INDIANAPOLIS - Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis could have taken the NFL's money and run away from Ohio State last year.
But he stayed true to his word, playing four years with the Buckeyes - and endured the consequences. His team didn't return to the national championship game, didn't even win a Big Ten title, and his draft stock slid, possibly costing him money.
Hey, at least he was part of a school-record fifth straight victory over hated rival Michigan.
So Laurinaitis has come to Indianapolis for the league's annual scouting combine on a mission.
"I've never been one to shy away from competition," he said yesterday. "I almost take it as a challenge. I see it as an opportunity, and I don't think it's unfair at all. I take it in stride."
What NFL teams will find on tape, Laurinaitis insists, is the same active linebacker scouts fell in love before the 2008 draft - a relentless tackling machine.
The difference now is Laurinaitis must contend with more people who want to make him wait longer on draft day.
Southern California's Ray Maualuga, who like Laurinaitis opted to stay in school last year, poses the biggest challenge.
The two play similar styles and are built almost exactly the same. Laurinaitis measured in at just under 6-foot-2, 244 pounds, while Maualuga was listed at 6-1, 249.
At this point, Laurinaitis is still ranked by some as the best inside linebacker in the draft.
Maualuga is No. 2 and hopes to close the gap with an impressive workout tomorrow.
"I want to get discovered. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete," he said. "You only get all 32 teams in one place at one time, and that makes it a chance to compete."
Would these two have been better served coming out last year?
Nobody will know for sure, and it's not a question Laurinaitis will even ponder.
"I have no regrets about coming back," he said. "When you lose two national championships and you're that close, as a competitor, you want to come back. I felt I owed it to Ohio State because only two schools recruited me out of high school."
CRABTREE HURT: Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree has a stress fracture in his foot that will sideline him from this weekend's workouts.
Crabtree is considered the top receiver in this year's draft class.
The NFL said Crabtree will need at least 10 weeks to recover from surgery in which a screw will be inserted in his foot.
HOPEFUL RAVENS: Ozzie Newsome remains optimistic Baltimore can keep its trademark linebackers together
Newsome, the Ravens general manager, said he believes he can get all three deals done.
For Baltimore, which built its success around a stout defense, Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, and Terrell Suggs are the core of the team. Suggs has already been tagged with the franchise designation, virtually assuring he'll be back next season.
But the fate of Lewis and Scott are in doubt. Lewis has already said he would consider reuniting with former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, now the New York Jets coach, or heading to Dallas.
GOING DEFENSE: New Seattle coach Jim Mora has the fourth pick in this year's NFL draft - if he decides to use it.
And with all the problems the Seahawks had on defense last year, Mora could possibly trade down and start building depth. It's a possibility he will consider.
"It's a little too early for us to think about that," Mora said. "We're really at the front end of the evaluation process, but I would say that we're not going to close the door to anything. We're certainly open to anything."
BOWLING BALL: Tyrell Sutton looks at San Diego's Darren Sproles for inspiration.
Sutton rushed for more than 3,300 yards at Northwestern but is just 5-foot-8 and 211 pounds - "a little bowling ball, I guess," he says. He's still two inches taller than Sproles, who earlier this week received the franchise tag by the Chargers.
"We are coming back," Sutton said of the smaller running backs. "We may be little, but we definitely play big."
Sutton finished his college career at Northwestern with 114 yards in an overtime loss to Missouri in the Alamo Bowl.39.76691 -86.14996