|Sunday, February 23
Updated: February 24, 2:47 PM ET
Teams fume over decisions not to run
By John Clayton
INDIANAPOLIS -- Titans general manager Floyd Reese sat in the RCA Dome Saturday and joked with a frustrated group of personnel men as they watched running back after running back announce that they weren't working out.
"Looks like Willis McGahee is still the top running back in this draft," Reese said. That, of course, is the Willis McGahee who is seven weeks off of surgery to repair three damaged ligaments in his left knee. Even on one leg, McGahee didn't lose any ground to a group of backs who didn't want to run.
On Friday, only nine of 16 running backs ran. Saturday was worse. Only four of 16 ran and two of those -- Casey Moore of Stanford and Jeremi Johnson of Western Kentucky -- participated. Unless you fell in love with Justin Fargas of USC and his 4.3 40s, the masses of personnel people who came to Indianapolis to find a halfback left without learning much.
Many of the personnel decision makers fumed.
"To have four guys out of 16 work, I think it's a total embarrassment," Dolphins vice president Rick Spielman said. "It's an embarrassment for these kids. It's an embarrassment for these agents."
The running back group was so bad that South Carolina State halfback Derek Watson, who stood at the starting line for his 40-yard dash, received a standing ovation and loud cheer when it was announced he was running. Eight other backs in front of Watson refused. Many were healthy, but they opted to do their running at their college workout days.
But memories are long in this league. With workouts scheduled during a five week period from the beginning of March through the first week of April, there may not be enough time for scouts to see workouts of all of the 19 backs who didn't run. Don't be silly to think that the workouts of Larry Johnson of Penn State, Lee Suggs of Virginia Tech, Onterrio Smith of Oregon and Chris Brown of Nebraska won't be attended.
Of course, teams that need running backs will staff the workouts of the top backs. But will teams make special trips to see Dwone Hicks of Middle Tennessee or will they send an extra coach or scout to watch Musa Smith of Georgia, Labrandon Toefield of LSU or Avon Cobourne of West Virginia.
"It's a big mistake for guys not to work out," Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "We have only so many days during the month of March. How many places can you be in so many days? You take a person like me. Hey, I'm no different from all the other general managers in the league. What do you think we're working on? We're working on free agency. We can't be running around across the country on a daily basis. I've got to do my work in the fall and I do free agency in March."
By the way, the Texans need a running back. If they draft one, Casserly probably won't see him test his time and agility in person. It may cause the Texans just to take a chance in the second or third round on a guy like McGahee if his recovery from knee surgery receives positive checks when he returns to Indianapolis in April.
With McGahee hurt, this isn't considered a great running back class. Johnson of Penn State is expected to go in the first round following a 2,015-yard season. Fargas may have moved into the first round with his blistering 4.3.
But it's not just the running backs who have caused general managers and coaches to fume. Too many players are opting not to work at Indy. It's been that way for years, and it could cause a major modification in future combines.
"I just think it's ridiculous that when a player knows he's coming to the combine and he has not played in January and he has not had any injury and he doesn't run," Spielman said. "He knows he has two months to prepare for this thing, which is a huge job interview and he can stack up against people in his position. How is he going to get ready week in and week out if he can't do this?"
The weird part of all of this is that most of the players are paying $500 a week to train with professionals who prepare them to peak their workouts. The idea is that if a player knows how to work the drills, he can shave significant time off his 40, jump higher, broad jump longer and shuttle faster.
Workout wonders could jump for the third to the first round, but if those who are in lower rounds don't work, they get lost in the shuffle and are wasting money. After all, if you lower your stock by not working, the investment might not be right.
"I think it's a total waste of money for agents to have players not workout," Spielman said. "You put all your eggs in one basket for a players' pro day."
Spielman cited unnamed examples of players who skip Indianapolis workouts and run into trouble at their individual workouts. Maybe there is a hamstring injury right before the work. Maybe there is a weather problem that could prevent all the scouts from visiting the workout.
"I'm a believer you should use every opportunity," Reese said. "I've seen it the last couple of years. Guys will bypass the combine and go back to his school and hope to work out once or twice. They'd run their first 40 and pull up. What ends up happening going into the draft is that the teams don't have enough info on the player. It costs someone because you don't know if it's going to cost a player one slot or one round, but it costs them."
The good news is the most of the defensive linemen worked out and many did well. The three top offensive linemen -- Jordan Gross of Utah, Eric Steinbach of Iowa and Kwane Harris of Stanford -- wowed the scouts and upped their value.
From the look of the running backs, though, Willis McGahee improved his stock even though his knee isn't healthy enough to run.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.