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7 Points: Think outside the box with McCluster

Point No. 1: Dexter McCluster is a legitimate threat at both running back and wide receiver. I had problems keeping track of McCluster while watching Senior Bowl practices back in January. One minute, he was fielding punts or kickoffs. Then, he was running drills with the running backs. I'd look away for a moment and would notice that he was missing from that group and was running routes with the wide receivers instead. Mr. Do-It-All finished second all-time at Ole Miss in all-purpose yardage with 4,089 yards. The only Rebel to top McCluster's production was Deuce McAllister, who had a successful eight-year run with the New Orleans Saints from 2001-2008. During his senior year, McCluster started eight games as a receiver and four as a running back en route to becoming the first player in SEC history to roll up 1,000 rushing yards (1,169) and 500 receiving yards (520) in a single season. While there's no doubt that the 5-foot-9, 172-pound speedster will be counted on to contribute on special teams during his rookie season, the most challenging decision for most NFL teams right now is whether they'd use his talent primarily at the running back or slot receiver position. I asked McCluster to chime in on the debate this week, first making his case for why a team should draft him as a running back. "I feel I'll be the ultimate running back," he said with a tone of confidence that wasn't the least bit boastful. "I'm not afraid of anything or anybody. While some people may question my size, I don't mind getting hit, getting dirty and sticking it up inside the tackles. "I have great field vision and bring a lot to the table with my versatility. I can motion out of the backfield and run a receiver route that really looks like a receiving route, or swing out of the backfield and use my speed and quickness out in open space." They're all good points, validated by his game film. So I asked him why teams should draft him primarily as a slot receiver. "I have a great ability to get open--I really don't think a linebacker can guard me one-on-one," he said. "And I guarantee you, if the quarterback throws the ball to me, I'm going to end up with it." Bottom line? McCluster is going to be a threat no matter which position he plays, and NFL teams know it. "The reality is that no matter what a team is looking for in the draft, they love an exciting player like Dexter," said Jon Perzley, one of McCluster's agents. "Hands down, he's the most exciting person in the draft, like Percy Harvin last year." Despite the fact that he hasn't had his Pro Day yet, McCluster has already worked out for the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Tennessee Titans have already invited him to make an official visit and the Denver Broncos have requested a workout in the days following Ole Miss' Pro Day on Tuesday, March 23. "Just put me out there somewhere and I guarantee you, I'll stand out. I'll make it happen," McCluster said. Point No. 2: I've got the solution to this raging debate over the NFL's overtime rule. The NFL's overtime rule, which rewards the first team to score with a win, has helped the league avoid the bad taste that tie games--an average of roughly 13 per year since the rule was implemented in 1974--leaves in the mouth of both the players and the fans. But some coaches and owners have become increasingly disgruntled over the perceived advantage provided to the team that wins the coin toss before the start of the overtime period. During the 445 overtime contests since 1974, 30-percent of the games have been won on the first possession following the kickoff. A proposed change, that would be tested during the postseason, would only allow a team to clinch a victory on the first possession if they score a touchdown. But if that first possession results only in a field goal, the opponent would get one possession to at least tie the game. If the game is still tied after both teams have had the ball once, then the first team to score wins. I don't like the twist where a touchdown ends the game, but a field goal doesn't. And applying the rule only during the postseason is absurd when you consider that a single loss in regular season overtime play could be the difference in whether or not a team qualifies for the postseason in the first place. But I think I've got a better idea. After the final seconds tick off the clock in the fourth quarter, put 15 more minutes on the clock and keep playing until someone scores. Think about it. Two teams who are tied on the scoreboard have been slugging it out for nearly 60 minutes, making decisions that are often influenced by gains or losses in field position. So why should either one get any advantage by stopping play at the end of the fourth quarter? For example, imagine that your team's defense has just pinned the opponent deep in their territory in the closing seconds of a tie game, but they take a knee, win the coin toss and then return a kickoff in overtime to midfield and get to go back to work from there with a fresh set of downs. Or how about this one where your team's running back breaks free and isn't stopped until he gets inside the opponent's 20-yard line. But with no timeouts, the clock runs out and what could have been potentially decisive field position--earned while the two teams were still tied--is erased. The way I see it, when the fourth quarter ends in a tie, neither team should benefit by the clock running out, so just let the teams keep playing into the overtime period just like they do when transitioning from the third quarter to the fourth quarter. Reset the clock for 15 minutes, keep all the other rules regarding timeouts for the overtime period the same and stop interrupting the normal flow of the game with arbitrary coin tosses, mandated number of possessions or a funky rule where a touchdown can end a game but a field goal doesn't. Seems pretty simple to me. Point No. 3: I think Jerry Hughes will be following in Dwight Freeney's footsteps ... literally. Some people are assuming that TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes will have to switch to outside linebacker when he's drafted late next month. After all, at 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, he's not the prototypical size for an NFL defensive end. But when you look at what Hughes accomplished, especially during his last two seasons at TCU, he could be a primary target as a defensive end for the Indianapolis Colts or any other NFL team that values speed over size at the position. In 2008, Hughes led the nation with 15 sacks, forced six fumbles, posted 19.5 tackles for a loss, recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes. In 2009, even though teams frequently double-teamed him, he still logged 11.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for a loss, forced two fumbles and registered a career-best 58 tackles. He was selected as the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year following both seasons and, in 2009, was honored with the Lott Trophy as the nation's top defensive player and the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end. "Coming into my senior year, I knew I would see more double-teams and different matchups and schemes. But I think that stepping up and fighting through that helped me improve my game," the talented defender told me this week. Hughes has already worked out for the Atlanta Falcons and has private workouts or visits scheduled with the Colts, Eagles, Titans and Rams. Some people might wonder why the Colts--who have Pro Bowl-quality defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis--would consider using their first round pick, number 31 overall, on another speedy defensive end. Well, Freeney is entering his ninth NFL season while Mathis is beginning his eighth. And as the team has learned in recent years when Freeney has been sidelined or hampered by injuries, they lack the depth of talent at the position to generate serious pressure when only one of their dangerous duo is on the field. Freeney is one of players Hughes watches consistently and admires. And he sees similarities between the defensive philosophy of the Colts and the Horned Frogs. "I like the way Dwight Freeney uses his feet to help him be successful off the edge," he said. "Our coach preaches speed, and that's instilled in us as soon as we arrive at TCU. He's going to put the best athletes on the field, so you'd better be running around and flying to the ball." Although Hughes has the talent to be successful as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, I'm hoping that NFL fans get the opportunity to watch him work his magic off the edge as a defensive end later this year. Point No. 4: Over the past three seasons, former Jets wide receiver Wallace Wright has been truly special. Look at his stats as a wide receiver over the past four seasons, and you might wonder how Wright has managed to hold down a roster spot with an NFL team. After all, he has just one NFL start and eight catches for 108 yards. But over the last three seasons, no player in the NFL has made more special teams tackles than the 6-foot-1, 197-pound coverage ace. In 48 game appearances, he's made 58 special teams tackles, including 46 solo efforts. Wright was rewarded for his efforts as a free agent this offseason, signing a new deal with the Carolina Panthers. The Jets moved quickly to backfill the void as quickly as possible by snaring free agent linebacker Lance Laury, a former special teams captain with the Seattle Seahawks. Laury is one of just three other players who, like Wright, have tallied at least 50 special teams tackles over the past three years. His 52 tackles puts him in a tie for third place with Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs. Houston Texans linebacker Kevin Bentley, who's entering his ninth NFL season, is second with 53 stops. Point No. 5: Teams who struggled in short-yardage situations last year should have Charles Scott high on their radar. The tough, physical runner out of LSU has proven that he has an insatiable appetite for punching the ball into the end zone. He finished his college career ranked fourth in school history with 32 rushing touchdowns, despite missing his last three games due to a broken collarbone. "Once you see the goal-line, you crave it. That's where it's at," Scott told me this week. "In those goal-line situations, the coach puts you out there for one reason--to score a touchdown. So I'm going to get it, no matter who's in my way." One of the keys to Scott's success is his powerful leg drive. And as he displayed at the NFL Combine as one of the top performers in the three-cone drill, he changes direction remarkably well for a big back. "I was fortunate to have a great running backs coach in high school who told us, 'your legs will take you there.' So I got in the habit of relying on my legs and using my shoulders to keep people away from my knees, digging in and just driving with my legs," he said. "People get excited about the forty, but in reality, most of the plays in football happen within ten yards. So I feel what you can do within five to ten yards is more important--how fast can you get to full speed. I think the three-cone shows that I have good burst and explosiveness." At LSU's Pro Day, the 5-foot-11, 232-pound runner raised some eyebrows when he weighed in six pounds lighter then he was at the Combine, ran a 4.53-second forty and benched 17 reps. Those reps confirmed the feedback Scott said he got from doctors at the NFL Combine about his collarbone--it's healing nicely and that he should be ready for full contact well before he needs to start banging pads with his new NFL teammates. Scott would be a welcome addition to NFL teams who were among the lowest performers in third-and-short situations or who struggled to score touchdowns in goal-line situations--the Seahawks, Chiefs, Lions, Cardinals, Browns, Bears, and Broncos--just to name a few. But the former Tiger wants NFL teams to know that he's much more than a guy who will move the chains and score touchdowns in short-yardage situations. "I'm very much on the board as a power guy, a third-down or goal-line guy, but in my heart I know I can be an every-down back regardless of the situation," he said. "I can do it all." The Cleveland Browns have already scheduled Scott for a private workout on March 30. And the Philadelphia Eagles, who got a close up look at Scott when running backs coach Ted Williams ran position drills at LSU's Pro Day, have scheduled an official team visit. Point No. 6: Picking up the NFL playbook is going to be a breeze for Matt Tennant. Tennant has earned the distinction of being one of the top centers in this year's draft after a highly successful run at Boston College where he started 41 consecutive games over the past three seasons. And he told me this week that he thought his somewhat tumultuous five-year stint with the Golden Eagles will be a tremendous asset as he transitions to the NFL. "At B.C. I had three different coaching staffs, so I had to learn three different offenses," he explained. "I really didn't have the stability that a lot of other guys have had of working in the same program under the same head coach for five years. I think that instability in the program made me a better player, forcing me to adjust on the fly very easily. "So a new playbook won't be an issue at all, in fact, it'll be like another day at B.C.--I've got a new coach, so it's time to learn a new playbook." Relentless, intelligent, and highly physical, the anchor of Boston College's offensive line believes that his game film highlights some attributes that will be very attractive to NFL teams. "I'm a tough, hard-nosed player," Tennant said. "I hustle downfield, I'm a great downfield runner. I love to get after the linebackers and the secondary."

As one of two offensive captains during his senior year, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound lineman took the responsibility seriously. "I made sure I was the guy who was doing the right thing whether it was on the field or off the field," he said. "I was making great plays, I wasn't making stupid mistakes and I was keeping my head in the game. Off the field, I wasn't going out and getting into trouble." Tennant's already worked out for the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. And he has a pair of workouts scheduled with the Atlanta Falcons and the Oakland Raiders. Point No. 7: A.J. Edds is a draft prospect that every NFL fan should admire. There are a couple of draft prospects who jump out at me each year as authentic blue-collar players--guys who might not have elite, first-round athletic talent, but have a a true passion for the game, are highly coachable, are an asset in the locker room, possess a non-stop motor and a knack for always being around the ball. In this year's draft class, Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds is one of those rare gems. During Senior Bowl practices in January, I kept spotting Edds in my line of sight as I tracked the flow of plays. He wasn't necessarily making a bunch of big plays that were thrusting him into the spotlight, but he was fully engaged and around the ball more frequently than most of the other defensive players. He was shadowing receivers and hustling to the ball on every play. "Ever since I was a little kid, when I played defense I had a knack for figuring out where the ball was going to be, and I've always taken pretty good angles," Edds told me this week. "A lot of it at Iowa came from film study, putting in time that other people might not be willing to do that can help you cue on things. "You get to this level and there's a handful of guys who are better than everybody else based on athletic ability, but the guys who really succeed are the guys who study, who don't have to think on the field because they know what's going to happen based on the film." Typical of Edds' dedication to ongoing improvement, he plans to do a full workout at Iowa's Pro Day on Monday, March 22 even though he put up solid numbers at the NFL Combine that included top-10 finishes in the forty-yard dash and the 20-yard shuttle. "I've been looking forward to working out and going through the drills at 100 percent without the exhaustion that goes along with the Combine experience," he said. "I know I can run as well or better back here at school." The 6-foot-4, 246-pound linebacker, who snagged five interceptions during his senior year, believes his three years of experience as a starter will serve him well as he makes the leap to the pro game. "I think it shows maturity to come in at a relatively young age and be able to handle the responsibility of playing in a defense in the Big Ten--a pretty physical conference--that asks a lot from guys in the area of responsibility and execution," he said. "I think it shows that I can take the knowledge from the playbook and the meeting room and quickly apply it to the field." The Cardinals, Jaguars, Falcons and Eagles are just a few of the teams who have showed interest in him, with more than half a dozen teams already requesting private workouts. Some of the statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2010 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.