Clarett says he needs time to get in shape

Updated: February 21, 2004, 12:11 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Maurice Clarett was quicker and more evasive with questions from Thursday than he will be for NFL scouts this week.

That's because the running back who won his challenge to the NFL's draft system announced he would skip Friday's workouts at the scouting combine and wait six more weeks before giving scouts a chance to evaluate his skills on the field.

The reason: he said he wanted more time to train after a suspension cost him his entire sophomore season at Ohio State.

Not everyone accepted the explanation, which could lower his position in the draft even more: the wait is clearly to get in shape after he weighed in at 237 pounds. In fact, his decision clearly antagonized a lot of the people he is supposed to be impressing.

"That's a farce," Buffalo Bills general manager Tom Donahoe said. "That was expected but that's ridiculous."

Clarett said he made the decision at the urging of his mother.

After beating the NFL in a courtroom twice this month to become eligible for the draft, Clarett, 20, will become the first true sophomore in the NFL draft.

He weight is seven pounds more than he played at, and the 230 at which he was listed may have been questionable. He even acknowledged he wasn't in top condition despite working out for the past couple weeks.

Scouts wondered why Clarett didn't arrive for the weeklong combine better prepared after missing an entire season and then challenging the NFL's rule requiring underclassmen to complete three years of school before declaring for the draft.

Clarett said simply that he wanted more time to train and that he was scheduling a personal workout in Columbus, Ohio, the first week of April.

"I'm kicking it in the next four weeks," Clarett said. "I want to put myself in the best position possible."

It wasn't well received by those who wanted to see Clarett run. It also raised questions about his attitude.

"I just want to see what he looks like," Detroit Lions president Matt Millen said. "We've got to do our homework and he's got to do his."

Clarett was grilled by reporters for about 15 minutes in a preview than what he is likely to face later Thursday night when teams begin interviewing players one-on-one. The NFL limits teams to 60 interviews and Clarett said he expected to talk to all 32 teams.

He was asked repeatedly about his character, his medical history, his durability, whether he was prepared physically and mentally to jump to the NFL. He dodged a question about his agent, saying he hadn't yet made a decision even though he is believed to have chosen Jimmy Sexton.

And he promised to show a different side in the NFL.

"I think I'm going to keep my mouth shut at this level," he said.

While teams hope to start getting more answers Thursday night, the bigger issues may require more examination.

Doctors checked Clarett's left shoulder, which he hurt during his record-setting freshman season with the Buckeyes.

He also had knee surgery that year and missed three games and parts of two others because of the injuries. He still set an Ohio State freshman record with 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Clarett explained the injuries by saying he played hard and was working on his feet to avoid taking big hits.

As Clarett spoke, he smiled frequently and seemed to relish the moment.

"I feel I've made a transition," he said. "I get to wake up thinking about football and go to sleep thinking about football and I'm in my world, really."

Now he must find a place to fit in.

Donahoe thinks that could be difficult. He didn't mince words when asked to compare Clarett's uncertain future to that of Willis McGahee, who the Bills drafted in the first round last year despite a knee injury that kept him out of all 16 games last year.

"Let's not put Clarett in the same category as McGahee," Donahoe said. "That's not fair to Willis. Willis attitude-wise and character-wise, that's a big difference."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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