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NFL Football Combine Takes Over Indy

All right all you Indianapolis sports fans, it is time to talk some football. I know, you still might cringe when forced to relieve the painful ending to the Indianapolis Colts season earlier this month. But, with the National Football League’s Scouting Combine taking over downtown Indianapolis for the next week, it is time the Circle City raised its head and look towards the future.

If the NFL Scouting Combine is a foreign concept to you, please allow me elaborate. The 2010 Scouting Combine, which will be held from Feb. 24 to March 2, is the annual job fair for prospective new NFL players. For six days at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, players are put through a series of drills, tests and interviews with more than 600 NFL personnel including head coaches, general managers and scouts.

What Happens at the NFL Combine?

This week, hundreds of the best college football players are invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where executives, coaches, and scouts from all 32 NFL teams take part in a  four-day job interview before the NFL Draft. Here is what the future players will take part in:

40-yard dash
The 40-yard dash is the marquee event at the combine. It’s kind of like the 100-meters at the Olympics: It’s all about speed, explosion and watching skilled athletes run great times. These athletes are timed at 10, 20 and 40-yard intervals. What the scouts are looking for is an explosion from a static start.

Bench press
The bench press is a test of strength — 225 pounds, as many reps as the athlete can get. What the NFL scouts are also looking for is endurance. Anybody can do a max one time, but what the bench press tells the pro scouts is how often the athlete frequented his college weight room for the last 3-5 years.

Vertical jump
The vertical jump is all about lower-body explosion and power. The athlete stands flat-footed and they measure his reach. It is important to accurately measure the reach, because the differential between the reach and the flag the athlete touches is his vertical jump measurement.

Broad jump
The broad jump is like being in gym class back in junior high school. Basically, it is testing an athlete’s lower-body explosion and lower-body strength. The athlete starts out with a stance balanced and then he explodes out as far as he can. It tests explosion and balance, because he has to land without moving.

3 cone drill
The 3 cone drill tests an athlete’s ability to change directions at a high speed. Three cones in an L-shape. He starts from the starting line, goes 5 yards to the first cone and back. Then, he turns, runs around the second cone, runs a weave around the third cone, which is the high point of the L, changes directions, comes back around that second cone and finishes.

Shuttle run
The short shuttle is the first of the cone drills. It is known as the 5-10-5. What it tests is the athlete’s lateral quickness and explosion in short areas. The athlete starts in the three-point stance, explodse out 5 yards to his right, touches the line, goes back 10 yards to his left, left hand touches the line, pivot, and he turns 5 more yards and finishes.

For years, the Scouting Combine has been the time for prospective NFL rookies to show the 32 professional football franchises what they can do physically. For years, NFL teams have put way too much stock into what these prospective players do when testing their skills in controlled environments. These scouts, talent evaluators and team officials have seemed more concerned by what a perpective player can do against a stop watch as opposed to what a player can do against an actually opponent in a game situation.

This is not true for all teams. A few teams, such as Indiana‘s pride and joy Indianapolis Colts, have taken the combine for what it is worth. The Colts team president Bill Polian has set himself apart from most of the NFL’s other top executives by his ability to evaluate talent of possible players from game play and real life situations, not their ability to bench press.

Well the NFL has finally seemed to wise up. No longer will players considered top prospects be able to wow future employers with a few days of impressive workouts and land a huge contract. A perfect example would be JeMarcus Russell of the Oakland Raiders.

Russell was taken No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft largely because he destroyed an overrated University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish team–sorry South Bend, but it is true–in the 2006 Sugar Bowl and because his arm strength was impressive during his combine workout. Russell may not even be back with the Raiders in 2010 due to his horrible NFL performance, and his six-year $68 million contract has handcuff the Oakland franchise.

Now that NFL execs are wising up to what the combine really is, perhaps the separation between the teams known for drafting well and those who draft ridiculously will close. Fear not Colts Country, as in most fields the cream will still rise to the top.

Really this means that most of the players teams will pursue during the 2010 draft are already set.

An unnamed NFL executive was recently quoted as saying:

“You know why it’s 90 percent set now? Because guys go to the Scouting Combine and they change their grade on a player based on things that have nothing to do with playing football. I’m convinced if you took the stopwatches away from a lot of these guys, most of ’em would not be able to tell you whether they liked a player or not.

“These guys go out and watch players all fall, then we all watch the tape of all these guys, and we see what kind of football players they are. That’s scouting. Who plays good football in pads? That’s scouting. Now we need the combine for the medical evaluations and the personal baggage stuff. But don’t come in after the combine and tell me you want to change some guy and move him way up because he ran faster than you thought he would. That’s where you get in trouble, and that’s why our draft board is pretty well set.”

Besides the fact that the NFL Scouting Combine is the official turning of the page from the 2009 season to the 2010 season, the combine brings an extra surge to the local economy. Indianapolis hotels have seen a surge in reservations. Indianapolis restaurants have a lot of big men in town who will need to be feed, and will want to be feed well. Maybe it is a stretch, but perhaps these future millionaires would like to take in some of Indy museums and learn a bit about Indianapolis society. One can hope anyway.

Who is this guy?