -- somewhere. The Packers know Bulaga can be a long-term answer at right tackle. Whenever Clifton retires, they'll have a decision to make. But there's no reason to make it now.

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