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L. Johnson and Steinbach NFL Combine


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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Answer questions correctly, win a job

By Mark Curnutte

Enquirer staff writer


What: 2005 NFL Scouting Combine

When: Thursday to Sunday.

Where: Indiana Convention Center, RCA Dome; Indianapolis.

Who: Prospective players eligible for the 2005 NFL Draft will participate in numerous position drills, weightlifting and the 40-yard dash. They also will undergo nightly interviews with team executives and coaches.


Though the Bengals hold to a philosophy of drafting "the best player available," here are some positions of need entering the draft and free agency:

1. Defensive tackle. The Bengals need to improve their 26th-ranked run defense, and the problems started up front last season.

2. Defensive end. Coach Marvin Lewis has said the team needs to get an explosive pass rusher to put consistent pressure on quarterbacks.

3. Safety. Though Lewis doesn't like the more traditional, larger strong safety who specializes in stopping the run, don't be surprised if the team goes for the more traditional, larger strong safety somewhere in the draft.

4. Tight end. The team's trio of tight ends can block OK in the run game, but other than Matt Schobel, pose little threat as receivers.

By day, the annual NFL combine is a matter of physical speed and strength. By night, the combine is a mental exercise.

Beyond the regular poking and prodding, NFL draft hopefuls - who will begin arriving Wednesday in Indianapolis - can help themselves most during the extensive interview process.

"The goal is to try to gather as much information about a player, other than what you can see on video tape, that you can during that period of time," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of the combine. "It's a good time, as coaches, that we get the opportunity - and we've been studying somebody on what they do on the field - and we get an opportunity to ask a question or two about, 'How do you do this? How do you teach that? What are the fine points of that?' "

This combine will be Lewis' third as Bengals coach. And, in each of his first two combines, at least one player the team drafted distinguished himself during the interview process.

In 2003, that player was former Iowa offensive lineman Eric Steinbach. And in 2004, it was former Purdue linebacker Landon Johnson.

"I think we were really excited about the quality of the person and the depth of the person prior to drafting him," Lewis said of Steinbach. "Obviously, my first chance to meet him was there at the combine."

Steinbach is a two-year starter at left guard. Johnson led the team in defensive tackles as a rookie.

"Landon ... just sitting down and talking to him, and getting a feel for the person that way," Lewis said. "All the things that he did at Purdue, not just playing linebacker, playing special teams and all the other things he did."

Steinbach thought he was going anywhere but Cincinnati. He knew the Bengals were probably going to draft quarterback Carson Palmer with the first overall pick in 2003. And everybody who knew anything about the draft said Steinbach was a sure-fire first-round pick.

But he slid to the top of the second round, where the Bengals drafted him 33rd overall.

"I was really relaxed with them because I knew they weren't going to draft me," Steinbach said of the Bengals.

The process involves anywhere from 8-10 team coaches, scouts and executives sitting in a circle around the player, Steinbach said, and "firing questions at you."

"The key for me was just to be myself with everybody," Steinbach said. "I didn't try to tell them what I thought they wanted to hear. I didn't talk differently to different teams or try to impress one team too much."

The 2005 draft is different than the ones that yielded Steinbach and Johnson. In fact, said former Cowboys personnel executive Gil Brandt, now with nfl.com, the 2005 draft is different than any he has seen since the late 1950s.

Usually, Brandt said, he can predict the top 5 players or 14 of the top 15. Not this year. San Francisco, which has the first pick, is expected to take either of two quarterbacks, California's Aaron Rodgers or Utah's Alex Smith.

"There are a lot of good players in this draft," Brandt said. "Teams are probably going to get a player in the second round who was better than they player they took in the second round last year."

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