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Published: Friday, 2/22/2008

Gholston, Long high on many NFL lists

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Some of the finest four-legged thoroughbred stock in the world are measured, scrutinized and sold at Keeneland, outside Lexington. Everyone there is looking for the next Secretariat.

The best in artwork goes on the sales block at Christie's in London. Nervous bidders hope they will invest in the creations of this generation's Picasso or Rembrandt.

At Barrett-Jackson auction house in Scottsdale, rare and highly-coveted sports cars find their way in front of potential buyers, who write checks with a half dozen zeroes for something that is fast and flashy.

And in Indianapolis this weekend, circumferentially-challenged middle-aged men wearing those odd, half-frame glasses and carrying clip boards will analyze, prod and attempt to peer into the DNA of the best college football players in the country. There are X-rays to detect any unmended injuries, and the obligatory drug testing.

The NFL Scouting Combine is a highly-sophisticated meat market where likely future pro players are assessed and a pecking order is established for the upcoming NFL draft, which takes place on the final weekend of April.

This beauty contest for 300-pounders has a commonality with Keeneland and Christie's and Barrett-Jackson in the price tag for its prime talent - millions.

For six days, players are drilled, tested and interviewed in and around the RCA Dome, home of the NFL's Colts. Each year, a number of the top players will skip certain physical tests or drills on the advice of their agents, to protect their draft stock. Lesser regarded players have the opportunity to enhance their status with strong showings.

The workouts begin tomorrow, and for Ohio State's Kirk Barton, Vernon Gholston and Larry Grant, and the Michigan contingent of Jamar Adams, Adrian Arrington, Shawn Crable, Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Jake Long and Mario Manningham, the size of their future paychecks will have a direct correlation to how they perform in the 40-yard dash, the psychological testing and the position-specific drills.

Toledo's John Greco and Jalen Parmele, Bowling Green's Kory Lichtensteiger, Rogers grad Fred Davis, and Adrian's Kellen Davis are also part of the show and tell. Gholston and Long are projected as likely stars of the elaborate show.

"Gholston took his play to a new level in 2007, showcasing the explosiveness to overpower offensive tackles at the point of attack," ESPN's NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "Gholston also has excellent closing speed, as evidenced by the 14 sacks he registered this past season. He also has the versatility to play with his hand off the ground."

Kiper and other draft gurus predict many NFL teams will look at Gholston's numbers at the Combine in the context of his potential at linebacker.

"Gholston's up-the-field explosiveness is the main reason he is considered a potential top-10 pick," said Todd McShay, director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc.

As a physical specimen, Gholston is expected to wow the scouts - huge arms, five percent body fat, and a 455-pound bench press.

"Vernon Gholston is a remarkable talent, but he's only just begun realizing his vast potential," draft expert Mike Mayock said on the NFL's Web site. "He's blessed with incredible speed, long limbs and superb strength, Gholston is the prototype pass rusher that professional teams look for - big, fast, strong and explosive."

Long comes to the NFL Combine as the most decorated Big Ten offensive lineman since Ohio State's Orlando Pace - the last guy to win lineman of the year in the conference in consecutive seasons before Long pulled it off.

"Draft prospects like Jake Long make scouting look easy," McShay said. "Long is not as athletic as last year's top tackle prospect, Joe Thomas, who excelled at left tackle for the Browns as a rookie in 2007. However, Long has more than enough range to play left tackle in the NFL, and he is bigger, stronger and more physical than Thomas was coming out of Wisconsin."

Long is expected to use the Combine to solidify his position as the top offensive lineman in the draft.

"Long is a take-charge type and a field leader who plays with good field awareness and is an aggressive blocker who has the knowledge to call blocking adjustments up front," according to Mayock. "He plays with a mean streak, looking to constantly finish his man off."

About 600 NFL coaches, general managers, scouts and medical and training personnel are expected to attend the Combine and scrutinize the more than 300 potential pros.

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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