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Mort Report: Vick keeps impressing NFL brass

Friday, February 23

Sizing up the combine's pros and cons

With the NFL combine taking place Thursday through Monday, the most-asked question centers around which players will actually participate in something other than the medical testing and interviews. Over the years, a high percentage of top players have decided, usually on the advice of their agents, not to take part in all of the physical testing or positional drills.

Last year, for example, players such as Thomas Jones, Shaun Alexander, Ron Dayne, Peter Warrick, Bubba Franks, Chris Samuels, Courtney Brown, Shaun Ellis, Corey Simon, LaVar Arrington, Julian Peterson, John Abraham, Deltha O'Neal and Ahmed Plummer opted to not participate in the physical testing.

Brian Urlacher
Bears MLB Brian Urlacher helped himself with a strong showing at the NFL combine last year...

What do all of these players have in common? Well, they were all first-round draft choices. On the other hand, QB Chris Redman and DE Darren Howard did take part in the testing. The result in both cases was not as expected going in. Redman, while not the most mobile signal caller, posted a disappointing 40 time of just 5.32. Howard, who ended his college career as Kansas State's all-time sack leader, was able to run a 40 of just 5.09.

In Redman's case, he was running basically neck and neck with Chad Pennington up until the combine. His sub-par 40 was a major factor in pushing him from a first-round possibility all the way into Round 3 of the draft.

Prior to the combine meeting, I projected Howard, following his outstanding showing at the Senior Bowl, to be a mid-first-round draft choice with the potential to possibly move into the top 10 overall. In part, because of the slower-than-expected 40, Howard dropped completely out of the first round, becoming the second pick in Round 2.

Ron Dayne
...while Giants RB Ron Dayne elected not to participate in the physical testing.
It's important to note that Redman and Howard were able to dramatically improve their 40 times during individual testing. Unfortunately, what happens at the combine can in some cases tend to be an indelible mark on a player's final rating. If you asked the Baltimore Ravens front office and coaching staff, they would tell you they are optimistic about Redman's future prospects with the organization. Could he be labeled a steal in the third round? In my opinion, definitely yes.

Meanwhile, Howard was a grand-larceny type choice for the New Orleans Saints. After showcasing outstanding pass-rush skills (11 sacks) and overall ability, Howard was definitely viewed as one of the top rookies in the NFL.

My point is this: If a player decides to participate in the workout and comes through with an excellent showing, he obviously benefits greatly. However, if the workout is not up to par, even a strong showing during individual testing may not be enough to make up for the lost ground. If a player doesn't work out at the RCA Dome, the NFL will complain some, but in the end, it doesn't matter. Ultimately, it will be the individual workout that is the key in the final evaluation process.

Now the question becomes, why is an individual workout more advantageous? Before I look at that, the first order of business is to discuss why players tend to shy away from working out in Indianapolis. I really believe the schedule of events for a player throughout the combine-workout process tells the story.

On day one, the player wakes up early to catch a morning flight to Indy. After they arrive at the hotel, they head to the hospital for X-rays of past injuries. On that same day, they go through the cybex test for knee strength. In the evening, there are meetings with various NFL teams that can often last until midnight.

On day two, they wake up early, at about 6 a.m., for the urinalysis. After breakfast, they head to the RCA Dome for a complete medical exam with the NFL team doctors and trainers. If there is a shoulder or knee concern, the medical staff from all 31 teams could check it out. Then, they are weighed and measured, including arm length and hand size. They also take part in the strength testing -- how many bench-press reps they can do at 225 pounds. Again in the evening, the players take part in meetings, interviews and psychological testing with NFL teams.

Day three is a player's opportunity to shine. They go to the RCA Dome for workouts, which begin at 8 a.m. The other groups begin their testing at 10 a.m. and noon. They pose for front and back photos. Then, they warm up and stretch, getting ready for flexibility testing. The players are then timed in the 40. Also recorded are their times at the 10- and 20-yard marks. What follows is the on-field agility drills that correlate with their positions. They are then tested in the vertical and standing broad jump, before being timed in the 20- and 60-yard shuttles. Finally it's the three-cone drill, and the workout is concluded.

So what's the difference between working out in Indy and during an individual session? At the combine workout, there is an unfamiliarity with the surface and a hectic schedule that may alter a player's eating habits or cause a little more stress. And how about the anxiety that builds knowing you are going to be meeting so many new people who will be asking you tons of questions, many of which you have answered time and time again? Is this type of environment conducive to a player enjoying a strong, impressive workout?

In some cases, players deliver an A-type performance, which certainly enhances a player's draft rating. Last year, players such as R. Jay Soward, Erik Flowers, Cornelius Griffin, Chris Hovan and particularly Brian Urlacher turned in strong showings that certainly allowed them to move up the draft board. On the flip side, a sub-par workout can allow questions to arise that won't always be counteracted by a solid performance during individual testing. The aforementioned Redman and Howard prove that point.

Instead of cramming so much into such a short period of time, spread the combine process out over a full week.

During individual sessions, players have to work out within 90 miles of their school or home. In most cases players prefer working out at their school. The NFL then has a feel for where the player trains. There is also a comfort level for the player, knowing that he's in familiar surroundings with his equipment manager and trainer on hand. Some players also like to get the weight-lifting part out of the way at the combine meeting, enabling them to focus solely on speed rather than strength during the individual session.

You can rest assured that once again this year, a high number of top prospects will elect only to participate in selective parts of the workout or bypass the physical workout all together. What can the NFL do to bring about a scenario where you would have the vast majority of top players going through the entire workout? There is no easy answer, but I'll offer my opinion on this dilemma for the NFL.

Instead of cramming so much into such a short period of time, spread the combine process out over a full week. Take the extra time to put the prospects through the paces, thus alleviating the fatigue factor, while limiting any anxiety that may develop for a player in such a pressure-packed atmosphere.

Basically, the NFL would be allowing players an opportunity to maximize their workout capabilities, which would just about force an agent's or player's hand. By this, I mean that any reason or excuse for not working out would be practically eliminated. Players would have the time to settle in and could maintain more of a normal routine in terms of their eating habits and rest schedule.

By spreading the combine meeting out and creating basically a "work week" for players, agents would no longer be in a position to advise their clients to save everything for individual testing. Just think about how much extra time is wasted and how much money is spent when the top NFL brass from the various clubs have to fly all over the country in the month of March and early April watching players go through a final workout.

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