- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The most unusual scene so far at the 2011 scouting combine was the agents' sign of support to the NFL Players Association.
Drew Rosenhaus, Joel Segal, Tom Condon and Ben Dogra -- four of the most powerful agents in the business -- went before cameras and reporters and stated their full support for the union as it tries to strike a labor agreement with NFL owners. Some members of the media suggested it was almost like a "We Are The World'' inspirational song.
Rosenhaus praised the Oakland Raiders for investing big dollars in Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley, John Henderson and Stanford Routt. He also praised and offered his full support to the current mediation. Condon talked a little about how many of the rest of the teams aren't doing much in re-signing their players.
Unfortunately for all involved, no one had an idea of what will happen next week, when the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire.
Here's what we learned at Friday's combine.
1. No comment: NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith had nothing to report to the media and the agents after seven days of federal mediation. "I'm not going to talk at all about the mediation sessions,'' Smith said in a 90-second impromptu briefing. "First, we want to get a deal done. Our hope is we can reach a resolution as quickly as possible. I work for 1,800 guys who want to play football.'' Smith spent the morning with agents but didn't offer them answers. Smith advised agents to be prepared for a lockout next week, but he still hopes something positive will be done -- whether it's a deal with the owners or a possible extension of talks until mid-March. No one believes any deal can be done before March 3. The hope is for commissioner Roger Goodell to convince owners to either make a counter offer or agree to an extention and keep talking.
2. Clearing up some misconceptions: Condon and Dogra cleared up some false stories of what draftable players will be doing for the next few months. For draftable players, it will be business as usual even if there is a lockout. Some rumors circulated Friday that teams wouldn't be able to work out or interview players between March 4 and the draft if there is a lockout. Not true, said Condon and Dogra. Potential draft choices will hold their school and individual workouts and teams will be allowed to attend. "It's business as usual,'' Condon said. Part of the confusion was caused by the no-contact edicts between teams and players. Coaches can't contact players on their own team until there is a new labor agreement. For example, if a quarterback is getting a new coordinator, he isn't allowed to come into the office and study the playbook with his new play-caller. If there is a lockout, there are no player trades, no offseason programs, no minicamps, no organized team activities -- basically no football.
3. As the Redskins' world turns: Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he met with Fletcher Smith, agent for Donovan McNabb, for an hour and a half to discuss a season in which the quarterback was benched and criticized by his head coach. Shanahan projected a decision on McNabb might not happen until after the draft. Under terms of his new contract, McNabb can be kept in the dark about his future and stay with the Redskins until right before the start of the regular season. When asked if that meant Shanahan had to find a veteran or drafted replacement before letting McNabb go, Shanahan noted the uncertainties of what is going on with the league and emphasized it was his opinion that nothing would happen with McNabb before the draft. Shanahan said running back Clinton Portis has the ability to test the market because of his high salary and age. That would indicate he has given Portis permission to shop himself in a trade, but trades can't happen until there is a new CBA.
4. Ready to run: After training for seven weeks with his sights set on locking up his rating as the No. 1 running back in the draft, Mark Ingram of Alabama showed up at the combine at 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds. He said he wanted to lose a few pounds to help with his speed during workouts. He knew there were concerns about a knee injury, so he spent extra time training and bringing down his weight with the hopes of wowing teams with his running ability. "I felt I would be more explosive at a lighter weight,'' Ingram said. Mikel Leshoure of Illinois is ready to challenge Ingram for the No. 1 spot at running back. Leshoure isn't going to concede anything to Ingram and says he should be the No. 1 back. He plans to prove it in a workout. Leshoure said his training has brought him from his 230-pound playing weight to 227 pounds, giving him better agility. He says he's running in 4.57 range for the 40-yard dash and he considers himself a complete back who can run, pass block, run over defenders and catch passes both short and deep.
5. Failure to communicate: Friday was quarterback day for media interviews at the combine, and two of the most sought-after interviews -- Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett -- were unavailable for comment. Most of the other quarterbacks talked. Some thought Blaine Gabbert of Missouri came across very polished and confident while others thought his answers might have been little rehearsed. He had perfect answers for just about every question asked. When asked about whether he should go as the first quarterback in the draft, he said, "I'm going to outwork everybody. That's how I was raised.'' Andy Dalton of TCU and Jake Locker of Washington said they were hoping teams would compare them to the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers. When asked about Locker and whether he looked like another Jay Cutler, Shanahan said he compared him more to Jake Plummer.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
1dEric D. Williams