They Are Seeking Proof Positive

Times Staff Writer

The NFL scouting combine is supposed to be the place where conjecture comes to die. Players are meticulously weighed, measured, tested and timed -- all in the interest of critiquing them in a controlled environment.

But the most eye-catching story to emerge from this year's combine, which ended Tuesday, was based on speculation.

Texas quarterback Vince Young scored an unimpressive 16 on his second taking of the Wonderlic test, which is designed to measure mental aptitude. There were unsubstantiated reports, however, that he scored much lower on his first try. His agent confirmed the 16, and that Young took the test twice, but denied reports of a lower score.

A player taking the test is given 12 minutes to answer 50 multiple-choice questions that have nothing to do with football. The exam is supposed to measure a player's ability to learn. Although teams supposedly look for quarterbacks to score at least in the 30s, there are reports that Dan Marino and Donovan McNabb scored 16s coming out of college. Although there have been leaks, only NFL teams are supposed to be privy to the results of the tests, which are provided after the combine ends.

"We don't treat the Wonderlic score for a quarterback any different than we do any other position," said Houston Texan General Manager Charley Casserly, whose team has the top pick in April's draft. "We have a process that we go through that I don't think is any different than that of any other team. You have a Wonderlic score, and then you evaluate how the player plays on film."

Young was among a few top players who chose not to work out at the combine and instead underwent only physical and psychological examinations and interviewed with teams. He plans to work out for scouts during his school's pro-timing day, March 22.

Texas Coach Mack Brown defended Young after the low-score reports, telling the Houston Chronicle: "I told Vince before he left, 'Understand you'll be treated more poorly in the next month or two than you've ever been treated because you're so high-profile.' "

He later added that Young, "just had the highest passing efficiency rating of any quarterback in the country. We're very complicated with what we do offensively, and he's won 30 [games] and lost two. He would have graduated next fall.

"Vince is very bright. I hate that people had to take a shot like that that's unfair and untrue. Also, I probably couldn't pass that test myself if I tried. I've read it, and it seems really stupid to me."

For other players, the combine provided the opportunity to not only prove themselves but to prove skeptics wrong. For example, UCLA's Marcedes Lewis was determined to show that he's the best tight-end prospect and that he's fast enough to succeed at the next level. One scouting service had said that Lewis' 40-yard dash time was a sluggish 5.0 seconds, which almost certainly would have knocked him out of first-round consideration.

Lewis proved that to be a myth by running it in a respectable 4.79 seconds despite a head cold. Although he's confident he can run an even faster March 16, when scouts come to UCLA, he said he's relieved to have a decent outing in the books.

"I've got numbers on the board," he said. "I wiped out that 5.0, and there's always room to improve."

His agent, Sean Howard, said he had no idea where the reports of a slow time came from -- Lewis hadn't run for scouts before -- but added that the speculation didn't distract his client.

"The rumor about the 40 time started him out in a little ditch," Howard said. "It could have been daunting for him had he really focused on that. But Marcedes always knew that it was just that, a rumor. He just focused on getting better."

Maryland's Vernon Davis turned in the most jaw-dropping performance of any tight end, and possibly of any player at the combine. The 252-pound Davis ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds -- among the fastest 40s ever run by a tight-end prospect -- and had the best vertical and broad jumps. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds an impressive 33 times.

USC tight end Dominique Byrd opted not to work out at the combine, instead choosing to do so for scouts April 2 during the Trojans' pro day. Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush will do the same.

Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler made a big move up the charts during the combine, climbing so much in the estimation of some scouts that a few consider him better than Leinart and Young. Vanderbilt, which had only 11 victories in Cutler's four seasons as a starter, last had a quarterback drafted in 1990 -- in the 12th round.

"With Matt and Vince not working out, the spotlight wasn't going to be on them," said Cutler, who participated in every drill asked of him. "It was going to have to go somewhere else. That was the reason I wanted to step up and throw and get some of that media attention and kind of ride that wave a little bit.

"You want to keep your name positive in the media as much as possible up until the draft."

But sometimes, being willing and receptive -- and performing under pressure -- isn't enough to please all the scouts. UCLA running back Maurice Drew ran the fastest 40 of the day Friday, 4.39 seconds, and showed explosive burst. But he measured 5 feet 6 1/2 inches, disappointing some scouts.

That fact will be tough to dispel.

Asked if he thinks his height could hurt him, Drew shrugged.

"If it does," he said. "I can't grow any taller."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Friday March 03, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction College football -- A story in Wednesday's Sports section on the NFL combine quoted Texas Coach Mack Brown as saying Vince Young "just had the highest passing efficiency rating of any quarterback in the country." The quote is accurate, but Young was not the most efficient. Rudy Carpenter of Arizona State holds that honor.
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