NFL Combine 2014: Day 1 Notebook

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterFebruary 20, 2014

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 22: Head coach Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins motions from the sideline during NFL game action against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Throughout the course of the NFL Scouting Combine, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen will bring you his daily notebook from Indianapolis.

Joe Philbin, the Dolphins and the Martin/Incognito situation

The Dolphins head coach wasn’t expected to speak at the combine, but Philbin stood at the podium first thing on Thursday morning and took full responsibility for the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito situation detailed in the Wells report.

"I want everybody to know I am the one who is responsible for the workplace environment at the Miami Dolphins' facility," Philbin said.

Oct 27, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68) prepares to block against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Philbin danced around some in-depth questioning on his command of the locker room and the reasoning behind Incognito being named as part of the team’s leadership council (voted on by the players).

But the head coach did vow to create a better environment for the Dolphins, saying, “I'm going to look at the way we educate, they way we communicate, the way we talk to one another.”

As I’ve said before, NFL locker rooms don’t mesh with normal, everyday workplaces. They are unique in that regard. But having played for four different teams (and five head coaches), what went on down in Miami is beyond the norm from my perspective as a former player. Meathead stuff to be honest.

Philbin was the offensive line coach at the University of Iowa under Kirk Ferentz during my senior season in Iowa City and I have a ton of respect for the man. He is an excellent coach and teacher.

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But this entire situation—along with the embarrassing locker-room environment—occurred under his watch. And I’m very interested to see how this impacts the NFL landscape moving forward in terms of player conduct.

Lovie Smith’s defense in Tampa

The new Buccaneers head coach took the podium today and spoke about the foundation he has on the defensive side of the ball to run his system in Tampa.

With talent at the “under” tackle (Gerald McCoy), Will ‘backer (Lavonte David), cornerback (Darrelle Revis) and at the safety position (Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron), this unit should be expected to play productive football in 2014.

TAMPA, FL -  DECEMBER 8:  Linebacker Lavonte David #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs upfield with a 2nd-half interception  against the Buffalo Bills  December 8, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Bucs will play Cover 2, use their eight-man fronts/single-high-safety defenses (Cover 1, Cover 3, Under 10) and also lean on a mix of zone/man pressures when they set their game plan this season.

But I still go back to David and his role in the scheme.

The Will ‘backer (Smith referenced Lance Briggs in Chicago) is put in a position to make plays on the ball and impact the front. That’s the key spot in this scheme when breaking down how the weak-side linebacker impacts both the base and nickel sub-packages.

I do believe the Bucs can upgrade at the defensive end position via free agency or the draft, but in terms of the defensive talent already in place, Smith has a solid core of players to work with.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix vs. Calvin Pryor

There is already plenty of talk in Indianapolis on which safety comes off the board first on the opening night of the draft in May.

LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 14:  Calvin Pryor #25 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I broke down the tape on Clinton-Dix a couple of weeks back at Bleacher Report, and I came away impressed with his ability to identify offensive concepts plus showcase his range from the middle of the field/deep half.

Looking at Pryor, teams will get a more physical safety that plays with a downhill style and attacks the line of scrimmage with speed.

With clubs such as the Rams (No. 13), Bears (No. 14), Cowboys (No. 16) and Packers (No. 21) possibly making an upgrade at the safety position, the workouts here in Indianapolis will play a role for both prospects in their overall grade.

Bears' Shea McClellin making the move to linebacker 

During press conferences for both head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery, the message coming out of Chicago was obvious: rebuilding the defense will be the focus of the draft.

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 04:  Shea McClellin #99 of the Chicago Bears rushes against David Bakhtiari #69 of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 4, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Bears defeated the Packers 27-20.  (Photo by Jonathan Danie
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears are in a good spot at No. 14 to look at the defensive line, cornerback or safety as they work to get younger and more athletic on the defensive side of the ball.

And part of the defensive rebuild in Chicago includes former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin moving to linebacker. Emery said that McClellin would compete for a job at both the Sam and Mike ‘backer positions while being used in multiple roles within Mel Tucker’s scheme.

Can McClellin transition to Sam ‘backer? Sure. I can see that. But can the former defensive end show the flexibility in his hips and change-of-direction speed to play in the middle? That’s something to keep an eye on this summer in camp.

Odds and ends

—Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert called the 2014 draft class one of the deepest he has seen in 30 years, but also mentioned it could be one of the most immature with the record amount of underclassmen coming out.

—When asked about running back Chris Johnson, new Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt was extremely noncommittal on the veteran’s status with the team in 2014. But given the contract Johnson carries in Tennessee—and the depth coming out at the position in this year’s class—we can’t see the veteran running back carrying the ball for the Titans this season.

Oct 20, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) runs for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half at LP Field. The 49ers beat the Titans 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

—Via B/R’s Matt Miller, there’s a lot of buzz building on Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, and some in the league expect his stock to climb considerably throughout the draft process.

—I was asked about free-agent safety Louis Delmas often on Thursday, and while I do believe the former Lion has a skill set that would be attractive to teams in need of upgrading the safety position, there are still some questions. Can Delmas maintain his health (knee) and practice every day? And will the safety show the ability to play with more discipline? Two key factors to consider with the free agent.

—Former North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron measured/weighed in at 6’4”, 250 pounds Thursday in Indianapolis. The projected first-round pick has the speed (expected to run in the 4.5 range) plus the athletic ability to create positive matchups at the pro level. A top-15 talent.

—Plenty of talk on the media floor about Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and where he projects in this year’s draft. The underclassman is extremely raw on tape, but given his size (listed at 6’5”, 243 pounds), and the need for matchups in crucial game situations at the pro level (third downs, red zone), Benjamin could start to climb some boards if he runs well here in Indianapolis. 

Jan 6, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (1) catches a touchdown pass over Auburn Tigers cornerback Chris Davis (11) during the second half of the 2014 BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl.  Mandator
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

—Watching tape on the Jets’ Dee Milliner this past season, the cornerback struggled early in his rookie season from a technique standpoint (eyes, footwork). However, as head coach Rex Ryan said Thursday, the cornerback position is all about “confidence.” Milliner’s technique—and overall production—progressed towards the end of the year and allowed the Jets to match up the rookie versus receivers such as Josh Gordon and Mike Wallace.

—Former Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was listed at 276 pounds but weighed in today at 262 pounds. Jenkins is considered a three-down player who has the ability to produce as an in-line blocker and win in the middle of the field. We are curious to see what he runs this week after shedding weight for the combine.

—Central Florida product Blake Bortles is expected to throw here in Indianapolis, and Matt Miller is hearing that the quarterback would be the No.1 pick to the Texans if the draft were today.

—Former Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews said Thursday that he is comfortable playing either side of the line, but we project him to transition as a left tackle during his rookie season. Matthews is currently the No. 2 offensive tackle (behind Auburn’s Greg Robinson) in Matt Miller’s rankings.

What’s on tap for Friday in Indianapolis?

O-Line/TEs/Specialists: Bench test, formal interviews, psych testing

QBs/WRs/RBs: Weigh-ins, measurements, medical exams


Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.