Posts by Matt Bowen

Why you should embrace the NFL combine

There is an overwhelming opinion that the NFL scouting combine is a wasted step in the long and tiresome draft process.

I can see why that opinion could exist—to a degree.

NFL Combine The NFL scouting combine is

There is an overwhelming opinion that the NFL scouting combine is a wasted step in the long and tiresome draft process.

I can see why that opinion could exist—to a degree.

NFL Combine The NFL scouting combine is a three day job interview for rookie prospects.

Rookie prospects testing on the field in the 40-yard dash, short shuttle, vertical jump, etc. No pads. No game situations. Just guys running around in static drills that they train for months in advance.

Think about it. This is a take-home test. And prospects shell out big money (via their agents) to train at elite facilities around the country. The powerful start in the 40, the manicured steps in the short shuttle and the technique of the 3-Cone. That’s all practiced from the end of bowl season until now. Daily repetition designed to master these drills before they even count.

Those drills don’t tell us much about these prospects as football players. Nope. We get numbers from the combine. Numbers from guys in shorts. That’s it.

However, I still value the combine and see it as an important tool in the process.

I was gassed after the final drill inside of the RCA Dome back at the 2000 combine. My legs were tight, my back hurt from the turf and the stress of the three-day tour in Indy finally caught up with me. I was ready to get to the airport, head back to Iowa City and grab a Busch Light. Time to sit down for a minute. Heck, time to clear my mind.

The combine isn’t designed to be comfortable for these prospects. And it shouldn’t be. It’s a job interview. Remember that. Fly in and go through two days of interviews, bizarre written exams, medical testing, more interviews, the weigh-ins, bench-press, etc.

Then get ready to actually run on the third and final day in town.

That’s not easy. Trust me. These guys will be nervous when they set their hand down on the line, take a rehearsed stance and explode into the start of the 40-yard dash. Run hard. Run fast. That’s the goal. You get two chances to run the 40. So make them count. No stress there, right? And that can be applied to every drill on the field.

I don’t expect prospects to post their best times at the combine. That’s saved for the Pro Day when you can dress in your own locker room on campus and run in that comfortable environment. Easy work right there.

But not in Indy. No chance.

And that’s the reason I will always value the combine and the impact it has on rookie hopefuls. Put these prospects in an adverse situation and tell them to run, jump and do drills in front of the league’s top brass when they are stressed out and tired.

You can find out a lot about these guys in Indy. From the interviews to the workouts on the field, the NFL sends these young players through a series of tests. It’s a grind. A brutal grind at times. Just ask one of these prospects when the combine finally wraps up. They will tell you all about it.

And if I’m a scout, that’s exactly how I want it. Who can perform when the pressure is turned up in Indianapolis? We will find out soon…

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NFL combine: Five Senior Bowl prospects to watch

Before I head to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, I always go back and check out my notes from the Senior Bowl. Which players stood out? And who can boost their draft stock even more by testing well on the field in Indy?

Before I head to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, I always go back and check out my notes from the Senior Bowl. Which players stood out? And who can boost their draft stock even more by testing well on the field in Indy?

Here are five prospects I will be watching during drills as the draft process rolls on at the combine:

Quinton Patton US PRESSWIREAfter a solid week at the Senior Bowl, Patton can continue to drive his draft stock with a strong workout at the combine.

1. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech: Patton was in the mix with a talented group of WRs down in Mobile that included Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), Chris Harper (Kansas State) and the speed of Marquise Goodwin (Texas). Patton ran smooth routes, showed the ability to win on the double-move and finished consistently down the field on the deep ball. Now I want to see him run and compete in drills at the combine. The 40-yard dash carries weight at the WR position. We all know that. And coming off his performance in front of scouts at the Senior Bowl, a strong workout can move the Louisiana Tech product up the board.

2. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) is projected to be the first OT off the board (possibly going No.1 overall) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) should be next in line this April. But don’t forget about Johnson. Talking with scouts at the Senior Bowl, the key with the Oklahoma product is the athletic ability he brings to the position. You could see that on the practice field with his footwork. In Indianapolis, Johnson has a great opportunity to showcase that athletic skill set during drills and possibly lock up a spot in the Top 15.

3. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: I always watch DBs closely in Mobile and Trufant was the best corner I saw on the field. Quick feet with the ability to open the hips and drive on the ball. Plus, he played with some swagger during one-on-one drills. Scouts will want to get a 40 time on Trufant and they will also grade his technique along with the ability to transition with speed. Corner is a prime position in the NFL and teams are always looking to make upgrades in the secondary. Trufant can earn some money at the combine.

4. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: There is no question the BYU product needs pro coaching. Watching him during one-on-one work at the Senior Bowl, the DE/OLB has to improve his technique at the point of attack and develop some counter moves outside of a speed rush. However, that will come once he starts to see reps in the NFL. And he has that raw talent clubs are looking for in an edge rusher. Ansah should post some impressive numbers at the combine.

5. Jonathan Cyprien, SS, FIU: The strong safety already has an NFL body, plays physical and had a good week in Mobile from my perspective. Scouts I talked to see Cyprien as an “in the box” player at the next level, but he will get the opportunity to display his range on deep ball drills at the combine. Remember, you don’t need 4.4 guys at the safety position. Anything in the 4.5 to 4.6 range sells when you find a safety that displays solid angles to the ball and shows some range from a deep middle of the field alignment. Let’s see how the FIU product compares to Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Matt Elam (Florida) and Eric Reid (LSU) in Indianapolis.

Five more players that consistently showed up in my Senior Bowl notes…

– Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas
– Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern
– Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
– Vance McDonald, TE, Rice
– Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

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NFL combine: Time to answer some QB questions?

There are plenty of mixed opinions on the impact and the overall value of the NFL scouting combine. I get it. We will be talking about “measurables” for weeks (or months) after the combine, analyzing 40-yard dash times, the short shuttle, three-cone drill, etc.

There are plenty of mixed opinions on the impact and the overall value of the NFL scouting combine. I get it. We will be talking about “measurables” for weeks (or months) after the combine, analyzing 40-yard dash times, the short shuttle, three-cone drill, etc.

Geno Smith US PRESSWIREGeno Smith and the rest of the top QB prospects will throw at the combine.

That’s before we get to the position work where these rookie prospects will go through stale (almost basic) drills that focus on footwork and technique. It doesn’t represent what you see on the tape and you can’t recreate game situations in shorts and Under Armour gear in Indianapolis.

But I still love the combine—because it puts stress on these prospects to work out and perform in front of the entire league.

I’ve been there myself as one of these rookie hopefuls back in 2000 at the combine (I will get into this more next week). You are tired, almost exhausted when this thing finally wraps up. It’s a grind.

Think of the combine as a job interview. Part of the process. Another tool for scouts, GMs, head coaches, etc. to evaluate your skill set.

And this year all of the QBs will be working out.

I like that. I like it a lot. And the reason is simple: I can’t tell you if there is a guy, a player in this class at the QB position that stands out.

When I was down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, I asked three different scouts who had the best week of practice—and I got three different answers (Nassib, Glennon, Manuel).

In Indianapolis, Matt Barkley and Geno Smith will work out and throw on the field. That’s smart. Both QBs skipped out on the Senior Bowl and now we get to evaluate their footwork, arm strength, accuracy, mechanics, etc. when they throw the entire route tree at the combine.

Go out there, throw and try to connect with wide outs you have never seen before while the entire NFL is watching every move you make. Part of the challenge of producing at the combine.

This is an opportunity for Barkley, Nassib, Smith and the rest of the 2013 QB class to create some buzz about their skill sets. Go ahead. Turn some heads. Make teams go back and study more tape after a top tier workout and try to create some separation at the top of the class before the Pro Day circuit picks up.

And I’m excited to see them throw.

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NFL Playoffs revisited: Jones’ TD grab vs. Broncos

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for the Cover 2 "cheat sheet."

Over the weekend I was asked a question on Twitter: what is the toughest route to defend? That’s an easy one for any

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for the Cover 2 “cheat sheet.”

Over the weekend I was asked a question on Twitter: what is the toughest route to defend? That’s an easy one for any safety to answer: 4 Verticals. Why? Think of the stress the concept puts on Cover 2 (2-on-1 vs. the 2-deep safeties), Cover 3 (2-on-1 vs. the FS) or Cover 4 (SS, FS have to match and carry No.2 vertical from inside alignment).

Before we get into the All-22 tape and breakdown Joe Flacco’s last minute TD pass in regulation, here is a basic, static look at 4 Verts vs. Cover 2 on the chalkboard.

4 Verts vs. Cover 2: Posse Personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Playbook

A couple of quick notes…

– I have both CBs playing a standard Tampa 2 technique: jam and sink. You want to take some stress off the safety (jam, re-route No.1) and allow the deep half player to stay on top of his landmark (top of the numbers). Force an inside release, sink and trail No.1 (until threatened in the flat).

– Why do you want to force the inside release? If your CBs play with a “soft squat” (no jam, sink at the snap) and allow the WR to take a hard, outside stem it can widen the safety off the top of the numbers landmark. That opens up a clear throwing lane to the inside seam (No.2).

-The Mike (MLB) will open his hips to the “passing strength” (two WR side or open side of the formation), carry No.2 and read the QB (flip the hips to come back to closed side of the formation).

– The safeties have to gain enough depth to play over the top of No.1 and overlap any throw to the middle of the field. Remember, you want to see downhill angles from your safeties in Cover 2.

Let’s move over to the All-22 and check out why Jones was able to get free vs. Denver’s Cover 2…

Ravens vs. Broncos
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles (2×2)
Route Concept: 4 Verts
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2

Playbook

– NFL offenses will run 4 Verts out of 2×2 alignment and a 3×1 alignment (called a “999” route with No.3 working back across the field). But given the game situation in Denver, this 2×2 alignment should be an automatic alert for 4 Verts from a defensive perspective. Both No.1 WRs will take an outside release (vs. a “soft squat” technique) with the TE and the open (weak) side slot WR pushing up the field on the inside seam routes. The RB will “check release” to the open side flat.

– The Broncos are playing Cover 2 out of their sub-package with a 3-Man rush. This looks similar to a scheme I call “Tent” of “Tent Robber” with the Mike (DB in the game) aligned deep off the ball and playing the inside vertical seam (alomst a 3-deep look). Both CBs will sink/trail under No.1 and the safeties will get depth.

Playbook

– This is where SS Rahim Moore gets into trouble. With Flacco stepping up in the pocket, the Broncos safety opens his hips to No.2 (TE). Remember, he has help vs. No.2 with the Mike playing to the inside of the TE. Moore needs to stay square in his pedal and continue to gain depth. This is all about angles. Maintain depth and put yourself in a position to play over the top of both No.1 and No.2.

Playbook

– Instead of taking a downhill angle on the throw (don’t break from the deep half until the QB throws the ball), Moore now has to flip his hips (called an open angle technique); transition and work back to No.1. That takes time and doesn’t allow Moore to create a positive angle to Jones on the deep 9 (fade) route.

Know the game situation

This is different than the chalkboard drawing I put up because the Broncos are protecting a lead late in the ball game with an opportunity to close it out. The dig, curl, comeback, etc. won’t beat you in this situaiton–but the deep ball will. No need to gamble or guess as a deep half safety. However, the techniques of the defense don’t change at the safety position when playing Cover 2 vs. 4 Verts.

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Can Rob Ryan bring immediate change to Saints?

Sit up straight. And bring a notebook.

ROB RYAN US PRESSWIRERob Ryan was hired for one reason: to fix the Saints' defense.

That’s my best advice for the members of the Saints' defense when they have their first

Sit up straight. And bring a notebook.

ROB RYAN US PRESSWIRERob Ryan was hired for one reason: to fix the Saints’ defense.

That’s my best advice for the members of the Saints’ defense when they have their first meeting under new coordinator Rob Ryan later this spring.

Schemes are one thing. Ryan will install a new playbook when the Saints start their offseason workout program and begin to prep for OTAs, etc. A switch to the 3-4 front and a secondary that will be asked to play more blitz-man with the multiple pressure packages Ryan carries in his Sunday game plan.

But that’s just chalkboard stuff. Xs and Os. Plenty of time to check out the Cowboys’ tape from the 2012 season and figure out where the Saints need to add personnel via free agency and throughout the long and tiresome draft process.

However, the players (the ones that survive offseason cuts) have to realize that Ryan was hired because they didn’t produce. That’s it. In a league based on winning games above anything else, this Saints’ defense didn’t play football at an acceptable standard.

And now Ryan is coming in to change that.

I’ve been there as a player. Twice actually. Way back in 2001 Lovie Smith was hired in St. Louis and in 2004 it was Gregg Williams in Washington. Two new coordinators brought in because our defense didn’t past the test the season before.

Lovie and Gregg are different in their personalities and how they approach the game, but the goal was the same: fix the defense.

That starts in the first meeting. There are new demands, new rules and a new sense of accountability in the defensive team meeting room. Everything is going to change. Get on board or get out. It’s that simple in pro ball.

Can there be immediate change in New Orleans with Ryan running the defense? Sure, that’s possible. And it could happen. Under Lovie and Gregg, our defenses played faster and produced at a much higher level after just one offseason.

The Saints will eventually get on the practice field after the draft and run around in shorts and helmets. A dress rehearsal until real jobs are won in camp when the pads go on.

But until then, those early meetings with Ryan will be key to developing a new style of defense in New Orleans. And the players have to be ready to buy into much more than just the schemes being drawn up on the chalkboard.

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