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February 24, 2013

Injuries hamper Alabama players at NFL Combine

Jesse Williams won't run.

Dee Milliner won't lift.

Others can't do much of anything. The University of Alabama has one of the largest contingents of any school on hand for the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this weekend, but due to a variety of injuries, only a few former Crimson Tide players are expected to participate fully in the annual battery of physical testing used by the NFL for draft evaluations.

Combine invitees who can't perform in certain drills typically do so, if healthy enough, in the on-campus Pro Day workouts that follow in the weeks after the combine ends Tuesday. If still unable to perform, top prospects can still attract NFL scouts for private workouts before the NFL draft in April.

Former NFL scout Dan Shonka, who now runs one of the top draft services at ourlads.com, said prospects who skip combine drills for health reasons don't see their draft status slip as long as the injury is considered legitimate.

"A guy with a bad shoulder will still run. A guy with a bad ankle will still bench press. I don't think the NFL clubs mind at all if a guy is coming off surgery and just can't perform physically," Shonka said. "Barrett Jones, for instance, he's just not ready and nobody would have a problem with that. When you have a guy who is healthy, or seems to be pretty healthy, who doesn't want to do some things, that can raise some eyebrows sometimes."

Of the 333 players invited to this year's combine, Shonka estimated that only around 70 percent will participate in every drill. For most of Alabama's draft hopefuls, the combine will only provide the NFL with a partial look at their physical skills.

Nico Johnson (sports hernia), Damion Square (knee), Eddie Lacy (hamstring) and Barrett Jones (foot), three of whom are coming off surgeries, won't perform in physical testing at all.

Offensive linemen D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack, and safety Robert Lester are the healthiest UA players competing.

Milliner will skip the bench press with a labrum injury, and Williams will wait until Alabama's Pro Day in early March to run the 40-yard dash, as will Quinton Dial.

Following a minor knee injury in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, Williams played in the BCS title game against Notre Dame but subsequently had the knee scoped.

"I had my knee cleaned out. I wanted to (run), but for the doctor's sake I didn't want to push it," Williams said. "I'm saving that for Pro Day. I'm going to bench (press) and do medical kinds of things."

Jones' foot injury, also sustained in the SEC title game, was the most serious and required the longest recovery of the injuries limiting UA players in Indianapolis. He tore ligaments in his mid-foot.

"I can't control that I was hurt," Jones said. "I just have to focus on the things I can control. That (means) interview well, and do all the little things right."

Of all the players nursing injuries, Lacy's hamstring is believed to be biggest draft-status threat. His UA career was dotted with nagging injuries, and although he played through them, his medical reports will be closely reviewed.

If his hamstring also prevents him from participating at Pro Day, more questions about his ability to stay healthy will be raised.

"All those injuries will hurt him. People will know how much time he's missed, people come to Alabama practices and see if he's able to practice," Shonka said. "They've all got that stuff in a notebook."

The combine also includes personal interviews, medical examinations and mental testing that help provide a fuller picture of an athlete's NFL potential. But it is the physical testing that NFL clubs scrutinize most.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.
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