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Notebook: Elway and the Top Prospects

Posted Feb 24, 2012

Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway was a popular figure Friday; a closer look at top prospects Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson from the combine.


INDIANAPOLIS --
John Elway was a popular figure at the NFL Scouting Combine on Friday.

And it wasn't simply because the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations met with the media.

The two top quarterback prospects -- Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III -- named Elway as an influence in their games.

Luck's connection is more obvious -- both went to Stanford, and the prospect said he gets to chat with the Pro Football Hall of Famer typically about twice a year when he visits campus.

"He talked a lot about why they didn't win those first couple of Super Bowls he was in," Luck said of the best advice Elway gave him. "It was they were thinking too big-picture. It's always focus on that next play. What are you going to do on the first play of the game to help you win? After that play, it's what about the second play?"

While Griffin doesn't share an alma mater with Elway, he certainly looked up to the two-time Super Bowl champion.

Griffin mentioned Elway along with Randall Cunningham, Steve Young and "guys people think I've never seen play like Kenny Stabler."

"They went from within the pocket, but they also know how to go outside the pocket," Griffin said. "I think that’s what the game’s kind of turning to with guys like Drew Brees, who run a little bit, and Aaron Rodgers, who can move around."

Elway himself had kind words for both future first-rounders.

“I look at both of them as two unbelievable prospects," he said. "I think that if you look at what they both did this year with Andrew at Stanford and RGIII down at Baylor, they’re two tremendous talents. Tremendously mature, intelligent guys that I look at as two who are going to have a lot of success in the NFL.”

ELWAY: 'THIS IS OUR SEASON'

Teams are allowed just 15 minutes per interview with prospects at the combine, but Elway said "every bit helps."

"It's just more or less a feel -- you get a feel for them," Elway said. "You get a chance to meet them. That's really all we're going to get out of them. You wouldn't put your whole opinion on the type of kid that he is in 15 minutes, but it gives you a little bit of an idea."

In his second combine with the team, Elway said that while film of the players during the season is important, the event is a big part of draft preparation as well.

"You still weigh what you see on the football field between the lines when the ball is snapped," he said. "That's still the heaviest weight. But the combine can influence you either way. If you're looking at a linebacker that you think runs a 4.8 (40-yard dash) and he actually runs 4.5, that may change your opinion as you watch him on the film."

Elway said he has found the ins and outs of player evaluation this time of year to be one of his favorite parts of the job.

“To me, once we get in the season, the team is really turned over to (Head Coach John Fox) and Foxy takes over from there," Elway said. "For me, as well as our personnel department, this is our season. This is the time where we have to be good and really concentrate on putting the best 80 guys together that we can go into camp with that’ll give us the best chance to win a championship. This is really our season, and it’s an exciting time for us.”

AIMING FOR NO. 1

Many consider Luck to be a virtual lock for the No. 1 overall pick.

But Griffin doesn't want to concede the top spot just yet.

"As competitors, you both want to be the best," he said. "Whether I go No. 1 or not, it’s not going to change who I am, it’s not going to change my confidence. But I’d be a fool to say I don’t want to go No. 1 in the draft because I think I do, Andrew does, (USC tackle) Matt Kalil does, (Alabama running back) Trent Richardson does. You ask any of them, they want to go No. 1. That’s the main reason. It’s not that I think they should not pick him or they should pick me. We all want to be the best, so I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t want to go No. 1."

Even if he doesn't head to the Indianapolis Colts with the first selection, Griffin is drawing comparisons to the top pick in 2011 -- Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton.

But Griffin was quick to point out a few differences.

"Cam’s a bigger guy, I think he’s 6-5, 240 (pounds), I’m 6-2 3/8ths and 223 -- I'm not letting that go," Griffin laughed, referring to the fact that he weighed in taller than some analysts thought he would. "That’s a difference. As a runner he is a little more shifty than I am, but I’m faster than he is. More experienced in the passing game in college. Not that I’m more polished and he’s not polished, just we threw it a little bit more at Baylor than they did at Auburn. Other than that, confidence-wise his confidence is off the charts. I try to keep my confidence on the charts. But I’m a confident guy as well. You’ve got to be that way. If you don’t think you’re the best, you don’t perform that way."

The Broncos came up in Griffin's press conference, when a reporter asked if he hoped his NFL team would work in some plays from college to utilize his skill set -- similar to how Denver incorporated some option plays for quarterback Tim Tebow.

"I think those elements that they brought out show how good of coaches that they are," Griffin said of the Broncos. "If you go back and you work to a player’s strengths, it can be great. But I’m not going to be the one that walks in the door with five plays with Baylor and like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to run these.’ If they want to do that, I’m more than happy to go with that. If they want to know some concepts from Baylor, I’d be happy to bring (Baylor Head) Coach (Art) Briles up there. My job is to learn their offense and to be respectful for them that way."

So whether Griffin goes No. 1 to Indianapolis or any other club, he just hopes there's one team out there that's a perfect fit.

"I hope somebody falls in love with me other than my fiancé," Griffin smiled. "That’s what you want. As a player you want a team that really wants you. Head coach, GM, owner, everybody that really wants you in that place and the players believe in you. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to making somebody fall in love with me."

REPLACING PEYTON?

If it turns out to be Luck at the No. 1 spot, the Stanford quarterback understands the possibility of becoming the heir apparent to -- or even replacing -- Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

"I'm not too caught up in that right now," Luck said. "I understand that is a possibility. Peyton was my hero growing up. He was my football hero. That's who I modeled myself after in high school, middle school, whatever it was. You never truly replace a guy like that. And who knows what happens? So many different things can happen. I'm not thinking about it too much right now."

Still, Luck said that if he ends up in Indy with Manning, he would "absolutely" take advantage of the opportunity to learn under the Super Bowl champ.

The Stanford product returned to school as a senior when it appeared he could've been the No. 1 overall selection had he elected to enter the draft after his junior campaign.

He shed some light on that decision Friday.

"One, there was still a challenge left in college football for me -- I felt like there was more to go out and prove," Luck said. "Two, I wanted to get that step closer to the degree. It was a big deal for me. I didn't want that looming over me, per se, in an offseason after a professional season. And three, I enjoyed my buddies. I enjoyed the team. I enjoyed Stanford. I wanted to go back and do it again with them for another year."

Luck doesn't have his degree quite yet, but he said he plans to take his final two classes starting on April 1 and graduate in June.

In the meantime, Luck will soon be entering an NFL classroom, and he said he knows he still has room for improvement.

"I know it's terribly cliché, but I think you can never settle on any point in your game," he said. "For me, sort of quickening everything up in terms of release. I know those extra milliseconds count, especially in the NFL when guys are so much faster, stronger, bigger. Then, making sure my drops are rhythmic, perfect every time and being consistent in that area."

If it seems like a modest answer from a player some are calling the best quarterback prospect in a decade, it's not. Luck said he doesn't listen to that high praise as he prepares to take the next step in his career.

"It's obviously flattering when people have nice things to say about you, but I realize at the end of the day that it's an opinion," he said. "Not to discredit or discount any of those opinions, but they sort of have to flow off your back like water. The game can change so quick. You can get caught behind whatever that may be. I realize I can't pay attention to it. Just keep my head down and work hard."

SPEED AND POWER

Richardson isn’t able to participate in the running drills at the combine due to a minor surgical procedure he had on his knee after the season. But that’s not going to stop him from going after the running backs bench press record, he said.
 
He’s disappointed that he won’t be able to participate in all that the combine offers due to his competitive drive.
 
“I’m very disappointed I can’t do the stuff here that everybody else can do," Richardson said. “In college, it irked my nerves when I heard guys say they don’t want to this and that at the combine. That’s something that you dream of and want to do your whole life, and being a college football player and a competitor, I always wanted to come to this and show all my skills. That’s what the top guys do.”
 
As a player who strives to be considered one of the top guys, he has observed and tried to model his game after elite NFL running backs.
 
“(Former Alabama teammate) Mark Ingram, of course, Adrian Peterson, Ricky Williams, DeAngelo Williams -- there's a lot of guys -- Maurice Jones Drew, (Ray) Rice," he said when asked which NFL players he tries to emulate. “When you got guys like that that are complete and the best -- Adrian Peterson’s not coming off the field when it’s third down or when it’s fourth-and-1, they’re giving him the ball and he’s got a nose for that ball. (Arian) Foster, a lot of guys. I don’t want to leave anyone out, but all those type guys, they've got a nose for the end zone and a hunger for it. You can tell it’s in them.”
 
A versatile running back, Richardson said he can fill any role that a team looks for in a back – even a role that some teams use two players to fulfill.
 
“I just try to have my own game, but I see me in both of the running backs from the Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs),” he said. “When it comes down to it, those are guys I’ve been watching my whole career and growing up.”
 
Fresh off the 2012 BCS National Championship, Richardson has a blend of speed -- he said he has never been caught from behind -- and power that not many other backs in his draft class can match.
 
“You want to a little league tape you can look at that,” he said with a smile. “You can’t find a game where I get caught from behind. I can bring you a little league tape and show you that I haven’t been caught from behind.”
 
In addition to his physical presence (he officially measured in at 5-foot-9 1/4 and 228 pounds), his mental approach gives him an edge once he steps on the field.
 
“It’s a mindset thing with me," Richardson said. "I’m not saying that Ray Lewis ain’t going to take me out, because when it comes down to it we’re going to have to see each other in the hole. And I love Uncle Ray to death, and he’s going to bring me all the contact he can and beat me up in the hole, but why would you stand down in front of that?"

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