Questions thrown through mix of combine

Redskins ponder how to deal with Coles

Clarett runs slowly, casts doubts

Pro Football

February 27, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Joe Gibbs danced, Steve Mariucci hedged and Maurice Clarett ran, although not very well.

Day 3 of the NFL's scouting combine raised more questions than it answered yesterday. Chief among them were these thorny predicaments:

Will the Washington Redskins be able to accommodate wide receiver Laveranues Coles' trade request and still resolve their growing salary cap crisis?

Does the imminent arrival of quarterback Jeff Garcia in Detroit push three-year Lions starter Joey Harrington out on a short limb?

And just what kind of training did Clarett do out there in California for the last year if yesterday's timed 40-yard runs were an indication?

Halfway through the scouting combine and just three days before free agency hits, NFL teams were wrestling with a myriad of issues. Few appear more vexing than the one confronting the Redskins at the moment.

Coles, their best receiver, is unhappy with the Redskins' shrinking passing game. He met with Gibbs, the coach, and the two came to an understanding. The understanding is that Coles wants out and that Gibbs wants something in return.

"Basically for us, Laveranues Coles is a very valuable guy," Gibbs said, "and if we can work something out with somebody, that would be fine. If not, he'll probably remain a Redskin. He's very valuable and we'll need some real value for him."

What that value is remains unclear. The Redskins want a first-round pick in return. But Coles has played the last season and a half with a nagging toe injury. Since averaging 17.0 yards a catch in his first three games with the Redskins in 2003 - under Steve Spurrier - he has averaged 11.8 yards a catch in his past 29 games.

The situation is complicated even more by the fact Coles is due a $5 million bonus on April 1. If the Redskins trade him before then, the bonus and the remaining portion of his original signing bonus count immediately on the team's cap. Since they already are over the cap limit of $85.5 million, they would be hard-pressed to do that and still retain Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce, unrestricted free agents-to-be.

Gibbs characterized the likelihood of a reported deal with the New York Jets for wide receiver Santana Moss as "not very likely."

Even though the Ravens need a veteran receiver, general manager Ozzie Newsome said yesterday that he has not talked to the Redskins about Coles.

"I have not spoken with anyone with the Redskins about Laveranues Coles," Newsome said. "I've only spoken to the Redskins about Rod Gardner."

Gardner, Washington's other starting receiver, also wants out.

Meanwhile, Mariucci, the Lions' coach, said Garcia was in Indianapolis to take a physical with the idea of becoming Harrington's backup. Garcia, cut recently by the Cleveland Browns, played for Mariucci with the San Francisco 49ers.

"We didn't get to the point where we shake hands on any sort of agreement," Mariucci said. "He knows Joey Harrington is our starting quarterback; I wanted to know if he could deal with it in a certain way and be patient."

Mariucci indicated Garcia responded he could, which strongly suggests a reunion between the two. That will require Harrington to expedite what has been a slow learning curve in the NFL - or risk losing his job.

Then there was Clarett, who had a number of personal problems at Ohio State and tried to force his way into the NFL draft a year ago, only to be rebuffed by the court system. Clarett hasn't played a game in two years, but said upon his arrival at the combine that he had prepared well.

That didn't appear to be the case, however, after he ran two unofficial 40 times of 4.89 seconds and 4.72. Although the NFL did not release Clarett's official electronic time, it's clear his performance shed more doubt on his commitment to football.

"I'm sure everybody was a little disappointed in his time, as he was," said Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese. "He looks like he was in better shape than last year. He looks like he was spending time in the gym and training, but it wasn't quite what he hoped in the 40. It didn't help that the guys before and after him ran in the 4.4s, which made it stand out a little more."

The best 40 time turned in by a running back yesterday belonged to California's J.J. Arrington, who ran a 4.46. Auburn's Ronnie Brown was next at 4.48, and three offensive linemen all ran under 5.00.

Gil Brandt, who helps run the combine for the NFL, said he timed Maryland guard C.J. Brooks in 5.00 and 5.09 in his two runs.

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