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Confident in what's to come


INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Justin Blackmon will have to wait to answer the last pressing question regarding his NFL draft status.

But if it's inconvenient for 2012 NFL Scouting Combine followers that a minor hamstring injury will keep the 2012 NFL Draft's top receiver prospect from running this weekend, the Oklahoma State wide receiver said it doesn't concern him much.

When his time comes, he's sure his time will be just fine.

"I know I'm not slow," Blackmon said at the combine, which will continue at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis through Tuesday.

"I'm going to get out and will probably shock a few people."

Blackmon, projected by many to be a Top 10 selection in the April 26-28 NFL Draft, enhanced his draft status through a standout junior season, but questions for some regarding Blackmon remained in several areas.

Entering the combine, one question was Blackmon's size. He measured in six feet, 207 pounds.

But the major question was speed. A physical productive player with outstanding hands and athleticism, the feeling among draft analysts was that he would need to run in the 4.5-4.55-second range in the 40-yard dash at the combine to solidify his draft status.

Essentially, so long as he didn't run excessively slow most believed he would solidify his status, but he sustained a hamstring injury last week and that it was still "a little tender." He said he plans to run at Oklahoma State's March 7 Pro Day.

"I will be running there," he said, adding that he planned to run at the combine, but "I listened to people who have my best interests."

Blackmon said he has run 4.5 in the past, and has run a few 4.4s, but said the answer to questions about his speed are available for anyone to see.

"I'd just tell them to look at the tape," he said. "I've never been caught from behind."

Wide receiver is a position at which it historically is difficult for a rookie to make a huge impact, but Blackmon said he feels he is at least on a par with players such as A.J. Green and Julio Jones, who had varying levels of impact for Cincinnati and Atlanta as rookie first-round selections this past season.

"I am very competitive, so I would put myself right up there with them," Blackmon said. "I like to compete, so I'm not going to down myself and say that I'm not just as good as them."

Also around the combine:

*Wide receivers were a major topic Friday, that being the day the top prospects at the position – Blackmon, Michael Floyd of Notre Dame and Kendall Wright of Baylor – spoke to the media. That group will run and go through physical drills inside Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday, and though wide receiver day was somewhat overshadowed by the media availabilities of quarterbacks and Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III being the same day, the chances for success at the receiver position was a topic of conversation.  Detroit Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew said without question the NFL and college games are different for wide receivers, partly because of the timing and depth of routes. "Obviously they get challenged more at the line of scrimmage, so it's a much more demanding position at the NFL level," Mayhew said. "That's why I think you see a lot of guys that really can't step their game up in those areas when they here and don't really make it as players."

*One issue being discussed by general managers and coaches this week: the challenge of finding defensive players capable of covering the athletic tight ends whose increasing effectiveness has become a league-wide trend. The problem: it's difficult to find a linebacker fast enough to cover a tight end, and equally difficult to find safeties who can cover tight ends who are increasingly becoming more polished receivers. "You always want athletic safeties, and you want a WILL linebacker that can cover," Titans General Manager Ruston Webster said. "If you've got that, though, you really have something because they're not that easy to find. Normally safeties are missing cover skills, and finding a linebacker that can cover a big tight end that can really run, that's a special guy."

*Browns coach Pat Shurmur summed up the disconnect between fans/observers/media and coaches and personnel officials at the combine. While the former spend the week talking about draft positioning throughout the first round, and speculating on trades and risers/fallers, Shurmur said teams enter the week with a different mindset. "It's interesting – everybody at this point is in the prediction phase and we're in the information-gathering phase," Shurmur said.

*While the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed how teams approach the offseason in terms of practicing and working with players, labor peace has brought a return to normalcy for one aspect of the offseason: the timing of the draft and free agency. Whereas the lockout last off-season pushed free agency into late July – three months after the draft – free agency this off-season will open on March 13 with the draft April 26-28. Since free agency began in the mid-1990s, last year was the only year the signing period occurred after the draft, and Jets General Manager Mike Tannebaum said there is a little more of a normal rhythm this off-season. "Having free agency first gives us the chance to go into the draft w/ a little bit more certainty than we did a year ago," he said. Said Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett, "If you ask anybody around the league what you probably want to do on draft day is draft the best players available rather than having to draft for need. I think you probably draft more purely if you do that. Having free agency prior to the draft kind of allows teams to be able to address some of the needs before draft day because they don't have to do that at the draft. I think everybody felt comfortable getting it back to the way it's always been."

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