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Combine As Usual

While labor negotiations go on, Cards go on annual Indy trip


The Cardinals will watch -- and listen -- to all their potential draftees at the Scouting combine, like they did last year with Andre Roberts.

Rarely does the NFL run on such parallel tracks, but that's what the next week or so will feel like.

The NFL Scouting combine is underway in Indianapolis, with potential draftees and the braintrusts of all 32 teams coming to the middle of the country continuing to sort out who they want to draft (and who they do not). Meanwhile, both the league and the NFL Players Association continue to meet in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, so that free agency and the offseason isn't interrupted by a work stoppage.

The latter will only gain headlines in the coming days as the deadline (the league year officially ends at 10 p.m. Arizona time on March 3) creeps closer. But for coaches and scouts, the combine and the business of preparing a football team for 2011 remains the main concern.

"I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it," coach Ken Whisenhunt said of a potential work stoppage. "We are certainly hopeful that (the CBA) gets done. But now, I am just trying to prepare our team to play football like we normally do this time of year."

That means the combine, which always carries weight but may increase this year for the Cardinals, who hold the No. 5 overall pick and therefore have near pick of the litter when it comes to the draft. Given that the Cards need a quarterback, intrigue – and hype around the pick – will only grow.

What these players time out in the 40-yard dash or how much they bench press isn't what gets the attention, however.

Scouts have been poring over video of the senior prospects for months. The football has been evaluated and re-evaluated. This will be one of the few times they can get one-on-one interaction.

"So many times I have had a good feeling about a player from an ability standpoint, and I talk to him and something in my gut says 'This doesn't feel right' and my gut is right," Cardinals director of player personnel Steve Keim said. "Other times I have some questions on players when I thought they were a tough evaluation and then I interviewed them and you fell in love with the character and the intangibles and you think, 'You know what, even though I was on the fence with his player, he's got what it takes to turn the corner.' "

Each position coach goes to the combine to evaluate players from their particular area. Special teams and offense come this week, with defensive players getting a chance over the weekend and into next week.

The labor talks will be hovering around and even touch part of the combine – the annual player agent meetings, within which labor will be the obvious big topic, are held in Indianapolis at this time every year.

Reports Tuesday were that labor talks were actually showing progress, seemingly a good sign. And it's another reason why the combine will be a place of "normal" business, with only a small asterisk for now.

"It doesn't change the approach but it puts more emphasis on the contingency plan," Keim said. "If there is a work stoppage and there is a draft but we can't sign free agents, there has to be a contingency plan."

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