Prospects get with program

The Baltimore Sun

INDIANAPOLIS -Once upon a time, college players showed up at the NFL scouting combine fresh off campus with their flaws showing. They performed the drills, answered the questions and let the chips fall where they would.

Now the combine is another, altogether different, world. Players no longer arrive from campus; they roll in from an elite training facility where they have spent the past month maximizing their measurements and physical skills.

They have agents and advisers who direct their every move, if not order their every thought. They are programmed like a computer and coached to perform on the field and in interviews.

The result is manufactured speed, predictable answers and lots of self-promotion. And that's not what the NFL wants.

"Over the years, players are better prepared in a lot of ways," Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "They take the physical better. They perform drills better. The last four or five years, they do a better job preparing for the interviews. They all have the right answers. So it's up to us to ask different questions, so we don't get canned answers."

San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary hears the same thing, but he still finds ways of getting through the veneer.

"A lot of guys are trained by their agent to say certain things," Singletary said. "They know keywords to put in. To me, it's more body language and eye connection. And when you turn on the film, the true identity of that player comes alive."

Razing Arizona

Since reaching the Super Bowl, the Arizona Cardinals' organization has gone through upheaval. It lost offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who became head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, and fired defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and quarterbacks coach Jeff Rutledge. General manager Rod Graves doesn't think the team is imploding, however.

"One thing we addressed since Michael Bidwill took over as president is the quality of the staff and continuity," Graves said yesterday. "I don't think it's a step back."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt dumped Pendergast because of deficiencies in scoring defense and red-zone defense. As for the offense, Whisenhunt said he'll take over play-calling duties for now.

Graves said he is working on a new contract for quarterback Kurt Warner, who becomes a free agent next week. As for Anquan Boldin, Graves said the team's position on the disgruntled wide receiver hasn't changed.

"We respect his abilities, we think he's one of the best players in the NFL and he's one of our core players," he said.

Crabtree sidelined

The NFL Network reported yesterday that Michael Crabtree, considered the top wide receiver in this year's draft, has a slight stress fracture in his left foot that will require surgery. The injury was discovered Friday in the NFL's medical examinations.

Crabtree, from Texas Tech and a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top college wide receiver, is expected to be sidelined for 10 weeks after a screw is inserted in his foot. How it affects his draft status is up for debate. He hadn't planned to run here, and his pro day now is in jeopardy.

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