Opening the mailbag 

February, 20, 2009
Since the NFL combine is about to get going, I'll start this week's mailbag there:

From Toby in Granada Hills, Calif.: Bruce, Any predictions for the NFL Combine ... studs and duds?

Feldman: I am always pretty curious to watch the workouts and see how well various former top college stars perform in that setting. One of the guys I think that should do well is Texas DE Brian Orakpo. He was the top guy on last June's freaks list and I look for him to put on a good show. He's got amazing strength for someone his size. He also should run very well.

Matthew Stafford, the Georgia QB, is another guy I expect to dazzle people. Stafford won't blow anyone away with his foot speed, but his arm is superb. Anyone who has ever watched him throw in a workout setting falls for him. I was skeptical about Stafford until I watched him throw in California last summer while he was working at the Elite 11 camp. His arm isn't as powerful as JaMarcus Russell's (whose is?) but it's special.

Two guys I think have a shot to run the fastest 40 times are Florida's Percy Harvin and Ole Miss' Mike Wallace. The former Rebel receiver has been timed in the 4.2s during his tenure in Oxford. In truth, he's always been known as a straight-line speed guy, but the 40-yard dash should work out well for him. Harvin should do great in the 40 and light it up in the drills because of his explosiveness.

Also keep an eye on USC LB Brian Cushing, who also figures to test very well as should So. Miss TE Shawn Nelson.

From Mike in Yorba Linda, Calif.: Why so little love for USC next year? Yeah, we lost some starters and great players but (except for QB) their backups have played a lot over last season and in some cases the prior one. Pete Carroll thinks next year's D maybe just as good as last year's. And it's not like the Trojans haven't broken in a new QB before ... Maybe Florida is better, but with what OU, UT, UGA and Bama have to replace, I don't get why USC isn't ranked No. 2?

Feldman: I just think the Trojans lost too much experience on D to come in as a preseason No. 2. They lost four outstanding linebackers who have played a ton over the years. They also lost their top D-lineman in Fila Moala. I do think the secondary will be very good with Taylor Mays back along with CB Shareece Wright. I spoke with Wright on Thursday and he's feeling good about his rehab from his neck injury. But overall, I just think there's too many new guys on D and it may take some take for the new QB to get settled in.

From Stephen in Houston: Hey Bruce, Which offenses schematically speaking, do you think are the best in the nation? I'd have to think Chip Kelly's offense is up there. I think that offense overachieves relative to the average to good talent that Oregon has.

Feldman: I'm with you. I love what Oregon does on offense. They use every inch of the field and make it seem like the defense has to cover the depths of a CFL field. And for being a team that spreads you out so well, they do a fantastic job running the football. Kelly's approach and commitment to the ground game was the big reason why LaGarrette Blount opted to go to Oregon over Florida State.

From Sean in Pa.: What can you say about Charlie Weis? He may have his flaws, but is there a coach out there who has a stronger work ethic or determination? Is there a better recruiter? I don't think so. I still don't know how he pulled off the No. 1 class last year after going 3-9. To follow that up with the Manti Te'o signing, wow.

Feldman: Well, the one thing I can say for sure about Weis is that Notre Dame signed him to a ridiculous deal a few years back and that he has at least one very loyal fan. He's certainly proven to be a good recruiter, although I'm not sure if the class that came after the 3-9 year was ranked No. 1. The two schools that I think got the top honors were either Miami or Alabama. That said, he lands many players that other powerhouses covet, so you have to give him his due.

It has been argued, especially by my pal Andy Staples over at SI, that ND recruits tend to be overrated for a variety of reasons. I think that happens to some extent with many high-profile schools. ND might just be the biggest case. The one thing is some of these touted classes he has landed haven't lived up to the hype, especially the celebrated 2006 class, where ND brought in 28 players. A bunch of the most hyped guys are no longer in South Bend. I think that group's lackluster showing is a big reason why the Irish weren't anywhere near the Top 25 last year. The ND class of rising juniors has been much better. We'll have to see how this latest crop develops.

I think evaluation and development are the two key components to recruiting: who evaluates best and which staff then develops that talent. If you're getting top 10 classes and it's not translating into wins three years down, something is amiss.

Random Stuff

• I dropped by USC to watch the Trojans go through 7-on-7s and ran into Taylor Mays, who looks even bigger than ever. Mays, who said he weighs in at 235 pounds, is eager to go through the Trojans' testing day on Monday. Last year, he was timed with a 4.25 and a 4.30 in the 40-yard dash at 225 pounds. Mays said he feels even faster now.

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