INDIANAPOLIS — Forward and backward. Side to side. Ryan Kalil can move very quickly in those directions.
Because of that, the USC center is heading upward as fast as anyone.
Kalil, with his eye-opening performance at the NFL combine, has vastly improved his stock in this draft class. He has gone from a player who might have been selected in the third or fourth round to a solid first-day selection who could even sneak into the first round.
Monday, a top team scout said Kalil "should develop into a starter in a short period of time and will play for a long time in the NFL." The scout added that Kalil is a "low-ego guy" who is technically sound, has quick feet, and understands offensive schemes well enough to start making line calls and adjustments right away.
Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas, a likely top-three selection, has created the most buzz among offensive linemen here. But Kalil, a player some have compared to Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday, has been close behind. In fact, Kalil's 4.96-second 40-yard time was half a blink behind Thomas' 4.92, and they were among the five offensive linemen to break 5.0.
The combine ends today with workouts by defensive backs.
Among the teams looking for a center are the Arizona Cardinals, who, if they took Kalil, would reunite him with quarterback Matt Leinart and guard Deuce Lutui. Kalil said he'd be happy to play anywhere, but reconnecting with those teammates would be particularly appealing.
Some teams have talked to Kalil about switching to guard, a position he didn't play for the Trojans but experimented with in the Senior Bowl.
"They're always looking for guys who are versatile on the offensive line," he said. "A lot of these guys talk about how many guys they travel. They're looking for a guy who can play both tackles, and an inside guy who can play all the guard spots and the center."
Mike Mayock, draft expert for the NFL Network, called Kalil the "best technician of any [college] offensive lineman" in the country, and said he proved that he moved well at 299 pounds, 14 more than his playing weight at USC.
"Quite frankly, I think he's fine at 285," Mayock said. "But he's trying to show people he can be a 300-pound offensive lineman, and he did real well."
Is bigger better?
It's only February, so there's a lot of time for jostling at the top of the draft. But Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell is still the clubhouse favorite to go No. 1 to the Oakland Raiders.
Russell didn't work out at the combine, which wasn't a surprise, but his size -- 6 feet 5 and 265 pounds -- was an attention grabber when he walked into the media room. He is by no means a lock, however, to go first.
Call it picking nits, but at this time of year, the elite players are under the microscope. Russell, for instance, had a lot of so-so games to go along with his terrific Sugar Bowl.
"Just going through life, man. Everybody has their opinions about what you can and cannot do," he said. "You've just got to take it and run with it. It will be fuel to your fire."
Don't count him out
Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who not so long ago was in Russell's spot as the leading candidate to go No. 1, still thinks he belongs in that spot.
"I'm the most prepared collegiate player for the NFL in the draft," said Quinn, who was upstaged by Russell in the Sugar Bowl. "There's not one other player that's had the kind of coaching I've had in the past couple of years. There's not one other player that's done what I've done in the past couple of years.
"You've seen the progress, the numbers and everything we've done at Notre Dame, and I feel that I'm the best leader for a team that needs someone to step in and fulfill that job."
This much is clear: Quinn was the most sculpted quarterback at the draft, tearing off an impressive 24 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press.
Small school, big dreams
Whitworth tight end Michael Allan, the only combine invitee from a Division III school, made the most of his opportunity.
He received rave reviews from scouts, and his running performance was second only to Miami's Greg Olsen, who was stronger and a shade faster. Allan showed he could jump too, and has very good hands.
That said, Olsen was definitely the best player in an otherwise average class of tight ends.
Ouch! That smarts!
Five players whose combine performances -- or decisions to sit out -- could hurt them on draft weekend:
1. Penn State tackle Levi Brown -- He's still the second-best tackle in the draft behind Thomas, but the scouts weren't too excited about his plodding 5.28-second 40.
2. USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett -- Somebody will take him in the first round. But with all these good receivers in the draft, it sends the wrong message not to participate.
3. Ohio State receiver Anthony Gonzalez -- Despite a good 40 time, he looked just average in other areas. In the receiving drills, he wound up diving for way too many passes. Could the quarterbacks have been that far off the mark?
4. Florida State linebacker Lawrence Timmons -- His workout was a yawner, which is disappointing for a guy who's widely considered the best or second-best outside linebacker in this class.
5. Nevada tight end Anthony Pudewell -- Although he has a good frame and looks the part, he didn't do himself any favors by failing to contend with the leaders in the timed drills and bench-pressing only 15 reps.