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by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider

Kalil headlines solid group of offensive linemen at combine


DeCastro (right) is the highest-rated guard and ninth overall prospect in this year's draft class. (Getty Images)  
DeCastro (right) is the highest-rated guard and ninth overall prospect in this year's draft class. (Getty Images)  

INDIANAPOLIS -- The combine workouts and interviews are well under way here in Indianapolis and the strengths and weaknesses of the 2012 draft class are starting to take shape.

The tight ends are not a strong group and when Dwayne Allen -- the John Mackey Award winner and supposedly the top tight end -- ran a 4.89-second 40, things got worse.

But when one group disappoints, another impresses.

The offensive linemen started filtering into the Lucas Oil Stadium and the NFL decision makers were happy.

"There are some very good looking offensive linemen and some depth as well especially at center," Bucs GM Mark Dominic told me.

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As offensive linemen get measured and evaluated, it's starting to appear that there could be six to eight drafted in the first round. As one GM said, "Taking an offensive lineman is not only a safe pick, but a smart pick when you want to get your money’s worth and this draft has a few solid guys at the top and more down below."

I spent a week in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl which traditionally has a solid group of offensive linemen. This year was no exception. Consequently, I came to the combine with a good feel for the offensive line and I have already studied Matt Kalil, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, and Riley Reiff among others on game tape.

Prior to this weekend there were projections of a guard and center, Stanford's DeCastro and Wisconsin's Peter Konz, being solid first-round picks and potentially going in the top half of the first round. Let me start by saying guards and centers rarely go that high.

Konz only managed 18 reps on the bench and that will scare off a number of teams that know the kind of strength and power a center has to have against an NFL nose tackle. The other top five centers in this class averaged 30 reps on the bench.

As one log time NFL executive said, "Going from 18 reps to 30 reps is a year-long job and Konz may not be able to play right away if he’s not strong enough."

Let me tell you when there's doubt in a decision-makers mind there's no doubt what he will not do.

As for DeCastro, he is more than tough enough to play right away in the NFL and his 34 reps on the bench tells you he loves to work, but a 5.43 40 (compared to Georgia's Cordy Glenn, a 245-pounder who ran a 4.96) leaves some doubt why a team would take a guard like DeCastro in the first round.

There really have only been three true guards taken in the first round since 2000. There have been a number of offensive tackles taken in the first round that failed at tackle and went to guard but pure guards that can't play tackle aren't usually first-round priorities.

One GM I ran into on my way to dinner tonight said, "passing a position player at defensive end, corner, offensive tackle or wide receiver to take a guard is tough to do and today didn't make it any easier."

The biggest offensive line winner Saturday was USC left tackle Matt Kalil. He ran close to 5.0 in the 40, had 30 reps on the bench, 4.65 in the short shuttle and solidified himself as a top-five pick. A scout I spoke with looked at me cross-eyed when I asked him who the safest pick was in the first round.

"Matt Kalil locked that spot up this afternoon," he said.

It amazes me that an offensive lineman could come to the combine and walk into the bench press test and throw the bar up 16 or 17 times and really expect an NFL team to consider drafting him in a reasonable spot, but it happened today. So not to embarrass anyone I will leave it at that but there are plenty of high school linemen that can top the performance of a few guys on Saturday.

Finally, a few linemen to keep an eye on that should be solid values in later rounds that were impressive include center Philip Blake (Baylor), center Quinton Saulsberry (Mississippi State) and guard Brandon Washington (Miami).

The most revealing thing I heard today at the combine? That came from a personnel director who said, "I only have 19 guys with a first-round grade and I hope this weekend produces a few more."

On the air with Kirwan

There's nothing like a four-hour radio show at the combine to get a multitude of athletes, coaches and front office executives to stop by and talk some football.

  Dominic wanted to discuss interview techniques and how to dig a little deeper into the mind and attitude of the athletes.

  Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin explained how his wrestling background helped him play defensive line and maybe gave a clue as to why the Steelers and Texans have shown some interest in him. Oh by the way, he plans on at least 42 reps on the bench press test after his college teammate, David Molk hit 41.

  Dont'a Hightower, the impressive linebacker from Alabama, told me he never played any other sports in high school but he was ready to take on Maurice Jones-Drew in the video game Mortal Combat. MJD is the self-proclaimed champion of the game among NFL players and Hightower was more interested in finding him online tonight since he brought the game with him to Indy.

  LSU receiver Reuben Randle is rising up draft boards and even the great Gil Brandt told me he may be taken a lot higher than people think. When Gil talks I listen, especially after doing the past eight drafts with Gil from the first pick to the last pick.

  Michael Brockers stopped by for a chat and we discussed why it can be tough for a 6-5 defensive tackle to always win the leverage game inside at tackle.

"Us tall guys tend to stand up and peek," Brockers said.

That will not get him very far in an NFL game but I will tell you he was impressive to talk football with as he broke down the LSU "tag-and-react" defensive package. I could see him back outside at left defensive end in a 4-3 defense.

  Finally, my good friend and Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel stopped by to talk about what he looks for at the combine and his quarterback, Matt Cassel. Romeo is a defensive line coach by trade and he feels he can sit with his strength and conditioning coach at the combine and project growth and size potential.

"When a guy with a smooth body steps up to take the bench press test, we can project how much room for growth there is," Crennel said.

That's a sentiment of the combine that rang out loud and clear to me after the Saturday festivities.

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.

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