#DigSportsDesk - The Lede

Looking at 30 MLB Roster Battles

(Wire Service Report)

As MLB's spring training opens with preseason game competiion this week, there are a number of intriguing questions such as whether first baseman Ike Davis can land a regular role with the Oakland A's, or if Asdrubal Cabrera can capture the shortstop job with the Tampa Bay Rays, and if Jonny Gomes will be part of the solution to the Atlanta Braves' left field questions.

Here's a look at some of the most notable position battles for each MLB team this spring, according to reports by The Sports Xchange's network of baseball correspondents provided to Sports Direct and the Digital Sports Desk:

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: The rotation is about as close as you can get to an open competition behind RHP Josh Collmenter and RHP Jeremy Hellickson this spring. As many as 10 others are in mix. None of the members of the 2014 season-opening rotation return. The leading candidates figure to be LHPs Robbie Ray, Vidal Nuno and Allen Webster as well as RHPs Chase Anderson and Trevor Cahill. Spring performance will mean a lot. Ray arrived from Detroit in a three-team deal that sent SS Didi Gregorius to the Yankees. Webster came in the trade that sent LHP Wade Miley to the Red Sox.

COLORADO ROCKIES: The Rockies must decide whether they will catchers Wilin Rosario and Michael McKenry in addition to newly acquired Nick Hundley. Rosario, the primary catcher last year, is being nudged aside by Hundley, who is far better defensively and calling a game. In addition to catching, Rosario will see time in spring training at first base and, perhaps, right field. He is a right-handed-hitting power bat and could be showcased in spring training for a trade to an American League club. Last season, 45 wild pitches occurred while he was behind the plate, the second most among National League catchers, and he was charged with 12 passed balls, which tied for the most in the majors.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS: By trading Matt Kemp to the Padres, the Dodgers cleared some of their outfield logjam. Center field is now Joc Pederson's for the taking. The Dodgers would love for the rookie to hit the ground running in spring training, laying claim to the everyday job. However, they hedged their bets somewhat by -- surprisingly -- not trading Andre Ethier this winter and acquiring Chris Heisey from the Reds in an offseason deal. Even if Pederson opens the season as the center fielder, Heisey figures to get plenty of playing time as a right-handed platoon partner for the left-handed Pederson. The veteran Ethier represents an emergency fallback option in center if Pederson falls on his face.

SAN DIEGO PADRES: The competition between INFs Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte has repercussions beyond third base. The Padres traded C Ryan Hanigan to Boston for Middlebrooks, believing he will bounce back from several bad seasons. Middlebrooks would hit sixth or seventh in the order. If Solarte -- who batted .267 in 56 games with the Padres last season after coming from the New York Yankees in a trade for Chase Headley -- wins the battle at third, he could hit in the leadoff slot.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: Gregor Blanco and Nori Aoki are battling for the starting left field spot. It seems the only thing Blanco does is win championships. He responded to demotions during the 2012 and 2014 seasons to become an outfield mainstay in the Giants' latest postseason title runs. Again, however, he finds himself fighting an uphill battle to avoid starting the season as the club's fourth outfielder, as Aoki was brought in fill the roster vacancy created by the loss of LF Michael Morse in free agency.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO CUBS: Incumbent C Welington Castillo starts his sixth Cubs season after playing in 110 games and batting .237 last year. However, he could also be the odd man out with Miguel Montero the heir apparent and David Ross as the backup. Montero, 31, was an All-Star last year while batting .243 and played in 136 games for the Diamondbacks. The Cubs hope a change in scenery will refresh Montero, a .264 lifetime hitter with a .991 fielding percentage and a reputation for handling a variety of pitching styles and deliveries.

CINCINNATI REDS: Offseason trades of RHP Mat Latos and RHP Alfredo Simon netted the Reds some quality prospects and put cash in the coffers. However, those deals also created a void in the rotation. Who fills those two spots will be among the big stories to watch this spring. LHP Tony Cingrani is expected to be in the mix along with highly-touted Cuban RHP Raisel Iglesias. Cingrani, 25, went 2-8 with a 4.55 ERA in 13 games (11 starts) for Cincinnati last year. Iglesias, 25, signed a seven-year, $27 million contract last summer but did not pitch in the United States in 2014.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS: For the most part, the Brewers go into 2015 set at all eight regular positions, but questions remain as to which players will fill bench roles. The bullpen, as it is with many teams, is a work in progress, and while the Brewers plan to open the season with RHP Jonathan Broxton as the closer, GM Doug Melvin is on the hunt for players with closing experience. Don't be surprised if RHP Francisco Rodriguez, who saved 44 games for Milwaukee last season, returns for another last-minute go-round with the Brewers.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES: There will be either one or two spots open in the rotation, depending upon whether RHP Charlie Morton shows he is ready to begin the season on time after undergoing right hip surgery last September. LHP Jeff Locke and RHP Vance Worley are the front-runners, though LHP Clayton Richard and RHP Brandon Cumpton will also be given opportunities. Locke was 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts last season, while Worley was a surprise as he went 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 18 games after being acquired from the Twins. Richard did not pitch in the major leagues last season after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2013, while Cumpton saw spot duty with the Pirates over parts of the past two seasons.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: The everyday lineup is basically set, so the big question among the position players is the utility slot. Organization men Pete Kozma and Greg Garcia are part of a four-man scrum with former Yankee Dean Anna and ex-Mariners/Orioles farmhand Ty Kelly. Kozma started at shortstop for the 2013 World Series team but just hasn't proven he can hit enough to stay in the majors. Garcia and Kelly might be a bit more versatile defensively, which could prove to be the difference.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES: The trade of Justin Upton leaves a gaping hole in left field, with a platoon likely the solution. Veteran Jonny Gomes, signed as a free agent from the A's, figures to get most of the at-bats against left-handed pitchers. He is capable of power surges. Former Yankees prospect Zoilo Almonte, a switch hitter, is expected to get first crack against right-handers. He batted .286 and slugged .492 from the left side in Triple-A last year, far better than his number from the right side (.189, .274). Speedy veteran Eric Young Jr., a non-roster spring invitee, is also in the mix.

MIAMI MARLINS: This will probably be a difficult spring for the nerves of LHP Brad Hand and RHP David Phelps. They likely are battling for the role as long reliever and spot starter. The loser of that fight potentially could get sent to the minors if the Marlins opt for another reliever, say RHP Sam Dyson. However, if the Marlins deal RHP Dan Haren, it is possible the winner of the Hand-Phelps battle is the fifth starter, and the loser is the long reliever. Of course, when RHP Jose Fernandez returns from injury -- he is due back at some point after June 1 -- all bets are off.

NEW YORK METS: GM Sandy Alderson made no secret of his desire to move on from SS Ruben Tejada, but he didn't add anyone else to compete with Wilmer Flores, the presumptive new shortstop. Manager Terry Collins spoke of Tejada having a chance to win back his job, but the worst-kept secret in Queens is Alderson's final say on everything. As long as Flores gets through spring training unscathed, he figures to start on Opening Day. Tejada, 25, hit .237 with a .342 on-base percentage last year, while Flores, 23, batted .251 with a .286 OBP.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: 3B Cody Asche will try to hold off prospect Maikel Franco for the starting job at the hot corner. Asche, 24, hit .252 with a .309 on-base percentage, a .390 slugging percentage and 10 home runs in 121 games during his first full major league season last year. After a slow start, Franco, 22, wound up with a .257 batting average and 16 homers in 133 games with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, then hit .179 with the Phillies in a 16-game stint in September.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS: The Nationals may be one of the few teams whose lineup is set, but second base still bears watching. Washington traded All-Star setup man Tyler Clippard to Oakland for Yunel Escobar, who is slated to play second even though he has played mostly shortstop in the majors. Competing with Escobar is Danny Espinosa, who has been with the club since 2010. Espinosa, an excellent defender, has played a lot of second over the past few years. He hit just .219 last season in 333 at-bats, but he decided to forego switch-hitting, according to GM Mike Rizzo, and will bat only from the right side this year.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

HOUSTON ASTROS: Unlike OF George Springer, who took the AL by storm during his injury-abbreviated rookie season, 1B Jon Singleton struggled mightily following his promotion on June 3, 2014. The Astros invested $10 million guaranteed in Singleton, who promptly hit .168/.285/.335 with 134 strikeouts in 362 plate appearances. With the offseason acquisition of C/LF/1B Evan Gattis, Singleton might lose his spot to Gattis or DH/1B Chris Carter, proven power producers capable of manning his position. Even if Singleton regains his confidence at the plate, there is no guarantee that he will remain unchallenged at first.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS: Josh Rutledge, 25, is the early favorite with win the starting job at second base following the trade of Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers. Rutledge, acquired from the Rockies in a trade for RHP Jairo Diaz, has the most big league experience among the four vying for the job. He batted .269 with a .323 on-base percentage, a .405 slugging percentage, four homers and 33 RBIs in 105 games for Colorado last year. The others in the mix are Grant Green, Johnny Giavotella and Taylor Featherston. Green and Giavotella have big league experience, but Featherston has not played above Double-A.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Ike Davis, a left-handed hitter, is expected to get the majority of starts at first base, but he is far from a sure thing. Davis hit 32 home runs for the Mets in 2012, but he hit a combined 20 home runs over the next two seasons. The Mets sent Davis to Triple-A Las Vegas for 21 games in 2013, then traded him to Pittsburgh early last season. The Pirates dealt him to Oakland for international bonus pool money, a sign of how far he fell. Rookie INF/OF Mark Canha could push for playing time at first, and Nate Freiman is another option. Left-handed-hitting Stephen Vogt, the No. 1 catcher, also can play first base, and DH Billy Butler should get some time at the position.

SEATTLE MARINERS: SS Brad Miller broke onto the scene as a midseason call-up in 2013 and looked like the Mariners' shortstop of the future before struggling to finish his rookie campaign. SS Chris Taylor's rookie season in 2014 followed a similar progression. The young duo is expected to battle each other for the starting job this spring. Miller, 25, hit .221 with a .288 on-base percentage, a .365 slugging percentage, 10 homers and 36 RBIs in 123 games with Seattle last year. Taylor, 24, wound up batting .287/.347/.346 with no homers and nine RBIs in 47 major league games in 2014.

TEXAS RANGERS: Left field is going to be where all the action is at this spring for the Rangers. Ryan Rua, who hit .295 in 28 games with the Rangers last year, created the most offseason buzz and drew rave reviews from GM Jon Daniels. Jake Smolinski also hit .349 for the Rangers last year in 24 games, but his fractured left foot opened the door for Rua. While Rua may have the inside track in left, the Rangers still brought in veteran Ryan Ludwick on a minor league deal. Ludwick, 36, began his career with Texas, and he still has some pop. Of the three, Rua has the most upside. He totaled 20 home runs and 88 RBIs in his three stops last season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO WHITE SOX: It is too soon to tell whether Micah Johnson or Carlos Sanchez will emerge with the starting job at second base. The White Sox also have veteran INFs Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio on the roster, but they would prefer one or both players to serve utility roles while one of the younger players seizes a regular spot. Johnson, 24, hit .294 with 22 stolen bases in Double-A and Triple-A last season. Sanchez, 22, is skilled defensively, and he batted .250 in 22 games with Chicago in 2014.

CLEVELAND INDIANS: The right field/first base/DH situation will bear watching. 1B/OF Nick Swisher and OF/1B Brandon Moss are both returning from operations. Swisher, at age 34 and coming off double knee surgery, would seem to be a strong candidate to see less action in the field, although manager Terry Francona said, "We don't necessarily want an everyday DH." The others in the mix at one or more of those three positions are OF David Murphy and 1B Carlos Santana. Santana is the most secure of the group. He will be the starter at first base, but could also see some time at DH.

DETROIT TIGERS: Rookie C James McCann is looking to unseat incumbent Bryan Holaday for the job as Alex Avila's backup. Both are solid receivers who throw well and call a solid game. McCann is supposedly the better hitter, although Holaday is a weapon as a bunter. McCann, 24, went 3-for-12 in his major league debut with Detroit last September after hitting .295 in 109 games with Triple-A Toledo. Holaday, 27, has a .241 major league average through parts of three seasons with the Tigers.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS: The Royals enter spring training with the starting nine, the rotation and the back end of the bullpen set, so the most intriguing battle will be for a left-handed bullpen spot. Will the Royals keep rookie Brandon Finnegan in that role or send him back to the minors to pitch multiple innings and be a starter? Finnegan went from pitching in the College World Series last summer to pitching in the major league World Series in the fall. Tim Collins regressed last year and spent more time in the minors than in the Kansas City bullpen. However, he finished strong.

MINNESOTA TWINS: Former top prospect Aaron Hicks and journeyman Jordan Schafer are the leading candidates to fill the center field job. Schafer was acquired by Minnesota off waivers in August and was solid -- hitting .285 with a homer, 13 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. Hicks has all the tools but has been unable to put it together at the major league level. Hicks is a career .201 hitter (467 at-bats the past two seasons) but is a switch hitter and plays great defense. A dark horse in the race could be prospect Eddie Rosario, one of the organization's most talented hitters.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: The main position that will be up for grabs should be right field. With the loss of RF Nick Markakis, it looks as if Steve Pearce and Travis Snider will be rotating there in some form. Alejandro De Aza and David Lough probably will share time in left field. De Aza likely will start in left with Snider doing the same in right with manager Buck Showalter moving Pearce between DH and the outfield. Lough is a good late-inning defensive replacement in any outfield spot.

BOSTON RED SOX: Heading into spring training, the Boston outfield wasn't at all set. Longtime shortstop Hanley Ramirez was moving to left field, and there really was no other place for him to play. That leaves center field and right field for Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. Victorino is coming off back surgery, and while many assumed he would be moved by the end of spring training, it is easy to forget how important he was to Boston's 2013 championship team. Don't count him out.

NEW YORK YANKEES: Second base is a three-man competition between Stephen Drew, Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder. Drew, 31, has the defensive range to play second, but he batted a combined .162 for Boston and New York last year. Pirela, 25, hit .305 in Triple-A and .333 in a seven-game cameo for the Yankees in 2014. Like Drew, he is a former shortstop. Refsnyder, 23, rose quickly through the system after starting out as an outfielder. He batted a combined .318 with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre last year. It isn't often that a Yankees prospect wins a job out of spring training, so the team may start him off in the minors while going with Drew on Opening Day.

TAMPA BAY RAYS: The Rays' most intriguing spring training situation this year is the middle infield. Tampa Bay signed Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year, $7.5 million deal when it traded away INF/OF Ben Zobrist. Cabrera was once a solid shortstop, but his defense declined to the point that the Nationals used him as a second baseman when they traded for him last year. However, the Rays don't have any true shortstop options after trading Yunel Escobar. Nick Franklin, part of the David Price trade, enters camp as the favorite at second base, but don't count out former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham or former top shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, who was slowed by injuries the past two years.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS: The most contentious competition figures to be at second base, with as many as six contenders. Maicer Izturis is the favorite based on experience, but he is returning from knee surgery that brought an early ending to his 2014 season. Ryan Goins opened 2014 at second and is excellent defensively, but his problem is a lack of hitting. The Blue Jays would like to see rookie Devon Travis, acquired in the offseason in a trade with the Tigers, take the job and run with it, but he played Double-A last season. Steve Tolleson and Ramon Santiago could find time at second base as bench players, while Munenori Kawasaki figures to open the season at Triple-A Buffalo.


Wrapping up the NFL Scouting Combine:

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    FIVE PLAYERS WHO HELPED THEMSELVES

    Kevin White, WR, West Virginia: Alabama's Amari Cooper may be the safest receiver in the draft, but by proving faster (4.35) and bigger (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) than the Biletnikoff Award winner, White may have erased whatever gap there was between them and perhaps cinched a top-10 selection.

    Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson: The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Beasley enjoyed one of the great Combine workouts in recent memory, leading all linebackers in the 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds) and bench press (35 repetitions of 225 pounds) and finishing among the top five in the three-cone drill (6.91 seconds), short shuttle (4.15), vertical jump (41 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 10 inches).

    Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State: Any question as to the identity of the No. 1 cornerback in the draft might have been sealed in the 4.31 seconds it took Waynes to run the 40-yard dash. Fluid and surprisingly physical given his 6-foot, 186-pound frame, Waynes may have sealed up a top-20 selection.

    Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: Scouts liked the aptly named Strong's bulked-up 6-2, 217-pound frame and his aggression in securing contested passes. However, by proving his explosiveness (4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and leaping ability (42-inch vertical jump), the former Sun Devil may have sealed a spot in the first round. If so, he would be the first skill-position player from Arizona State to hear his name called in the first round since Todd Heap was picked No. 31 overall by the Baltimore Ravens in 2001.

    Xavier Cooper, DT, Washington State: Though few outside of the Pac-12 knew his name prior to the Combine, the 6-3, 293-pounder turned heads in Indianapolis, clocking in at a position-best 4.86 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Cooper also demonstrated his light feet during the short shuttle and three-cone drills, perhaps moving into top-64 consideration.

    FIVE PLAYERS WHO MOVED BACKWARDS

    Paul Dawson, OLB, TCU: No one player proved more disappointing at the 2015 Combine than Dawson. While impressive on tape, the 6-foot, 235-pound Dawson could have been timed with a sun dial in the 40-yard dash, clocking in at 4.93 seconds, and he showed very little explosiveness in the vertical jump, as well. Dawson's 28-inch vertical jump was dead last among linebackers and was 2.5 inches less than that of Washington's 6-2, 339-pound nose guard, Danny Shelton.

    Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan: After switching from tight end to receiver this past season, scouts viewed Funchess as a potential Kelvin Benjamin clone. After he was clocked at 4.70 seconds in the 40-yard dash, however, scouts now wonder if the 6-5, 232-pounder has the burst to get past cornerbacks or the strength and aggression to move back inside.

    Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State: The Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end looked overrated at the Combine, turning in a relatively pedestrian 4.93-second 40-yard dash and ranking among the least impressive among his peers in virtually every other drill, as well.

    Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke: Scouts anticipated that Crowder would prove quick rather than fast, but the 5-8, 185-pounder unfortunately proved neither, clocking in at a disappointing 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash and a shockingly slow 7.17 seconds in the short shuttle -- a test designed to measure change of direction. Crowder was regarded as a possible top-64 candidate prior to the testing but almost will surely wind up a Day 3 pick now ... if that.

    Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami: The increasingly pass-happy NFL could be endangering the very existence of traditional run-stuffing middle linebackers. Perryman was a standout in that role for "The U," but his 4.78-second time in the 40-yard dash will do little to quell doubts about his ability to play all three downs in the NFL.

    FIVE PLAYERS SENDING US BACK TO THE VIDEOTAPE

    Byron Jones, DB, Connecticut: With a Combine and world record 12-foot, 3-inch standing broad jump, Jones quite literally leaped onto the NFL radar. Jones, who also showed great agility in shuttle drills, injured his left shoulder in October, ending his second season as a starting cornerback after starting at safety in 2011 and 2012.

    Chris Conley, WR, Georgia: Jones was the only Combine participant to set a world record, but Conley caught scouts' attention with a spectacular performance of his own, clocking in at 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash and leading the Combine with a staggering 45-inch vertical jump. He had 36 catches for 657 yards as a senior.

    Jerry Lovelocke, QB, Prairie View: Lovelocke was a surprise invite to the Combine after throwing for just 16 touchdowns (against nine interceptions) in 2015, but the 6-4, 248-pounder quietly turned heads while throwing alongside Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. In a weak senior crop of quarterbacks, a team could be intrigued enough to gamble a late-round selection on Lovelocke's upside.

    Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State: After Langford rushed for 2,944 yards over the past two seasons in East Lansing, scouts knew he could run. Few, however, anticipated that he would run faster than any other back in the class, clocking in at 4.42 seconds at a rock-solid 6-foot, 208 pounds.

    Ben Heeney, ILB, Kansas: Heeney was often characterized as a "try-hard" type with limited athleticism despite earning consensus first-team All-Big 12 honors last season with 127 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss. After ranking among the swiftest inside linebackers tested this year in the 40-yard dash (4.59), short shuttle (4.00) and three-cone drill (6.68), however, the 6-foot, 231-pounder may have tackled himself a draft selection.

    FIVE INTRIGUING PLAYERS

    Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska: The lanky defender has the raw tools to excite scouts but came in much lighter than expected at 6-5, 235 pounds. He claims that he can add (or drop) weight quickly, and he may need to do so to convince clubs he can remain at defensive end.

    David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa: Johnson followed up a sterling week at the Senior Bowl by finishing among this year's most explosive running backs in several drills, including the 40-yard dash (4.50 seconds) and vertical jump (41.5 inches) at 6-1, 224 pounds. A former wide receiver, Johnson also may be the draft's most reliable pass-catcher among running backs.

    Ali Marpet, OG, Hobart: Like Johnson, Marpet followed up a terrific week at the Senior Bowl with a very impressive performance in Indianapolis, clocking in at 4.98 seconds at 6-4, 307 pounds. It isn't often that a Division III player is selected with a top-100 pick, but that may be where Marpet is headed.

    Owa Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA: There may not be a more imposing physical specimen than the 6-3, 267-pound former Bruin, who enjoyed a spectacular Combine performance, demonstrating explosiveness in the 40-yard dash (4.62) and vertical jump (39 inches), as well as agility in the shuttle drills (7.36 in the three-cone). Odighizuwa comes with medical questions, however, as he underwent surgeries on both hips.

    J.J. Nelson, WR, Alabama-Birmingham: Clocked at a blistering 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Nelson was the fastest of this year's Combine participants. He looks more like a track star in shoulder pads than a traditional wide receiver at a spindly 5-10, 156 pounds, but he caught the ball well during drills in Indianapolis.

    FIVE IMPORTANT PRO DAY DATES

    Georgia, March 18: No team will select Bulldogs star RB Todd Gurley in the first round without first investigating his surgically repaired knee. Gurley hasn't committed to working out at the Bulldogs' scheduled Pro Day but is expected to attend. If doctors can evaluate him then or during the Combine recheck, he has a shot at ending the two-year absence of backs in the first round.

    Missouri, March 19: A foot injury kept DE Shane Ray, a projected top 10 pick, from participating at the Combine, but the Southeastern Conference's sack leader is expected to star in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump once he gets his opportunity.

    Colorado State, March 23: The Rams' workout could be surprisingly well-attended by NFL teams as it will feature QB Garrett Grayson, who currently checks in at No. 5 on NFLDraftScout.com's passer rankings. Grayson missed the Combine workout due to a hamstring pull.

    TCU, March 27: Several Horned Frogs defenders looked faster on tape than they did at the Combine, including one-time projected top-100 prospects Paul Dawson (OLB), Chris Hackett (FS) and Kevin White (CB). All three may need to boost their numbers after disappointing workouts in Indianapolis.

    Washington, April 2: Illness prevented star pass rusher Hau'oli Kikaha from participating in drills at the Combine. Kikaha led the nation with 19 sacks in 2014 but is viewed by some as a 'tweener. CB Marcus Peters is also scheduled to work out on campus, which is noteworthy in itself after he was kicked off the team in November.

    (Scouting report furnished to DigitalSportsDesk via Rob Rang, a Senior Analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, a property of The Sports Xchange distributed via Sports Direct to DigitalSportsDesk)


NFL: Combine Give-Away/Take-Aways

INDIANAPOLIS -- While there was a lot of action on the field Saturday from the offensive skill players at the NFL Scouting Combine, the defensive prospects were focused on the interview portion of the process, including several potential first-round picks.

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    Here are five takeaways from Saturday's media session:

    1. Washington OLB Shaq Thompson -- It was the first question asked: What position are you? And unequivocally and unmistakably, Thompson answered: "Outside Linebacker."

    Thompson quickly denied the rumors that he would also be participating in running back drills and said his return to offense was "out of the question." He plans to tell NFL teams that he wants to stay at linebacker instead of moving to safety or offense.

    "It's where I feel most comfortable," Thompson said on why he's so adamant on staying at linebacker. "I like to be up by the line of scrimmage. I feel like I'm physical enough. I'm not the biggest guy, but I have a lot of heart."

    With experience at both inside and outside linebacker, Thompson said he doesn't have a preference and he has talked to both 3-4 (inside Will) and 4-3 teams (outside Sam). He said his best strength is making plays in space and being a team leader, having fun and beating up the ball carrier, which sounds very similar to the player he patterns his game after: Lavonte David.

    "He's a little bit taller than me," Thompson said. "But we have the same attributes, the same speed. We can cover tight ends and running backs. I feel like I can do the same things."

    Although the size doesn't stand out, Thompson said height is overrated at the position. And both he and UCLA's Eric Kendricks will have to battle the "undersized" labels.

    "Being too short is overrated," Thompson said. "You have a lot of short linebackers out there. London Fletcher was 5-9 and he brought a lot of inspiration to us. I don't feel height makes the player. Both Eric and I have a lot of heart and toughness. He's a great linebacker, size doesn't matter."

    2. Washington CB Marcus Peters -- A prospect with considerable baggage, Peters did his best to quell the concerns about his character on Saturday, saying he made his mistakes and has to grow from them.

    "It was just a miscommunication, mostly on my behalf," Peters said regarding his dismissal from Washington. "I didn't take the coaching transition too well."

    Peters was kicked off the team in November after several altercations between him and the new coaching staff, although he did call the reports of him choking a coach on the sidelines "false." Since leaving the Huskies program, he has been enjoying family time at home, especially with newborn son Carson, who was born last fall. Peters has also received advice from an unlikely source: Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch.

    "That's someone that has mentored me throughout my whole life," Peters said. "I watched him grow up playing Pop Warner football. I watched him in high school and I watched him through college. And I got a chance to play at Washington and he played for Seattle."

    Peters said his talks with Lynch are personal, but it was encouraging to hear that he did reconcile with the Washington coaches and will participate at the school's Pro Day on April 2.

    "I recently went up there a couple of weeks ago and had a real good conversation with Coach (Chris) Petersen. We sat down and talked about everything that happened," Peters said. "I sincerely apologized to him again for what I put him and the team through this year. But it was a good conversation and he welcomed me to the Pro Day."

    Peters' mea culpa has mended things at Washington, but is it enough to convince NFL teams he's worth an early first round pick? Time will tell.

    3. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory -- After weigh-ins, Gregory created some buzz on Friday but for the wrong reason. He tipped the scale at only 235 pounds, a lighter weight than most expected for his 6-foot-5 frame. But according to Gregory, NFL teams aren't worried about it and know he will get bigger, although it might be tough for him to keep on the added weight.

    "I can probably say it is a little harder to maintain," Gregory said. "But I have always been able to put on weight real quickly and lose it real quickly."

    Gregory plans to be heavier for Nebraska's Pro Day and is confident that he can carry and play with added muscle mass, saying he has weighed anywhere from "230 to 258" pounds in the past. He revealed that while he has received positive feedback and he isn't worried about it affecting his draft projection, some teams have been "stuck" on the lower weight. Gregory has the pass rush ability to be appealing to any scheme but also admitted the lighter weight could be a turnoff for some teams.

    "I've had a mixture of both," Gregory said when asked about the teams interested in him and the schemes they run. "But with the weight right now, I am sure a lot of 3-4 teams will look at me instead of the 4-3 teams."

    While his size isn't imposing, Gregory does play stronger than he looks, which can be attributed to the emphasis on fundamentals he learned at Nebraska. And he thinks players at the next level can take that for granted.

    "Even at 235 pounds, I still think I set the edge pretty well because of my technique," Gregory said. "I use my strength well for what I weigh. I just did 24 on the bench so I'll only get stronger."

    4. Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- With 40 straight starts under his belt, few thought Ekpre Olomu would face durability questions during the draft process, but after a knee injury during December practice, everything changed for the former Ducks defensive back. Nonetheless, Ekpre-Olomu is staying positive after surgery eight weeks ago.

    "I'm not really too worried how it will affect my draft stock," Ekpre-Olomu said. "I'm more worried about once I get there, how I'm going to move on from there, and how I'm going to perform once I get onto the team."

    Ekpre-Olomu said he feels great and the doctors tell him the knee is healing ahead of schedule. Although the reality is, he likely won't be ready for the start of the 2015 NFL season, which will put him at a disadvantage, missing rookie minicamps, training camp and the preseason. So how does he plan to compensate while on the sideline?

    "I'm going to have to be determined to learn the playbook and make sure all those mental reps those guys are getting on the field," he said. "I have to make sure I'm getting a double amount because I'm not going to actually be on the field. You just have to work as hard as you can every day."

    Ekpre-Olomu cited his instincts and quickness as his best strengths, which fits what the tape says. The bigger question might be, is he ideally suited to stay outside or might he be better inside as a nickel cornerback in the NFL?

    "I'm a versatile player," Ekpre-Olomu said. "I was able to play nickel throughout my career at Oregon and it is going to help me in the long run because now the league runs through the slot receiver. If you can have a guy that can cover the slot and shut him down, it helps the team. And that's all you're looking forward to, trying to win games for the team."

    5. Virginia DE/OLB Eli Harold -- One of the most fascinating aspects of the NFL Draft process is learning about a player's journey to this point. And Harold is no exception. The former Virginia player lost his mother to cancer while he was in high school, something that forced him to grow up at an early age.

    "Growing up without a father and having a mother really doing everything for you, it's pretty tough when you lose her," Harold said. "She was my rock. She would be proud of me right now."

    Harold's mother was diagnosed with yellow jaundice when he was just 14 years old and that would later turn into pancreatic cancer. She died a year later and Harold's older brother acted as a father figure, giving him a support system. Now, Harold just wants to leave a lasting legacy for his mom.

    "The man upstairs blessed me, I'm going to do it for my mom," Harold said. "I just want to show the world that I can do more than just having my hand down. So tomorrow is the day. It's the proving ground and I'm psyched for it. That's what I worked all my life for."

    Harold thought he was ready for the NFL game and left Virginia early to follow his dreams. He launches himself off the line of scrimmage and plays with a relentless motor that pops on film. But even Harold admits he needs to get bigger. Currently at 247 pounds, he ideally wants to get to 255 for the next level.

    "I feel like being in the league, you have to be a little bit bigger than what I am now," Harold said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes. My pro day is March 2 and I'm going to go back and try to bulk up a little bit and show the scouts I can play and not lose a step with the weight on."

    (Recap by Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) is a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, owned and distributed by The Sports Xchange in cooperation with Digital Sports Desk.)


Up Next

(Wire Service Report)

NFL: Looking to Sept 201

After applying the NFL's official formula to determine common opponents for the 2015 season, the winners are:

The NFC East and the AFC South. Those are the two divisions whose teams must each play every team in the NFC South, a division without a winning team this year and a pathetic combined record of 22-41-1. The losers, determined by flipping the same logic, would be the be the AFC West and NFC West, whose 2015 schedules are tied to the AFC North, which sent three teams to this year's playoffs and finished regular season with a combine 38-25-1 mark. The NFC West itself will once again be a tough division because it not only plays against the NFC North (38-25-1 this year) but plays twice against each of its divisional rivals (NFC West was 37-27 this season). For those who do not have the NFL's official schedule abacus, here are the basics elements: Every team plays 16 games as follows:

--Home and away against its three division opponents (6 games).
--The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (4 games).
--The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (4 games).
--Two intraconference games based on the prior year's standings (two games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.

Beginning in 2010, a change was made to how teams are paired in the schedule rotation to ensure that teams playing the AFC and NFC West divisions would not be required to make two west coast trips (e.g. at San Francisco and at Seattle), while other teams in their division had none (e.g. at St. Louis and at Arizona).

The official 2015 schedule, with playing dates and times, will be announced in the spring.

NFL Kickoff 2015 Weekend will begin on Thursday night, Sept. 10, and the regular season will conclude on Sunday, Jan. 3.

Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, will be played on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016.

Here are the 2015 matchups by formula:
--AFC EAST intraconference vs. AFC SOUTH
--AFC EAST interconference vs. NFC EAST
--AFC NORTH intraconference vs. AFC WEST
--AFC NORTH interconference vs. NFC WEST
--AFC SOUTH intraconference vs. AFC EAST
--AFC SOUTH Interconference vs. NFC SOUTH
--AFC WEST intraconference vs. AFC NORTH
--AFC WEST interconference vs. NFC NORTH
--NFC EAST intraconference vs. NFC SOUTH
--NFC EAST interconference vs. AFC EAST
--NFC NORTH intraconference vs. NFC WEST
--NFC NORTH interconference vs. AFC WEST
--NFC SOUTH intraconference vs. NFC EAST
--NFC SOUTH interconference vs. AFC SOUTH
--NFC WEST intraconference vs. NFC NORTH
--NFC WEST interconference vs. AFC NORTH

Here are opponents for all teams in 2015:
AFC EAST
--1. New England Patriots. Home: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins; Away: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants.
--2. Buffalo Bills. Home: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants. Away: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins.
--3. Miami Dolphins. Home: Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants. Away: Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins.
--4. New York Jets. Home: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins. Away: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants.

AFC NORTH
--1. Pittsburgh Steelers. Home: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers. Away: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks.
--2. Cincinnati Bengals. Home: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks. Away: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers.
--3. Baltimore Ravens. Home: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks. Away: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers.
--4. Cleveland Browns. Home: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers. Away: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, New York Jets, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks

AFC SOUTH
--1. Indianapolis Colts. Home: Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Away: Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers.
--2. Houston Texans. Home: Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Away: Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers.
--3. Jacksonville Jaguars. Home: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers. Away: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
--4. Tennessee Titans. Home: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers. Away: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

AFC WEST
--1. Denver Broncos. Home: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings. Away: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions.
--2. Kansas City Chiefs. Home: Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions. Away: Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings.
--3. San Diego Chargers. Home: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions. Away: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings.
--4. Oakland Raiders. Home: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings. Away: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions.

NFC EAST
--1. Dallas Cowboys. Home: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, New York Jets. Away: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins.
--2. Philadelphia Eagles. Home: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins. Away: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, New York Jets.
--3. New York Giants. Home: Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, New York Jets. Away: Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins.
--4. Washington Redskins. Home: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins. Away: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, New York Jets.

NFC NORTH
--1. Green Bay Packers. Home: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers. Away: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders.
--2. Detroit Lions. Home: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders. Away: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers.
--3. Minnesota Vikings. Home: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers. Away: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders.
--4. Chicago Bears. Home: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders. Away: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers.

NFC SOUTH
--1. Carolina Panthers. Home: Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts. Away: Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans.
--2. New Orleans Saints. Home: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans. Away: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts.
--3. Atlanta Falcons. Home: Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts. Away: Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans.
--4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Home: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans. Away: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts.

NFC WEST
--1. Seattle Seahawks. Home: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers. Away: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals.
--2. Arizona Cardinals. Home: St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals. Away: St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers.
--3. San Francisco 49ers. Home: Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals. Away: Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh Steelers.
--4. St. Louis Rams. Home: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers. Away: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals.