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Clarett is in no rush to act

INDIANAPOLIS -- Maurice Clarett will not work out for NFL teams at this week's annual scouting combine, a decision Buffalo Bills president and general manager Tom Donahoe called "ridiculous," nor will he take part in Ohio State's pro day March 12. The 20-year-old sophomore running back, who, with the help of a court ruling earlier this month, beat the league's eligibility rule and gained early entry into the draft, said yesterday that he will hold an individual workout in early April (date to be determined) in Columbus, Ohio.

Clarett has not played since the 2003 national championship game. OSU suspended him for all of last season, first for violating team rules, then for accepting improper benefits and lying to investigators. It's been more than a year since the league's talent evaluators have seen the player who gained more than 1,200 yards and scored 16 touchdowns as a true freshman ("a very good year, but on a good team," Donahoe said), unless, of course, you count news reports about his legal issues. So what's another six weeks, right?

"All the numbers they need to get they can get the first week of April," Clarett said.

Clarett provided league personnel with a significant number yesterday: 237. That was his weight. It's 7 pounds more than he would like. You'd like to think that after having a year off, Clarett would at least be in shape, and his condition and choice not to work out at the combine raised more questions about his commitment and maturity. Initially, he said "somebody" advised him not to take part in drills, then identified the somebody as his mother. (Clarett said he has not hired an agent and is still interviewing candidates, though word around the campfire is that Jimmy Sexton is the guy.)

"Coming here and not working out doesn't get him started the right way in the whole process," Donahoe said. "I can't speak for the rest of the league, but it doesn't send a good message to the Buffalo Bills . . . If somebody's interested in him, they obviously will have a lot of work to do."

Clarett, who measured 5 feet 11 1/2 inches, said he has been working on his conditioning, speed, agility, and pass-catching ability. In preparation for his pro day, Clarett will train with renowned speed coach Tom Shaw in New Orleans. Clarett said he expects to run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 to 4.5 seconds in April.

"The training I was doing before was like regular training, not knowing which way the [federal judge's] decision was going to be made," Clarett said. "It wasn't like I was getting ready to jump right into the league. That level is a whole different level. The intensity of the training has to increase. I'm going to take these next four weeks and get back to eating right and training right and try to take my training up a notch."

Clarett displayed his charm and wit during a 15-minute press conference yesterday afternoon. He laughed often and incited a few laughs. (Asked if money would change him, he responded, "Change my address.") Great if you're auditioning for "Comic View." Clarett, though, has a much tougher audience to impress this weekend. He said he expected to hold individual, 15-minute interviews with every team; most already will know almost all there is to know about him.

Or perhaps not. "When I sit down with these GMs and head coaches, I think they'll have a good understanding of me, where I'm coming from, the certain way I act about certain things, the certain way I feel about a lot of things," Clarett said. "There's so many tests here, they can pretty much find out anything they want to find out. They don't have the chance to pick up a paper, they finally get to meet me now."

Clarett said the image of him that is portrayed in the media is inaccurate. "I'm a lot cooler than what you all think," he said. "The way it's painted on TV like I'm arrogant and cocky. I'm a quiet individual, I don't say too much ever. I lead by example. You can go back with my coaches, I really don't say too much. I lead by example, work hard day in and day out, go 200 percent every practice."

At the time of his interview, Clarett said he had not undergone X-rays on the shoulder or knee that caused him to miss three games and parts of two others during his only college campaign, though the prodding and poking would come in time. Since he did not bide his time in college, Clarett expects his peers in the NFL to do their own version of prodding and poking.

"I'm sure I'll be marked just like every other rookie," he said. "But I think I'll be tested a little bit more during training camp and during the games, mentally and physically to see where my head is at. Once I can get over the first-year hump, I think I'll have a normal career.

"I think the first year there's going to be a lot of shots taken at me to see if I'm physically durable and mentally there. But I think after the first year they'll say, `All right, we accept him into the league.' Just like it was when I came to Ohio State, I had to take a couple hits from upperclassmen. After that they accepted me."

Durability is among the many concerns regarding Clarett, who acknowledged that come April 24, some team will be "taking a chance on me." He hasn't played a full college season, so there's doubt as to whether he can withstand the punishment -- physical and mental -- of 20 games, not including playoffs. "Even some of the fifth-year seniors that come out in the draft, they're not ready for the rigors of an NFL season," Donahoe said. "They're not ready for the competition and the length of the season."

Clarett, who said he had "no regrets" about the past year, does not view himself as a pioneer. "A lot of those things I couldn't control that went on," he said. "I'm taking it like I'm somebody else in the draft. I'm not thinking like I'm a ground breaker of any type. I'm in the draft, I'm in a normal place like everybody else and just hoping some ball club gives me the same opportunity they give somebody else.

"It's all football to me. Once I get the pads back on, a couple of months into it, a couple of weeks into it, learning a new system, learn the speed of the game, get more knowledge, I think I'll be all right . . . I've been doing this since I was 5. It's not like I'm going to forget everything. It's crazy how you all talk. I'm not going to forget everything about football. It's going to be like a kid, once I get back on that bike and start to repeat stuff over and over, I think I'll be cool."

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