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A debate at left tackle


INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – To hear Riley Reiff tell it, the wheres and how highs mean little.

On a day when a trio of potential first-round left tackles was one of the major storylines at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, the topic of at least a brief podium debate became just who should be the first player at the position selected in the April 26-28 NFL Draft.

Reiff, who played at Iowa, said the debate didn't concern him much.

"The cards will fold where they fold," Reiff said Thursday at the combine, which runs through Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

"First, 20th – that's not for me to decide."

Reiff (6-feet-5, 313 pounds at the combine), projected as not only a first-round selection but potentially a Top 10 selection, is among three redshirt junior tackles considered certain first-rounders.

Matt Kalil, a redshirt junior left tackle from Southern California, is projected as a potential Top 5 selection and some draft analysts believe he could go as high as No. 2 overall, with redshirt junior Jonathan Martin of Stanford also projected in the top half of the first round.

Kalil (6-6, 306) was a bit more forthcoming about his left tackle rankings.

"I would definitely say I am the best tackle in the draft," Kalil said. "Especially at my position, or quarterback position or any big-time position, confidence is definitely a big part of your game. And I think they want to hear that you do think you're the best tackle. And I think I am.

"I think I've worked hard going through SC working on everything I can to become a better player. I'm ready to take my game to the next level."

Martin said he absolutely sees it the same way as Kalil, and that he, too, believes himself the best left tackle available.

"Without a doubt, as a competitor, you have to believe you're the best," Martin said."Nothing cocky about it. I just believe I am."

And while the consensus about draft analysts here in Indianapolis is that Kalil is correct in his assessment – entering the combine, at least – he said he understands "watching the draft in past years anything can happen."

"Teams can trade," he said. "Players may slide down the draft. What I've done through this draft process is do all I can to show the coaches who I am, perform the best I can over here at the combine. Running. Show them my athleticism. And basically doing whatever I can to become a better player. That's all I can really focus on. I don't have control over the draft.

"That's for the coaches and the owners. So I'm focusing on what I can do to become a better player. It's all I've really thought about."

Also around the combine Thursday:

*Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan, as often is the case at the combine, made news during his media availability – this time doing so by discussing the last time he made news at the combine. Ryan last year at the combine guaranteed the Jets would win the Super Bowl, something he said Thursday was a "huge mistake. He continued, "At the time we were coming off two championship games, I really thought it would be a thing that would actually motivate our team, you know to really talk about the Super Bowl, to focus on the Super Bowl. But in hindsight I think it put undue pressure on our team and we kind of lost focus and really we lost focus on what we do best. So, it's obviously a big mistake. When I go back and I look at it I think it contributed to the season we had." Ryan said he absolutely took responsibility for what he called a terrible season. "I think part of that guarantee really contributed to that," he said.

*San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, who left Stanford last off-season for the 49ers position, spent much of his media availability Thursday discussing Stanford quarterback and projected No. 1 overall selection Andrew Luck: "He's got all the qualities, really, mentally, physically. He's as prepared as anybody that you're going to find." Harbaugh said while Luck could face pressure replacing Peyton Manning if selected No. 1 overall by the Colts, it's something he can handle. "Fair or unfair, it's the nature of the business," Harbaugh said. "But he's very equipped to deal with it. He's very mature."

*The 2012 NFL Draft, largely because of 65 underclassmen, is generally considered one of the deeper drafts in recent memory. Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Thursday the influx of juniors is expected to make Rounds 1-3 particularly strong. "In the top five and six, most of those guys are going to be juniors that are coming out," Spielman said. "I don't want to take any credit away, because there are a lot of talented seniors in this draft class as well, but with the depth and talent of the junior class coming in, it's going to be a very deep draft through those first three or four rounds."

*Like many around the league, Spielman said he expects the dynamics of the new CBA to make for a more active first round of the draft. Rookie contracts under the new CBA are worth less and run fewer years, making the commitment more palpable for teams looking to trade into the early selections. "I think there will be a lot of potential movement, especially in that top five, depending on where these quarterbacks fall," Spielman said, referring to Luck and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. "There could be a lot of activity that first day and especially those first three spots." With the Vikings holding the No. 3 selection, and having selected quarterback Christian Ponder last season, Spielman said the Vikings "will definitely be looking to move out."

*Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz on Thursday discussed the future of defensive end Cliff Avril, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13, saying, "Cliff's very important to us" and adding, "Cliff took a big step this year being on the field." The Lions have yet to indicate officially if they plan to franchise Avril. "Cliff's obviously a guy that's very important to us. He fits our scheme well, he was an impact player last year."

*Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak said entering the off-season program and training camp he expects competition between veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and second-year veteran Jake Locker. "We'll put them in a situation where they're competing and hopefully, it will be obvious who should be the best guy to lead the team. You don't want the quarterback question to be going on every week."

*Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland, whose team is among many speculated to be interested in Manning should he become a free agent, said he didn't learn until Thursday of a billboard near the Dolphins' complex encouraging the team to acquire Manning. "First I've heard of that is five minutes ago. Fans were flying a banner the last game. They can do what they want to do." Ireland said he and new coach Joe Philbin talk quarterbacks "pretty much every day." "We've spent a lot of time doing that," he said. "It's an ongoing process. A lot of things have to be figured out. And we need to go day by day with that search."

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