This year's NFL scouting combine will attract more than 300 of the nation's top pro football prospects; executives, scouts and the head coach from each of the 32 NFL teams; hundreds of reporters from around the country; even unprecedented whistle-to-whistle coverage by the NFL Network.
"It is the Super Bowl of scouting," agent Leigh Steinberg said.
The combine has everything.
Everything, that is, except Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Vince Young.
The three most recognizable players in college football will attend the combine, which takes place today through Sunday at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, but none will work out for teams. Instead, they will participate only in physical and psychological examinations, and the individual team interviews.
It's not uncommon for players who are expected to be chosen at the top of the draft to sidestep workouts at the combine, choosing instead to work out at their team's pro-timing day. In the case of Bush and Leinart, that takes place April 2 at USC and is expected to draw representatives from virtually every team -- in part because other Trojan pro prospects will be working out then as well.
"For an upwardly mobile player looking to enhance his draft prospects, the combine workout is an irreplaceable opportunity to skyrocket," said Steinberg, who represents Leinart. "But for the brief moments of talent display that a Leinart or a Bush would experience at the combine, an in-depth campus workout is vastly preferable as a showcase."
Leinart sees little benefit to standing around with the rest of the quarterback prospects, getting a few minutes to warm up, and then tossing the dozen or so basic throws that every combine passer is asked to make. He would rather wait until his suitors come to USC in April, when his people can control the workout, and he'll be throwing to players he knows well -- as opposed to receiver prospects who are most concerned with selling their abilities to scouts.
"The thought process is you might as well get yourself in prime shape and perform in an area in which you're most comfortable," said Steve Clarkson, Leinart's personal pre-draft throwing coach and business partner.
Clarkson, who two years ago worked closely with Ben Roethlisberger to prepare him for the draft, said Leinart will work out for 45 minutes on USC's pro day, and will not only throw to current Trojans but possibly former NFL receivers Curtis Conway and J.J. Stokes.
"He'll basically answer any questions about his ability to throw things people might not have seen," Clarkson said. "Lot of comebacks, lots of deeper patterns, and even some over-exaggerated passes like 40-yard comebacks -- things nobody sees in the game -- just to prove a point.
"The combine isn't set up for a quarterback to show everything he can do."
For the vast majority of prospects, however, the combine is an essential proving ground to either solidify their draft status or to move up in the estimation of NFL teams.
UCLA's Marcedes Lewis, for instance, is determined to show he's the best tight end available. He wants to erase any doubts about whether he's fast enough for the pros -- some people have questioned his speed -- and show why he won the 2005 John Mackey Award, given to the best tight end in college. He sees the combine not as a chore but as a challenge.
"It's a chance for me to show everybody I can compete and move up from where I am," said Lewis, projected by many scouts to be a late first-round selection. "It's a great opportunity for me to position myself as one of the best tight ends out there."
Among the agents representing Lewis is Sean Howard, a former UCLA player and Green Bay personnel executive, who has seen the combine from team and player perspectives.
"It's the only time when clubs can evaluate a prospect's athletic ability on an equal playing field," Howard said. "Players are performing in the exact same environment, staying in the same hotel, running on the same surface. It's the first time you can truly compare athletic ability."
That said, the combine doesn't provide all the answers when it comes to predicting who might be successful in the pros.
"You have to remember," Howard said, "the game's not played in a straight line, like a 40-yard dash. And it's not played in shorts."
At the combine
UCLA and USC players who will attend this week's NFL scouting combine:
* UCLA -- Maurice Drew, RB; Spencer Havner, LB; Marcedes Lewis, TE; Drew Olson, QB; Jarrad Page, DB.
* USC -- Darnell Bing, DB; Reggie Bush, RB; Dominique Byrd, TE; Winston Justice, OL; David Kirtman, FB; Matt Leinart, QB; Taitusi Lutui, OL; Tom Malone, P; Fred Matua, OL; Frostee Rucker, DL; John Walker, DB; Scott Ware, DB; LenDale White, RB; Justin Wyatt, DB.