Despite being nearly 1,800 miles from Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium, where 327 draft hopefuls are displaying their wares for the league scouts this week, Brandon Brooks retains an interest in the Scouting Combine.
"A lot of those guys, I worked out with," said the Miami (Ohio) guard, who took some time out from his training regimen in Phoenix on Saturday to watch the offensive line on-field auditions broadcast by The NFL Network. "Those are my buddies. So, yeah there's a curiosity thing at work there."
There's a bit of a curiosity element, too, about why Brooks, who is rated as the No. 8 guard prospect by NFLDraftScout.com, was training at the renowned Athletes' Performance Institute, instead of running the 40-yard dash and doing other position-specific drills with the rest of the offensive line candidates on Saturday in Indianapolis.
In discussions with league scouts about players not invited to the Combine, several players were mentioned to The Sports Xchange -- Oklahoma State offensive tackle Levy Adcock, Houston outside linebacker Sammy Brown, Wisconsin free safety Aaron Henry, East Carolina wide receiver Lance Lewis, Western Kentucky tailback Bobby Rainey, Miami (Fla.) defensive tackle Micanor Regis, among them -- Brooks' name was cited pretty prominently.
No one, though, could offer a strong reason as to why Brooks was not invited.
There are, after all, 14 guards at the Combine, and at least a few of them probably won't go off the draft board ahead of Brooks, who is regarded as a third- to fifth-round prospect. Given that there are seven other players from the Mid-American Conference, arguably several of them not as celebrated as Brooks, his exclusion is somewhat mystifying.
But Brooks, who has been training at API since early January, isn't particularly fazed by the numbers or the oversight.
"It keeps a chip on my shoulder," Brooks told The Sports Xchange. "It gives me something to work toward. The training here has been good. I'll still have my pro day and an individual workout, and I'll be really ready for both of them. So maybe it's for the best."
There is probably a hint of rationalization in Brooks' assessment of the situation, but there is determination in his voice as well.
And arguably some "I'll show them" element, too, it seems. What there is not is bitterness, as evidenced by his interest in the Saturday workouts. Instead of ignoring the televised session, much as he was overlooked by Combine officials, he will use the workouts as a tool to gauge how he measures up and the components of his game on which he must work.
After a strong performance at the East-West Shrine Game, where he was measured at 6-feet-4 5/8 and 353 pounds, there was good buzz about Brooks in the scouting community, and an expectation he would be invited to Indianapolis.
Fueling that expectation in part was the recent ascent of the guard position in the league. Once viewed as a kind of "grunt" position, the guard spot, although still well below the tackle position, has been swept up in the enhanced profile that the interior line slots have received in recent years.
The prominence of guards such as the New Orleans tandem of Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans -- two veterans mentioned by Brooks when asked about interior linemen who he followed closely and attempted to emulate in his play -- has elevated the position in the eyes of scouts. As recently as 2009, there were no guards selected in the first round of the draft. With David DeCastro of Stanford leading the way, this will be the third straight year with at least one first-round guard.
Said Brooks, who is currently at 346 pounds, thanks in part to API's emphasis on nutritional training: "The attention (for guards) has definitely been better. Teams seem to want the strong guy for the running game, but someone who can protect, too. Probably the position is better rounded than it used to be."
Primarily a guard for most of his career, Brooks has spent some time at tackle, so he is familiar with pass protection schemes. Some scouts, and NFLDraftScout.com analyst Rob Rang, noted that Brooks lacks some lateral agility, is a bit heavy-footed, and perhaps not nasty enough. But one only has to review video from the East-West all-star game to perceive some NFL-level attributes, and to see that he is a viable draft prospect, and Rang regards the Miami star as "draft worthy."
All three of the scouts queried specifically about Brooks agreed he will be drafted.
Brooks will depart API on Monday, after weeks of training that included twice-daily sessions and the addition of 20 pounds of muscle, and continue preparing for his March 1 pro day and an individual audition for scouts a week later. He will use the Combine exclusion as continuing prod, and this bit of motivation, as well.
"You just look at a guy like Sebastian Vollmer," Brooks said, referring to the New England three-year veteran right offensive tackle. "He wasn't invited, either, to the Combine, and he got drafted in the second round (in 2009). This year, he started in the Super Bowl.
"That's not so bad."
--By Len Pasquarelli