Commentary

Saturday's combine observations

Alec Ogletree faces the press, Ansah charms and more

Originally Published: February 23, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Although Saturday was the first workout day for offensive players at the NFL combine, the defensive players started arriving in Indianapolis.

It was a good day. Offensive linemen and tight ends ran well. But defensive linemen and linebackers arrived and provided several colorful stories to preview the April draft.

Everyone knows defense will be an important sidebar in this draft. It's a better group of safeties than in most years. Many of the top defensive tackles are safe picks. Some of the defensive ends and linebackers have questions, but many also have interesting tales to discuss.

Coaches, scouts and general managers spent the evening interviewing their selected defenders. The assembled national media also had its shot.

Here are the five things we learned Saturday at the combine.

1. The other Manti Te'o interview story: While the national press turned its attention to Manti Te'o and his strange story about an internet hoax and an imaginary girlfriend, Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree had his own explaining to do.

One of the best defensive players in the draft, Ogletree had to address his off-the-field incidents. Ogletree had a DUI arrest last week in Arizona. In 2012, he was suspended four games for failing drug tests. During his freshman year, he was arrested for allegedly stealing a motorcycle helmet from a Georgia track athlete.

"I'm a good person at heart," Ogletree said Saturday. "Everybody makes mistakes. I feel real bad about the situation. I'm learning from it, and I'm moving forward."

His tie-in with Te'o is fitting because many scouts consider Ogletree to be more talented than Te'o at middle linebacker. Still, the character issue could knock Ogletree out of the top 10. Ogletree admits he has some work to do with his image at the combine.

"Just have a good interview," Ogletree said. "Being a good person and just let them get to know me and see who I really am and not what they just hear about me."

2. BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah won over the media Saturday: The defensive end, whose nickname is "Ziggy," came across as one of the best stories in the draft. Ansah, who grew up in Ghana, went to BYU in 2008 and tried out for the basketball team. In 2010, he tried out for football.

Now, many consider Ansah to be the next Jason Pierre-Paul, the defensive end for the New York Giants. Why football?

"I was really athletic," Ansah said. "I didn't want to just sit around and go to school. I wanted to do something. Since basketball didn't work out, I wanted to do football."

All he knew about the NFL was watching the NFL Network, and he had no idea who the teams or players were. Times change. Ansah is expected to go in the middle of the first round as a defensive end or a 3-4 linebacker.

3. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones explained why teams may be concerned about his medicals: In 2009, when Jones was at USC as a freshman, doctors pulled him aside and told him he was going to give up football. He has a narrowing of the spine between the C4 and C5 vertebrae.

Jones was devastated. He loved the game of football. He went to different doctors who told him he had no contusions. He was able to transfer to Georgia, where he has now emerged as a potential top-seven pick in this draft. Jones notes current MRIs are no different than they were in 2009.

"I feel like I was healthy," Jones said.

Jones has been durable at Georgia. He pays close attention to tackling technique. He protects his shoulder. He protects his neck. He keeps his head up when he tackles. Still, some teams have concerns, so he went to different team doctors Saturday and had them tug on his extremities. Jones isn't working out this week, so how teams grade his medicals will be the key.

4. The hype about the deep group of offensive linemen is true: The offensive linemen clearly won the day. Six ran sub-5-second 40-yard dashes. Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson and Arkansas-Pine Bluff tackle Terron Armstead ran like tight ends or linebackers, not like 300-plus-pound blockers.

Johnson's 4.72 40 wasn't a surprise. He's fast for a lineman. His 34-inch vertical jump is comparable to a wide receiver. In high school, he played some quarterback when was around 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. He went to junior college as a quarterback. When his weight was up to 255, he was still running a 4.5-second 40-yard-dash. Then he started to grow and became a tight end. It surprised him when he went to Oklahoma and was asked to become an offensive lineman.

But Armstead was Saturday's big winner. Considered a raw mid-round pick, Armstead could have jumped into third- and fourth-round considerations with his 4.71 40-yard dash. Coming out of a small school, Armstead may be more of a developmental project in his first season, but his athletic ability will win over some teams.

Howie Long's son, Kyle, from Oregon, ran a nice 4.94 40-yard dash. Alvin Bailey of Arkansas ran 4.95. Vinston Painter of Virginia Tech also ran a 4.95, and Brian Schwenke of Cal ran a 4.99. Central Michigan's Eric Fisher maintained his bid for top-10 draft-pick consideration with a 5.05 40-yard dash, while two of the top linemen in the draft -- Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (5.30) and Alabama guard Chance Warmack (5.41) -- didn't run well, but it didn't matter. Both are at the top of their positions.

5. There may be no Tony Gonzalez, but Atlanta may find a tight end in this group: Falcons management desperately continues to talk Gonzalez out of retiring, and they are making some progress.

Gonzalez said at the end of the season he was 95 percent sure he was going to retire, but that percentage may be down to 50. In the meantime, the Falcons need to come up with some kind of replacement in this draft. The prospects looked encouraging on Saturday as 14 of the 19 tight ends ran. Only five ran above a 4.8.

Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz were considered the top two tight ends in the draft, and it's starting to look like it will be a good battle for the top spot. Eifert may have challenged for the lead after running a 4.68 compared to Ertz's 4.76.

One thing we know about the Falcons is that the Gonzalez experience changed them and opened their eyes to the value of tight ends.

"I think we all know the importance of the tight end position," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "It's not just catching the ball, but it's also about being able to block the right way. It's not always effective as some of those big tight ends, but if you have the total package, and I think there are a number of guys in this group with the total package -- blocking and receiving."

Gonzalez showed the Falcons the value of flanking a tight end into the middle of the field to cause mismatch problems. The group of tight ends may offer the Falcons an interesting chess piece.


John Clayton

NFL senior writer