INDIANAPOLIS - One of the great mysteries at the NFL Combine was solved yesterday when Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly finally conducted a news conference.
Linebackers were supposed to speak Saturday. Sometimes players get hung up with medical evaluations, which isn’t unusual, but they usually appear the next morning.
When it got to be after 4 p.m. yesterday, whispers began about whether there was a medical issue with Kuechly, the Butkus Award winner as the top linebacker in college football.
Kuechly said the process just took a while.
“Medical stuff just took forever, we were downstairs for maybe six hours, so it kind of took a while to get through with everything and I had some early meetings I had to get to, so they just popped me out today,’’ Kuechly said.
“It’s just a process to get through, you have to go through different rooms. Everything checked out clean.’’
That includes his right elbow, which temporarily knocked him out of the Eagles’ final home game of the season against North Carolina State. At least a few NFL teams said they would be making sure that checked out during their evaluations.
Kuechly, who measured in at 6 feet 3 inches and 242 pounds (up from 237 in college), pronounced himself healthy.
“It’s just one of those things, you just get dinged up, take the precautions, and you’ll be all right with it,’’ he said.
One area in which NFL teams have no questions on Kuechly is his production. He had an astounding 532 tackles in three seasons with the Eagles.
“I love him as a player,’’ said an AFC college scouting director. “One of the most instinctive guys I’ve ever done an evaluation on.’’
NFL teams will be keeping a close watch on Kuechly today when he goes through his workout. He’s a surefire first-round pick, but how high he goes could depend on how fast he is. If Kuechly isn’t fast enough, he might only be a two-down player, which would hurt his stock a little. He’s been linked most to the Philadelphia Eagles, who had terrible problems at inside linebacker last season. They pick 15th.
“Just really smart, instinctive, he’s just one of those guys that is always around the ball and you’re like, ‘How did he get there? Is he really fast, is he really instinctive?’ It is both,’’ said an NFC general manager. “We know he has great instincts, eyes, and anticipation. How fast is he? I think that’s kind of the question.’’
“I think he is [fast enough],’’ said the AFC college scouting director. “I don’t think he’s going to run a great 40, but his instincts trump his lack of great speed.’’
Kuechly, after working out in Sarasota, Fla., at the IMG Football Academy, can’t wait to compete in the drills.
“I think it gives you an opportunity to show how you can move in different scenarios, there’s different time drills as well as position drills led by coaches,’’ said Kuechly, who was tied for sixth among all linebackers with 27 reps (225 pounds) on the bench press.
“I think it’s an opportunity for me to show I can move well.’’
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III already had the résumé when he came to the combine, as Heisman Trophy winner, and he won over team officials and media members with his interviews throughout the week.
And yesterday, he garnered even more attention with his 40-yard dash time. He clocked in at 4.41 seconds, the fastest time for a quarterback since Texas A&M’s Reggie McNeal in 2006 (4.35).
“Fast guys run fast,’’ NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said. “I knew he was going to fly. To be honest, I didn’t care whether it was 4.31 or 4.41 or 4.51 - I already knew how athletic the kid is. I expected him to fly and look great.’’
Griffin also had a vertical leap of 39 inches and a standing broad jump of 10 feet 4 inches. Both are excellent for quarterbacks, and are among the better numbers for any player here, regardless of position.
Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the consensus top pick, also impressed, posting an official time of 4.69 seconds in the 40. That showed that Luck has some athleticism that isn’t as obvious as that of Griffin or last year’s top pick, Cam Newton.
His level best
Maine safety Jerron McMillian is one of several small-school defensive players at the combine, and he was able to earn an invitation despite not taking part in any of the all-star showcases in January.
Even though he wanted to participate for NFL teams, no one was more surprised than McMillian, an All-Colonial Athletic Association and second-team All-America pick, that he is taking part.
“I found out the beginning of February; I was shocked,’’ the New Jersey native said.
“I wasn’t sure if it was real or not so I had to double-check my e-mail and then I had to make the phone call to make sure that I got the e-mail. I got all the paperwork, [and thought], ‘This really is about to happen.’ ’’
McMillian, who is 5-11 and is considered a late-round pick at best, said he wants to show teams he can compete with the top players at his position.
Issues for Jenkins
One of the more talked-about players - though not for the right reasons - was Janoris Jenkins. The cornerback played last fall at North Alabama after being kicked off the Florida team for multiple arrests, a bar fight, and at least one failed drug test.
Jenkins drew kudos for being upfront about his off-field issues, saying he’s sworn off marijuana after his problems in Florida, but he also revealed that he has four children under the age of 3.
Those problems have led some teams to take Jenkins off their draft boards, according to a league source. Without them, Mayock said, Jenkins would be a clear first-round pick.