Eight things I learned from hanging around the NFL Combine media center at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday:
1-Matt Kalil, who was one of only two O-linemen who worked out Saturday to clock a 40 under 5.0 seconds and is projected as a top-three draft pick, apparently wasn't such a promising athlete when he was younger. Fellow USC product Chris Galippo has known the 6-7, 306-pound Kalil since they were eight years old. And even though it's the Trojan linebacker who is in the shadows now in scouts' eyes, you might not have expected things to turn out like they have for the two childhood buddies from Orange County.
"I was always bigger and taller than Matt," said the 6-1, 241-pounder. "I was always kicking his butt. We'd go out and play two-on-two football and he couldn't catch. He couldn't throw. He was sort of like Bambi out there."
Galippo said then one summer when both were students at Servite High, his pal sprouted from 6-1 to about 6-7 and, soon thereafter, Kalil grew into that frame. "That's what's so crazy about it," Galippo says.
Kalil became much more coordinated, Galippo said, as the kid who always had the huge hands and huge feet finally caught up to his body.
Somwhere along the way, Kalil also honed quite a nasty streak that is a stark contrast to his jokester personality off the field, Galippo says, when pointing out one of the big differences between the USC left tackle and his older brother Ryan, a Pro Bowl center. "Matt's one of the meanest O-linemen around. He plays really angry."
2-The Michigan defenders really, really like the focus Brady Hoke's staff brought back to Ann Arbor that, um, apparently was lacking previously under former coach Rich Rodriguez. In fact, standout nose tackle Mike Martin said defense "wasn't very emphasized" under Rodriguez.
"He didn't really spend too much time on the defense," Martin said of Rodriguez. "We were kind of a supplement. Just kinda there trying to help out the offense."
When I asked Martin what the biggest difference in how Rodriguez ran the program as compared to Hoke, the 306-pounder said, "It was such a big change. The amount of accountability he gave to the seniors in the leadership. Coach Rod like to be that guy. But Coach Hoke told us, 'If I have to lead this team, we're not gonna be where we need to be.'"
Martin went on to say that new UM DC Greg Mattison came back to Ann Arbor and "just set the bar at another level. We thought that we were doing the things that we needed to do to get better, but watching film and being more technically sound and doing all of the detail things that Coach Mattison really harped on made us better as a team."
3-All of the coaching chaos at Pitt took its toll on the players. Defensive end Brandon Lindsey said the program had six different head coaches in a calendar year and the only want to handle that is for the players to lean on each other. "It was really hard to stay focused," he said. "It's definitely hard to trust people when two years in a row, your coach is gone, but you just have to trust your instincts and trust your university to bring in the right people."
4-Olivier Vernon, a former blue-chip high school prospect, thought getting "special treatment" wasn't all that special. The Miami DE, who missed six games in the 2011 season for his involvement in the Nevin Shapiro scandal at UM, said he was "baffled" when Yahoo sports broke the story late in the summer on the former UM booster. "I didn't know what was going on," Vernon said Saturday. "I didn't know my name was going to be mentioned."
The NCAA sidelined Vernon half the season for accepting $1,200 in benefits.
"I should've known better. Some people come around and try to give you things? I should've known better. . . . I was in high school. I didn't think it was 'special treatment.' I thought that's how things work. I didn't know anything about compliance.
"I really felt like it wasn't actually as bad as it was made out to be."
Vernon also told reporters that the people who introduced him to Shapiro were (former Miami assistants) Clint Hurtt and Aubrey Hill. Hurtt is now the D-line coach at Louisville, while Hill is the receivers coach at Florida. According to the Miami Herald, Vernon told the NCAA of both coaches' involvement, and that he wasn't the only Hurricane who told the NCAA that the former UM assistants led the players to Shapiro, and that one current Canes player said that another former Miami assistant Joe Pannunzio (now a staffer at Alabama) led him to Shapiro.
5-The biggest difference to the Texas players between Will Muschamp's defense and Manny Diaz' D is the simplicity of current UT defensive coordinator's scheme. Linebacker Keenan Robinson said it took Diaz just a week to install his defense in training camp, which was much less than it took to get Muschamp's system in place.
"It's much more simple," said UT LB Emmanuel Acho. "You also had more freedom within (Diaz) defense. He just lets us play the game."
6-Jamie Blatnick played against Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, three QBs who all may come into the NFL as top-five draft picks, but when asked who was the hardest quarterback to prepare for, the Oklahoma State DL answered K-State QB Collin Klein. "He's a great runner and is tough as nails."
7-Things were so bleak at Washington when Steve Sarkisian took over running back Chris Polk was contemplating giving up football.
"It's crazy how fast things changed," said Polk. "Coach Sark put everything into perspective."
Thanks to the attitude adjustment that Sarkisian made with the players, the team got better not only on the field but also in the classroom, Polk said. "It was night and day. My grades (improved) dramatically."
8-Iowa D-lineman Mike Daniels could have a future as a pro wrestler. Daniels was sitting by himself at a round table in the media room, about 30 feet from the podium where UNC star Quiton Coples was fielding questions from a big media group.
I asked Daniels who else had recruited him out of New Jersey besides Iowa. "Nobody," he said. "Nobody wanted me."
We talked about his wrestling in high school, which he went on to say has been a great source of frustration. "I had a poor attitude. It eats at me every day. I didn't take it seriously."
Thinking back to the 'nobody wanted me' answer, I asked if he has a chip on his shoulder that drives him. "I got a HUUUGE chip on my shoulder. And, I'm gonna stay pissed. That's how you get better. Do Ray Lewis play nice? Does John Randle play nice?"