The poking and prodding will begin in earnest this week in Indianapolis, where more than 300 college football draft prospects will gather for the highly-intense NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Scouts, general managers and player personnel directors from all 32 NFL teams will do extensive interviews with players from Feb. 20-26.
They will test players character, their durability and their speed. The players also will be subjected to medical exams and psychological testing.
Four players from coach Bill OBriens first team will represent Penn State at the 2013 combine linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, defensive tackle Jordan Hill and center Matt Stankiewitch. A year ago, the Nittany Lions sent seven players to Indy, which was the fourth-highest total among all Division I schools.
Rob Rang, an analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, The Sports XChange and CBSSports.com, ranks Hodges and Hill as Penn States best NFL prospects, followed by Stankiewitch and Mauti, who suffered three major knee injuries during his career.
Prior to the injury, Mauti would have ranked with Hodges as a potential top 100 pick, Rang said last week. With the durability questions looming over him, however, (Mauti) now must prove he is well on the road to recovery just to have a chance at being drafted.
Rang and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. have Hodges (6-foot-1, 239 pounds) and Hill (6-2, 294) pegged as third or fourth-round picks entering the combine.
Hodges started 25 games the past two years and ranked first on the team and No. 4 in the Big Ten with 109 tackles as a senior. He was a semifinalist for the 2012 Butkus Award and a two-time all-conference pick.
Hes a tough, aggressive kid, a good form tackler, Kiper said last month.
Hodges is an aggressive, physical linebacker whose game translates better as a 4-3 outside linebacker or 3-4 inside linebacker at the next level, Rang said.
Hill earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from multiple outlets as a senior and finished fourth on the team in tackles (64) and second in sacks (4.5).
Hill is a high-effort defender whose quickness will be valued by teams needing an interior pass rusher, Rang said. He lacks the size and strength to fit in well in a 3-4 scheme, which limits his appeal.
He is likely to be selected early on the third day of the draft by a team running a predominately 4-3 attack.
Kiper, on the other hand, called Hill a great kid, great leader.
Stankiewitch (6-3, 303) was a first-team All-Big Ten selection this past season and was one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nations top center. A two-year starter, he played in the East-West Shrine Game last month.
He is projected as a mid-to-late-round selection.
Stankiewitch lacks the athleticism which normally is associated with centers drafted highly, but plays with the physicality and aggression scouts like, Rang said. In a relatively weak year for centers, his reliability, toughness and position versatility should result in the early to middle portion of Day 3.
Mauti, whose health is creating plenty of pre-combine buzz, had a sensational senior season cut short by a left knee injury suffered in the next-to-last game against Indiana. He has never revealed the extent of his latest injury after previously suffering ACL injuries to both knees.
Mauti (6-2, 235) is ranked the 297th-best player in the draft, according to NFLDraftScout.com. He has been training in his home state of Louisiana in advance of the combine and has sent a handwritten note to GMs of every NFL team.
Depending on the state of his knee and rehab process, Mauti could possibly be a late-round pick in Aprils NFL draft. He is often compared to former Penn State teammate Sean Lee, who has battled injuries throughout his career but has become a very productive linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.
Injuries are the main concern, but (Mautis) a great kid, Kiper said. He's had a phenomenal career and battled through some injuries. That's going to be the concern. But when he was healthy, he looked like a second-round possibility.
Those Penn State seniors not invited to the combine defensive ends Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley, quarterback Matt McGloin, cornerback Stephon Morris, offensive tackle Mike Farrell, and fullback Michael Zordich, among others will get a chance to prove their worth to the NFL scouts during Penn States Pro Day on campus March 11.
McGloin spent the past six weeks working out with NFL draft prospects in Hollywood and played in the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game before returning to Pennsylvania late last week.
A former walk-on, he is hoping his record-setting season under OBrien, the former offensive coordinator who coached with Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady with the New England Patriots, will earn him an invitation to an NFL training camp as a free agent.
Coach OBrien taught me how to slow the game down mentally, and just go to my progressions and make my reads and be smart with the football and make plays, McGloin said. It was all about moving the chains and not trying to force the ball or take shots down the field.
It was a great experience. I was fortunate enough to be under coach OBrien for one year. He taught me a lot, more than I ever could have imagined. I am hoping I can do something with it now and get a shot at the next level.
Ron Musselman is a freelance writer living in Centre County. Follow him on Twitter@ronmusselman8.