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Dan Wiederer: Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels. Friday's big stage at the NFL combine provided can't-miss theater.

Dan Wiederer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Football

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s 6:54 on the first morning of March and the sun has not made it above the modest downtown skyline. Yet inside Great Hall J of the Indianapolis Convention Center, a media horde has begun to assemble.

It’s more than an hour before the first prospect interview at the NFL scouting combine. But it’s never too early to start jockeying for space and claiming territory, particularly on a morning like this and especially for those who cover the Chicago Bears, owners of the Nos. 1 and 9 selections in next month’s draft.

Not surprisingly, among the two dozen or so people in the room, the first six to arrive at the foot of Podium 4 are Bears reporters, with candles burnt on both ends from a long week but eager to learn more about several of the highest-profile prospects general manager Ryan Poles is considering as cornerstones in his championship build.

Offensive skill players are on the Friday docket for the media portion of the grueling five-day combine itinerary. And over a three-hour span, 82 prospects are scheduled to speak, including six or seven who figure to be picked in the first 90 minutes of the draft.

The group includes the top four quarterbacks in the class — Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels and J.J. McCarthy — plus three elite wide receivers in Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze.

Williams is the morning’s headliner, widely regarded as this year’s top prospect with a consensus building inside league circles that he will be an easy choice for the Bears at No. 1. But before the USC star gets his time to share a little of himself with the gathered media, the opening acts on Podium 4 are Daniels (8 a.m. sharp) followed by Harrison and then Maye.

 

This is a casual setting for the most part but carries a bit of pressure for the prospects, their opportunity to exhibit stage presence and poise. The questions will range from pointed to profound to preposterous.

NFL teams will be watching all of these back-and-forths, either live or later on video, closely scrutinizing how the players handle the moment and the opportunity.

‘As good as it gets’

It’s 8 a.m. when Daniels steps on stage and offers a thumbnail for who he is as a player and who he has become as a person. He explains his path from Cajon High School in California to the Heisman Trophy last season at LSU with three character-testing seasons at Arizona State in between.

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