From Indianapolis, Indiana
Seldom has so much time and so many resources in the world of football been devoted to an event than the annual NFL Combine.
It’s the football version of the Westminster Dog Show, except there are no winners being paraded around on a leash. In the biggest of pictures, the Combine accounts for no more than five percent of the NFL’s evaluation grade of draft eligible players.
But that doesn’t keep the league, the players and the media from turning the nearly week long Combine into the second biggest highlight of pro football’s off-season. It’s behind only the NFL’s annual Draft, which it supports by providing the league’s 32 teams a chance to get yet another look at 330 players that can be selected at the end of April.
That the NFL Network has blocked out hours and hours of TV time to show some of the workouts is a perfect example of how the television beast must always be fed. It’s tough to imagine that slow-mo replays of guys like former Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh doing the standing high jump (right) can be interesting for junior GMs sitting at home. But ratings indicate there are plenty of people watching and enjoying.
Talk with the NFL types and they’ll say to a man that the most important part of Combine week is not the workouts and not the one-on-one interviews with the players. The Combine’s valuable information comes right off the bat, with the thorough medical exam that each player receives from team doctors.
To say that the 330 invitees are put under a microscope by the medical types is not an exaggeration. Players are told to bring with them any x-rays, test results, analysis from doctors and other medical forms they may have collected over their college career.
Each of the 32 teams has several doctors involved and working with medical personnel from other teams, they work in concert so that every team that wants to get their hands on a particular player or a particular injury can do so. With players coming off injuries or illnesses, they will end up spending more time with the medical folks than they will working out or meeting with coaches and GMs. They get a pre-exam and X-rays on their first day in Indy and then a thorough medical exam on their second day.
“Every team wants to know about the medical reports and whether there were any surprises there, or if the player rehabbed an injury from late in his season,” said former Chiefs VP of player personnel Bill Kuharich. “Everything after that is just extra. It’s the medical that counts.”
All the 330 players will go through similar experiences whether they are a big defensive lineman or a little wide receiver. The invitees are divided into 11 groups based on position, with most of the groups numbering in the low 30s. The schedule began on Wednesday, and will run through Tuesday, March 1. The groups visit to Indy is broken up into four days. For instance, here’s how things line up for the quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs:
|Thursday||Travel to Indianapolis – Registration – Hospital Pre-Exam – Orientation – Team interviews.|
|Friday||Measurements – Medical Examinations – Media – Psychological Testing – Team interviews.|
|Saturday||NFLPA Meeting – Psychological Testing – Team Interviews.|
|Sunday||Workout (timing, stations, skill drills) – Departure from Indianapolis.|
After the medical stuff, the second element that provides teams with information is the interviews. Twenty years ago these were considered hyper-important because it provided team decision makers a chance to see how a player to questions that might be controversial.
That’s no longer the case because agents have begun training their clients to take these tests, rehearsing answers to potentially thorny questions and removing genuine reaction to the questions or moment. Now, more and more teams are engaging players in conversations about football, where they will throw on a game tape from the ’10 season and walk through his decision making progress. It can provide a real understanding of how well the player understands the game he plays.
Sometimes when a player may have a skeleton in his closet a team will ask for more details of the incident. Most of the teams have done enough leg work before the Combine that they have a pretty good idea of what happened in any problems with players they might have a serious interest in.
The physical workouts that will provide the bulk of NFL Network coverage begin on Friday with the special teamers. After that it breaks down this way:
- Saturday – Offensive line and tight ends.
- Sunday – Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs.
- Monday – Defensive line and linebackers.
- Tuesday – Defensive backs.
This is the least important part of what happens at the Combine for NFL teams, even though it’s what draws the most attention. It becomes underwear Olympics with the sprinting, jumping, weight lifting and those types of physical actions. In any given year, only a few players will surprise the scouts with one of their measurements.
It’s an interesting four days that has grown from just a collection of scouts and players, to live television and hundreds of reporters on the ground and chasing stories all over Indianapolis.
That’s us for the next four days.
NFL PERSONNEL FILE FOR WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23
- 49ERS – hired Michael Christianson as offensive quality control coach.
- JAGUARS – placed franchise player designation on TE Marcedes Lewis.
- JETS – LB David Harris signed his franchise player tender offer.
- PANTHERS – C Ryan Kalil signed his franchise player tender offer.
- SEAHAWKS – re-signed RB Chris Henry.
- STEELERS – LB LaMarr Woodley signed his franchise player tender offer.