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The NFL converges on Indianapolis for annual combine

The first group of 332 invited players will go through physical, medical and psychological tests for the league's 32 teams. Among the big questions is what the Lions will do with the top pick.

February 18, 2009|Sam Farmer

On your mark, get set, test!

The NFL opens its annual scouting combine today at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, when the first wave of 332 invited college players arrives to begin its battery of physical, medical and psychological tests for the league's 32 teams.

Players are tested in groups according to their position, and typically stay three days. The workouts are closed to the public and the media, but draw coaches, general managers and scouts from every NFL team.

Indianapolis has played host to the combine for 23 years, but this is the first year the event will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium. It used to take place at the RCA Dome, which was imploded in December.

Who's No. 1?

The Detroit Lions have the top pick in the draft, and the pressure on them to make the right choice is especially high in the wake of an unprecedented 0-16 season.

The Lions need a quarterback, and the two top prospects heading into the combine are Georgia's Matt Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez. Stafford has the stronger arm, but many scouts feel Sanchez has greater potential. Another possible first-round selection is Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman.

Other teams in the market for a quarterback are Kansas City, Jacksonville, San Francisco and the New York Jets.

We've got your backers

If there's a position of major depth in this draft it's linebacker, with three potential first-rounders coming from USC: Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews.

NFLDraftScout.com ranks Maualuga as the top inside linebacker, followed by Ohio State's James Laurinaitis; and Wake Forest's Aaron Curry as the best outside backer, followed by Cushing, and Penn State's Aaron Maybin.

Will he or won't he?

USC's Sanchez has yet to announce whether he will throw for teams at the combine, or wait to do so at his campus pro day. He's not alone. To the frustration of many scouts, a lot of the top prospects have opted to work out on their own schedules in recent years.

"A lot of the quarterbacks are reluctant to work out [at the combine] because they don't have their own receivers, they're afraid of throwing an incompletion," said Mike Mayock, scouting expert for the NFL Network. "To be honest, I think it's a shame. Because the scouts and coaches don't care if the ball hits the ground. They know it's not their own receivers. They know a receiver might run a route at 12 yards instead of 10. They don't really care.

"What they want to see is Sanchez standing next to Stafford, and throwing three-step, five-step, bootlegs, see how the ball comes out of their hands, see what kind of footwork they have. They want to be able to compare and contrast."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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