The 2014 NFL Combine kicks-off with the first workouts starting this Saturday.  Its also the unofficial start of free agency. Who’s expected to surprise scouts this weekend?  And where may some of the top free agent tackles land?  Here’s the Thursday edition of Combine News & Notes.

- As I posted on Twitter yesterday, the New York Jets will meet with representatives of Austin Howard at the combine in the coming days with the hopes of locking up their starting right tackle.  I’m told the Jets are making Howard a priority, and as first reported in New York papers a week ago, the team has already sent off an initial offer.  How much will Howard receive?  Yesterday a league insider told me it could be similar to the deal Phil Loadholt signed with the Minnesota Vikings almost a year ago.

- It’s a similar situation with Rodger Saffold and the St Louis Rams, so I’m told.  The team met with Saffold’s agents last month and are expected to sit down with them again in Indianapolis.

- Most mock draft’s have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting a tackle with the 7th pick of the draft.  But free agency may negate that opinion.  I’m told you can expect the Buccaneers to be big players in the Branden Albert sweepstakes if the Kansas City Chiefs don’t resign sign him as expected.  It should come as no surprise but the other NFL team from Florida, the Miami Dolphins, are also expected to be suitors for Albert if he hits the free agent market.

- The top cornerback in free agency is expected to be Alterraun Verner.  Recent reports state the Tennessee Titans won’t place a franchise tag on their coveted defensive back.  Insiders tell me Verner is expected to sign a free agent contract that will start at $9 million annually.

- I gushed over Aaron Donald’s performance at the Senior Bowl and have been told to expect much of the same during his combine workout on Monday.  Donald, a 500+ pound bench presser, is expected to total in the mid 30’s on the bench then run his forty somewhere in the 4.7’s after tipping the scales in the low 290-pound area.  I’m told Donald will also put up some pretty spectacular times in the agility drills.  Where could Donald end up in May?  After the combine we said teams late in the first round would have to start giving the Pittsburgh lineman consideration but recent rumblings have the Chicago Bears very interested in his services with the 14th pick of round one.

-  Forty times of the receivers are always something to watch and I’m told the wide out who could surprise everyone is Martavis Bryant of Clemson.  Bryant, who goes an unofficial 6-feet, 5-inches, is expected to run in the low 4.3’s and could even breach the high 4.2’s.

-  I’m told Paul Richardson of Colorado is expected to run faster than expected and could break into the 4.3’s.  Scouts I’ve spoken with compare Richardson’s style to Philadelphia Eagles wide out DeSean Jackson, though not quite as fast.

- Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois is one of our favorite defensive backs but his size and athleticism are questioned.  I’m told Ward, who lined up at both cornerback and safety at NIU, will pleasantly surprise NFL decision makers on Tuesday.

- I’m told Cal tight end Richard Rodgers will tip the scales around 265-pounds and is expected to run in the 4.7-area.  Low 4.7’s could seal him as a 4th rounder.