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Old 02-20-2009, 05:38 AM   #1

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Default T Andre Smith, G Herman Johnson are big men at the NFL Combine


Andre Smith has the highest profile among offensive linemen at this week's NFL's annual scouting combine.

Herman Johnson still carries more weight.

Smith, the tackle, and Johnson, the guard, are two of the top rated players at their respective positions and could plug major holes for teams in need of pass protection and run blocking -- if they can answer some big questions this week.

For Smith, projected by some to be the top pick in April's draft, it comes down to the subtleties of playing right tackle or left.

For Johnson, it's all about the pounds.

"I've lost more than 20 pounds since the Senior Bowl," Johnson said after weighing in at 364 on Thursday. "Some people said to drop some weight and show them what I could do."

Johnson has done his part.

But showing off isn't a normal activity at the combine, where many top prospects skip the workouts and opt instead to showcase their skills on college campuses.

Smith may be the exception because he hasn't yet decided whether to participate in Saturday's drills, something that could help scouts determine where he should play.

The distinction could be huge.

Right now, Smith is projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in April's draft, but the money and higher draft picks are usually spent on the coveted left tackles, who protect a righthanded quarterback's blindside. So if they determine Smith is a better fit on the right side, his draft stock could slip and his childhood dreams may take a hit.

Click here for Sporting News Pro Football War Room's analysis of Smith.

"It's true, I asked my dad when I was in sixth grade, going into seventh grade, what was the highest paid position in the NFL," Smith said. "He told me."

Smith then grew to be 6-4, 332 pounds and honed his skills into those needed to be an elite NFL tackle.

Scouts may now have another question to ponder.

Smith was suspended from Alabama's bowl game after it was reported he had dealings with an agent. That is a violation of NCAA rules and could have ended his college eligibility though coach Nick Saban said he would have welcomed Smith back for his senior season.

On Thursday, Smith, for the first time, denied the suspension was related to an agent, saying instead he hadn't chosen Alvin Keels to represent him until two weeks ago.

"It was just a bad decision," he said. "I went to talk to Coach Saban about it, and he thought it was best to protect the team. I hurt, I cried, I shed some tears, I talked to my teammates about it. But it had nothing to do with an agent."

Smith wouldn't elaborate on what the indiscretion was.

Johnson is an intriguing prospect for another reason: Sheer size.

At 6-8, 364 pounds, he is easily the largest linemen in the draft, about 30 pounds heavier than any of the other roughly 330 players at the combine. That could give teams a formidable interior presence to block the increasingly bulky group of defensive tackles that stuff the run.

But 364 is paltry compared to his freshman reporting weight at LSU, 411.

So Johnson is accustomed to the stares, questions and even the weighty nicknames such as "The House," given to him by former LSU teammate Marcus Spears because, well, Spears thought he was as big as a house.

Click here for Pro Football War Room's analysis of Johnson.

Apparently, it's in the genes.

His birth weight, 15 pounds, 14 ounces, is considered the Louisiana record and the doctor who delivered Johnson still calls on his birthday to remind him that mark has not been broken.

And in a league where bigger is not necessarily better, Johnson acknowledges he still needs to trim down.

"I'd like to get down to 350," he said. "I've been the biggest and tallest since Day One. But I really didn't have the right type of information as far as nutrition. Right now, I'm training and they've basically told me what I need to eat every day. So I'm eating six small meals a day."

So who has the upper hand in this heavyweight bout?

It depends on the perspective.

With Johnson shedding weight, some scouts have talked to him about possibly moving to tackle, a position he hasn't played since his freshman season. That would put him in a clear battle with Smith.

Clearly, Smith is the more polished tackle and would be an upgrade for many teams picking in the top 10.

All the players can do now is work out and, of course, wait to see how scouts rank them on draft boards.

"If I have to play right tackle, it would take a little time to learn the technique," Smith said. "But at the end of April, I think that hard work will pay off."

Perhaps in a big pay day.
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