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Minnesota among those questioning seniors

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
NFL teams will be playing a little catch-up, or perhaps some Columbo-like detective work, next week when the annual scouting combine commences in Indianapolis.

Minnesota vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, for one, wants to know why a number of the nation's top seniors skipped last month's Senior Bowl festivities. (For background on this issue, check out ESPN.com analyst Todd McShay's report. McShay notes that his five highest-ranked seniors were absent and named three in particular who might have hurt their status as a result: Baylor offensive lineman Jason Smith, Texas defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo and Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis.)

Here's what Spielman had to say about the issue:

"Something that was a little different this year was that a lot of the top senior players did not show up. I don't know if that's a trend or not, but it seemed like a lot of those guys did not show up down at the Senior Bowl. I felt that the guys they brought in to replace them did a nice job down there. It just gave us some nice exposure to some guys that maybe weren't as highly-rated as some of the guys that pulled out.

"But that will be something that will probably be addressed when we do get in front of those guys at the combine: The reasons that they didn't come down to the Senior Bowl. It's interesting. Was it something that they didn't feel they needed to go out and show their skills? Was it a competitive thing? Was it an injury thing? So it just kind of opens up another avenue that you want to try to explore: Why they didn't show up."

Asked what type of answers he would be seeking, Spielman said:

"Some of those guys that didn't show up will be battling for first-round positioning. [The Senior Bowl] gave them another opportunity to show their skill set and they didn't do that. It could be a legitimate reason. You don't know until you specifically ask them."

It's early to call this a trend, but I'm sure NFL teams aren't thrilled with the prospect of top players skipping all-star games on top of participating in only selected drills at the combine. If this practice expands, it would shift the postseason evaluation emphasis from all-star games and the combine to on-campus pro days and individual workouts.

That change would give players more of a comfort zone and allow their allies to mold the evaluation process more to their strengths. Obviously, NFL teams prefer to be in control of these situations to gain a full evaluation on their terms. It's something to keep an eye on.