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Nine Bruins and seven Trojans pursue NFL dreams at scouting combine

They spent the last two months intensely preparing for the next step in their football careers.

Immediately after their teams' college bowl games, most draft-eligible USC and UCLA players set their sights on readying for the NFL scouting combine.

The weeklong, invitation-only evaluation event at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis begins Tuesday with the arrival of running backs, offensive linemen and kickers.

Players from other position groups are staggered through the week — quarterbacks arrive Wednesday — and each will go through four days of scrutiny that includes medical exams, physical measurements, psychological testing, interviews with teams and media and, finally, on-field workouts.

Franchise owners, general managers, coaches and scouts will be on hand to evaluate more than 300 players in the run-up to the April 28-30 NFL draft in Chicago.

"You're always trying to answer questions and check boxes," Rams General Manager Les Snead said.

Nine former UCLA players and seven former USC players are scheduled to attend the combine.

Linebacker Myles Jack leads a Bruins contingent that includes defensive lineman Kenny Clark, running back Paul Perkins, receiver Jordan Payton, tight end Thomas Duarte, kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn and offensive linemen Caleb Benenoch, Jake Brendel and Alex Redmond.

Linebacker Su'a Cravens, quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Tre Madden, fullback Soma Vainuku, center Max Tuerk, defensive lineman Antwaun Woods and cornerback Kevon Seymour are Trojans set to participate.

Jack, despite leaving UCLA after suffering a season-ending knee injury early in his junior season, is regarded as a potential first-round pick.

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The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Jack has been training in Arizona. He told ESPN last week that he was not cleared to fully participate in all phases of the combine. Jack is expected to go through interviews and medical testing but not workouts.

Payton got a glimpse of the combine experience by participating in last month's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Along with practices run by NFL coaching staffs, the week included a combine-style weigh-in and interviews with every NFL team. Payton said the experience provided a head start on combine preparation.

"You kind of have a good feeling of what you're getting into," he said in a phone interview last week.

The Senior Bowl, however, did not include testing in the bench press, 40-yard dash, vertical leap, broad jump and agility drills.

So Payton refocused his preparation, with a concentration on honing his speed. He said he had run the 40 in 4.47 seconds and was excited about the opportunity to run for scouts.

"They don't question my football IQ, my toughness, my routes or my hands," Payton said. "Their question is: How fast am I?"

Cravens also has been eager to show scouts his speed.

But after starting for three seasons at USC, he was confident about the resume he put together on video. "Show me what you did over the course of your career," Cravens said last week during a phone interview. "The combine is just another opportunity to show what you can do."

Cravens started at safety as a freshman and then played linebacker as a sophomore and junior before declaring for the draft. He will work out with linebackers in Indianapolis, but he could also work with defensive backs during USC's Pro Day on campus next month.

Kessler and Vainuku participated in the Senior Bowl, so they are prepared for some of what they will encounter at the combine.

In Mobile, Kessler was on a team that featured North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft. California's Jared Goff and Memphis' Paxton Lynch, also regarded as potential high-round picks, will join the mix in Indianapolis.

Tuerk suffered a major knee injury in the fifth game against Washington and had season-ending surgery. Madden also was sidelined for much of the season because of a knee injury. He had surgery before the Holiday Bowl.

Twitter: @latimesklein

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