- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- What a difference a year makes.
A year ago, Maurice Clarett showed up in Indianapolis at the combine by way of a lawsuit instead of an invitation, and, basically, he fumbled.
Clarett wasn't in great shape and didn't seem to care. From the way he acted, he sounded as though the NFL owed him a career. Instead, the NFL beat him in court and closed the loophole that would have allowed underclassmen with less than three years out of high school to turn pro. Clarett hasn't played a down of football in two years.
The player that showed up Thursday was a different Clarett, one that might win over a few general managers and coaches and possibly sneak back into the first day of the draft. This Clarett was cooperative, not defiant. This Clarett looked fit. His face was thinner. His body looked more solid. More than anything else, though, this Maurice Clarett was humble.
"I made some mistakes that were obvious to everyone in this room, and I paid for them," Clarett said.
Clarett arrived at the combine this year weighing 234 pounds. While that is only three pounds lighter than a year ago, his body looked more trim and fit. The former Ohio State running back said he has been training in Florence, Calif., doing sled drills, agility drills and weightlifting.
In many ways, Clarett did his best to put a positive spin on two years of personal hell. He felt he was above the NFL rules and learned a valuable lesson. Now, he wants to put those memories behind him. But he realizes that won't be easy to do.
Perhaps the most interesting thing he said was that he spent time working on his personality. He spent a lot of time during the past year with an attorney, David Kenner, who told him things about himself he didn't want to hear. It helped him mature.
"I worked on so much stuff," Clarett said. "I worked on stuff as a person, just personal things. I worked on me basically. It was a good thing. He [Kenner] wasn't scared to tell me about my faults and wrongdoings. It's kinda like a blessing."
Twice, Clarett used the word humble about himself. You wouldn't have found "humble" and "Clarett" in the same sentence a year ago.
"I wasn't saying I was humble in the past all the time," Clarett said. "I have said some things to the media I shouldn't have said. This taught me how to be humble."
Obviously, being humble was something new. For two years, he felt as though he could beat the system. He thought he could come into the NFL against the league's will. He was wrong.
The price was two years outside football and a return trip to the combine. He said doctors joked with him about returning.
Clarett announced to the world Thursday that he's willing to play special teams, be a backup or do whatever a coach wants him to do. He even said he will do everything during Saturday's workout session involving running backs at the combine. A year ago, he didn't begin serious training until after the combine and ended up running an uninspiring 4.6 in the 40 during his individual workout.
"This is another opportunity, we'll see what he does with it," Bills general manager Tom Donahoe said. "Based on what happened last year, maybe for once I was right."
Donahoe was Clarett's biggest critic a year ago. He questioned Clarett's resolve for showing up at the combine out of shape and with a little bit of an attitude. As far as the Bills are concerned, Donahoe's not interested in Clarett -- and with Willis McGahee, the team doesn't need him. But, at least for now, Donahoe was encouraged.
The prevailing thought heading into the combine was that Clarett probably rated as a low third- or fourth-round choice. He hasn't played in two seasons. He's not fast. And in the one year he did play at Ohio State, he was dogged by injuries. He hasn't played a full season without an injury since his senior year in high school.
But there is a new, competitive look with Clarett. The confidence is still there. He admits to not being intense at last year's combine. Now, he's intense.
"You can ask anybody who I've ever played against that I don't fool around," Clarett said. "I handle my business. I have toned myself down a little bit. I've made football my life again. I think I will be fine."
Clarett dismisses the rust factor from two lost years.
"It will take me two or three weeks to get my rhythm and speed back," Clarett said.
Good times in his workout could help immensely, but the interviews will be just as important. He has to sell teams interested in drafting him on his personality. He has to convince them that he won't be a cancer or a problem in the locker room.
"I had to take a look at myself from outside of myself," Clarett said. "I looked at myself, and I looked like kinda a joke to myself. I wasn't mature. I did some things I shouldn't have done. I'm ready to move forward."
Clarett made the first step, and it was a good one.
"We haven't seen him play in two years," Texas halfback Cedric Benson said. "It's a tough situation, but regardless what he's been through, somebody is going to love him and somebody is going to pick him up."
Clarett's mission this week it to find that somebody.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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