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NFL

Clarett is not in the running yet

By RICK STROUD
Published February 20, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS - Maurice Clarett arrived at the NFL combine Thursday eager to talk to teams in hopes of making a good first impression on skeptical scouts.

But his mouth is the only thing that will be running.

The Ohio State running back, who brought down NFL rules with a groundbreaking lawsuit that made the 20-year-old sophomore eligible for the draft, refused to perform physical workouts at the RCA Dome. Instead, Clarett delayed his audition until his private workout the first week of April, giving him another month to improve his body that was softened by a year of inactivity. Clarett said he plans to shed seven pounds from his 5-foot-11, 237-pound frame by working out with speed coach Tom Shaw in New Orleans.

Clarett said the late ruling on his case by a U.S. District Court judge did not give him enough time to prepare. But with one season with the Buckeyes to judge him by, some NFL executives were soured by Clarett's decision.

"That's a farce. That was expected that he wouldn't work out," Bills general manager Tom Donahoe said. "That's ridiculous.

"(It) probably (hurts him more), because he didn't play this year. You have immediate questions on what kind of shape he's in, why he's not prepared to work out. It doesn't send a good message to me. I can't speak for the rest of the league, but it doesn't send a good message to the Buffalo Bills."

Clarett, who has not formally hired an agent but lists Tennessee-based Jimmy Sexton as a finalist, said he did not work out under the advice of his mother, Michelle.

"I'm not sure how they feel, but all the numbers they need to get, they can get them the first week of April," Clarett said. "The intensity of the training has to increase. I'm going to take these next four weeks and get back to eating right and training right and try to take my training up a notch."

Clarett spent most of the day being examined by team doctors, who concentrated on recent injuries. Clarett missed three games during his only season with the Buckeyes in which he rushed for 1,237 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. He had thumb surgery in the spring before that campaign, then missed one game with arthroscopic knee surgery and two with a shoulder sprain. The interviews will be critical for Clarett, who must overcome his well-documented NCAA and legal offenses.

"I haven't had any off-field problems before," Clarett said. "Just all NCAA regulations and loopholes and things like that. Anything outside of NCAA regulations, as far as nightclubs and anything like that, it was never me. I'm a homebody. I'm a lot cooler than what you all think. A lot of people think I talk a lot more than I do. I don't really talk too much. The way it's painted on TV is like I'm arrogant and cocky. I'm a quiet individual. I don't say much ever. I lead by example, work hard day in and day out, go 200 percent every practice."

But NFL teams are uncertain whether Clarett's playmaking skills will be as abundant at the next level. Some team officials question whether a 19- or 20-year-old can handle the physical rigors of an NFL season.

"The physical and impact of this game and what it has come to, your body has to be ready for what's going on," Dolphins general manager Rick Spielman said. "I just think from a maturity standpoint, not many young guys are ready for that."

Then there are the mental challenges. Most teams see Clarett as an unknown, and he isn't projected to go much higher than the second round. The NFL warned teams not to speak directly about Clarett because of pending litigation. Many referenced him in generalities.

"My personal opinion is if I had a son, I would want him to stay in school and graduate," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "I think that's the best way for 99 percent of the young men in the world. I think what you're going to see is a number of guys who don't like school, don't feel that good about school, get in tough situations in school, those are going to be the guys that come out early."

Some NFL players have suggested Clarett will be subjected to extra physical punishment for standing up to draft rules and breaking the system.

"I'm sure I'll be marked just like every other rookie," Clarett said. "I'm not thinking like I'm a groundbreaker of any type."

[Last modified February 20, 2004, 01:31:57]


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