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NFL COMBINE Clarett's big day arrives



Published: Fri, February 25, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



He proclaimed himself physically ready and mentally matured.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Maurice Clarett isn't challenging anyone but himself these days.

No lawsuits against the NFL. No feuding with authorities.

Instead, Clarett showed up Thursday at the NFL Combine with a smile and a plan. The former Ohio State tailback who challenged the league's draft rules in court -- and eventually lost -- claims he can handle anything except not playing.

"This is a big day I've been preparing for, for a long time," he said. "This day has been on my calendar for a long time, coming here interviewing with everybody, kind of knocking off the kinks everybody had on me and the knocks everybody had on me. I've been real focused and ready for this day to come.

"I'm not sure what I have to convince them of."

Here's a little help, Maurice:

UNFL teams want to know how a two-year layoff has affected your running skills.

UAnd whether you are team-oriented enough for them.

UAnd if you've matured during that hiatus caused by a school suspension, then having a federal appellate court overturn a lower court ruling that made all underclassmen (and even high school players) draft eligible.

Learned from his mistakes

"He'll have to show people he's been working and is in shape," said Bills general manager Tom Donahoe, a loud critic of Clarett last year, when he did not work out for teams at the combine. "He'll probably have to work out well to show that. The fact that he hasn't played in a year is not a positive, so I think it is important based on what happened last year.

"I think you have to give the young man a chance to give his side of the story and then decide whether he's truthful. If you talk to other people and decide what he says is accurate, then you have to try and weigh the whole thing. I don't wish any kid ill will, but I think when you're on display, you should do everything you can to put your best foot forward, and I don't think he did that last year. Hopefully, he will this year."

Clarett is guaranteeing it. At 21, he says he has matured and learned from his mistakes. He spent much of the last year training in California and being tutored by his lawyer, David Kenner. Now, he's presenting the new Maurice Clarett, not the guy who basically blew off the 2003 combine. Not the guy who pleaded guilty to lying on a police report after claiming $10,000 in merchandise was stolen from his car. Not the youngster who accepted benefits in college to which he was not entitled.

And not the Clarett who accused Ohio State of arranging for a no-work job and providing improper academic aid after he was suspended by the school.

"A more positive person" is what the NFL will get, he says. "I've got a lot greater work ethic than I had last year. I think my drive is a whole lot more determined than I was last year. I just want to work, I don't care if it's special teams, anything, just get me on the field, I want to play with anybody."

Many questions remain

Who is interested? That's hard to tell this early in the draft process and with so many questions surrounding Clarett.

But pro teams know all about the powerful runs and shifty moves Clarett showed in leading the Buckeyes to the 2002 national title. Of course, they also are aware of all the troubles he's had since.

Plus, this is a strong class of running backs, led by Cedric Benson of Texas, Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams of Auburn, and Ciatrick Fason of Florida.

"I think it's a disadvantage," Fason said of Clarett's layoff, "because sometimes when you play, you'd be in a football season like us being in college, then we take four months off. Then we are back in spring football. In just those four months that you took off, you'd be kind of rusty the first couple of weeks when you put the pads back on. You have to get used to it all over again.

"Him sitting out two years is going to be real strange for him to get back onto the field."

Clarett, who last was tackled in the spring of 2003, acknowledges there will be some rust, but expects it to wear off quickly. He seems to understand the questions about his character could last longer.

"I had to take a look at myself from outside myself," he said. "When I looked at myself, sometimes I kind of looked like a joke to myself. I guess it was a part of growing up and becoming who I am today. I did do some things I shouldn't have done. I've taken responsibility for all those things and I'm just ready to move forward."




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