2011 NFL Scouting Combine: What Dolphins fans should watch for

Today the NFL Scouting Combine officially gets underway in Indianapolis with, among other things, the weigh-ins for offensive linemen and tight ends. And so begins the annual craziness that is the Combine.

On-field workouts don't get underway until Saturday - which is the aspect of the Combine most fans get excited for. Most teams, however, believe that the early stages of the Combine - interviews with players in particular - are every bit as important, if not more, than the on-field stuff. After all, it's hard to tell how much speed and agility tests in shorts rather than in pads actually translate to live game ability.

For most teams, the Combine is the first opportunity decision makers have to really sit down and get to know these potential draft picks. So while it's fun to watch the Combine and analyze all of the numbers that these workouts generate, I find it more interesting to read rumors about how certain players came across in their first meetings with general managers, head coaches, and other front office personnel.

Hopefully Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland can restrain himself from inquiring about the occupations of these kids' mothers.

With all that said, it's hard not to get sucked into the hype of the on-field workouts. After all, that's all we get to see. We aren't in the interview rooms. We only have rumors and reports from others to go on. But thanks to the NFL Network, we can see most of the on-field workouts, allowing us to form our own opinions - for what they're worth.

So here are some of the names on the offensive side of the ball that I'll be looking for over the next week as the Combine kicks into high gear.

Quarterbacks

I'm disappointed that Blaine Gabbert will not be throwing at the Combine. But it shouldn't come as a surprise, as pretty much all of the top quarterbacks that agent Tom Condon and his agency, CAA, have represented recently have opted not to throw at the annual event.

This means that Cam Newton will have another opportunity to make his case as the draft's top quarterback. The media raved about his recent workout and now scouts will have a chance to see Newton for themselves. More important for Newton, though, will be how he handles his team interviews as well as how he does dealing with the media.

There are a number of rumors about Ryan Mallett - rumors eerily similar to those that Dan Marino faced when he was preparing for the draft. Those rumors caused Marino to plummet in the draft and fall right to Miami. Mallett has a strong arm and will probably look spectacular in throwing drills in shorts and a tee shirt. But how will he deal with the questions about the rumors that he is certain to face?

Jake Locker has seen his stock drop after a disappointing senior season and a poor Senior Bowl week. Accuracy is the biggest question regarding Locker, who completed only 54% of his passes during his college career. If he is wild on Sunday during quarterback drills, you have to imagine he could fall out of the first round.

As the draft inches closer and closer, though, I'm beginning to think that the Dolphins are more likely to pass on a quarterback with the 15th overall pick, meaning that second tier of quarterbacks are more likely to be on their radar. That's why I'm very happy to hear that Christian Ponder has decided to participate in the passing drills at the Combine. There's a lot to like about the FSU kid. But his arm strength has been questioned by many. I want to see the kind of zip Ponder has on his passes on Sunday.

No quarterback has seen his stock rise as fast as Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, reminiscent of the kind of climb up draft boards that Jay Cutler successfully achieved a few years ago. Kaepernick's athleticism and arm strength will likely impress. But his accuracy, touch, and mechanics (a slow, wind-up release most notably) have concerned some scouts.

Iowa's Ricky Stanzi is the other quarterback that I am curious to get a look at. I've read that his footwork and his overall athleticism are the two main concerns (along with decision making, which we can't judge in a setting like the Combine).

Running backs

In most mock drafts right now, draft analysts seem to be in agreement that the Dolphins should/will take Alabama RB Mark Ingram with that 15th overall selection. However, I see Ingram as a guy with more to lose than to gain at the Combine this weekend. Nobody will confuse Ingram as a burner with great top-end speed. But a back doesn't have to have great top-end speed. And Ingram does so many other things well that his top-end, straight line speed should not matter. But how many first-round backs can you name that ran a 40 in over, say, 4.55 seconds? If Ingram can break 4.5, though, he'll lock up a likely top 15 selection.

Over the past few years, we've typically seen two or three backs get taken off the board in the first round. Two guys who have the best chance to join Ingram in round one - and who could be targets of the Dolphins if they were to trade down - are Mikel Leshoure and Ryan Williams. Williams enters the draft despite coming off a season at Virginia Tech where he was slowed by injuries. But he did run for over 1600 yards and 21 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman a year ago. He'll need to prove that he is completely healthy to have a shot at the back end of the first round.

Leshoure is a guy who can without question be a feature back at the pro level. He has good size and runs with outstanding body control and balance. The biggest question surrounding Leshoure, who some want to compare to Rashard Mendenhall, is his top end speed - which some think might be 4.6+ because of his 230 pound frame.

There's no question that the Dolphins will select at least one running back at some point during the draft. And I like the depth at the running back position in the mid and late rounds of the draft.

A guy like Kendall Hunter, for example, is somebody who could be available in the third or fourth round but make an instant impact in Miami's offense. He's only 5'7, but runs with outstanding power and has proven he's not afraid to run between the tackles at all. On tape, he also looks rather shifty, which I hope to see carry over into some of these agility drills.

Pitt's Dion Lewis was tremendously productive in just two seasons, rushing for over 2,800 yards and 30 touchdowns. He's another undersized back (5'8), too. But he's proven he can carry the load and could catapult his draft stock into the late part of day two or early part of day three with a 4.5 40.

The Dolphins obviously need to add speed on offense. And there are a number of backs who could bring that dimension. Keep an eye on the 40 times of guys like Jordan Todman (a favorite of mine), Darren Locke, Noel Devine, Da'Rel Scott, Shane Vereen, and Taiwan Jones.

Wide receivers

The Dolphins will be in search of a specific type of receiver - a speed receiver who can blow the top off of a defense. They have their elite number one receiver (Brandon Marshall). They have an elite slot/possession receiver (Davone Bess). They have a developing solid all-around complementary receiver (Brian Hartline). They lack that deep threat that will keep opposing defenses honest.

So who could fill that void from this draft?

Maryland's Torrey Smith is 6'1 and is expected to run a sub 4.4 40. He does have some consistency issues so it'll be worth seeing how naturally he looks catching the football at the Combine.

Boise State's Titus Young impressed many scouts during Senior Bowl week and may have moved himself into the top half of the second round. A sub 4.4 40 for Young could solidify his spot in the draft's top 50 selections.

Troy's Jerrel Jernigan might end up with the fastest 40 time among the receivers, reportedly having been clocked at 4.3 in the past. Jernigan is only 5'9, though, which will hurt his stock a little. He can contribute as a return man as well.

Niles Paul of Nebraska is one of those under the radar guys who will garner more attention if he runs a 4.4 40 as many expect. His production was limited because of the offense he spent his college career playing in. But he possesses excellent hands and is believed to be a guy with as much upside as any receiver in the draft beyond A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

If it's simply pure speed you're looking for, though, then look no further than Ricardo Lockette. This Fort Valley State receiver believes he can run in the 4.2s and has even said he's shooting for the Combine record of 4.24. At 6'2, Lockette is as talented an athlete as you can want at receiver. But he has little college production against subpar competition to show for it.

Saddle up, everyone. The draft's "dog and pony show" is set to begin in Indianapolis.

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