When you hear Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen talk about how much bigger and faster the players are getting each year, you have to wonder where the comparison should stop from players of the past.
The whole reason why drills, schedules and formatting of the Combine remain the same is so evaluators can always compare to the prior years attendees. However, this thinking/formula is flawed now because the evolution of training and preparing for the Combine has accelerated so dramatically over the last fifteen years. If I were an evaluator I wouldn’t compare a player’s combine performance to another player going back more than eight years.
In 1999, Mark Verstegen launched his first Athletes Performance (Now Exos with 7 locations) facility in Tempe, AZ. I know this because I sent him half of his first class. Other trainers like Chip Smith of CES, Tom Shaw and several others have been prepping players for over fifteen years now and have continually gotten better at having participants peak for their Combine workout. As of late, a bigger focus has been on nutrition, speed mechanics and bringing in former NFL players and coaches to tutor each player in drills and interviews.
The main reason for the Combine still remains the medicals and physical component. And everyone believes it is the most necessary and most important component of the Combine. But players and agents are growing more resistant to this current format and a change is needed or the NFLPA could force one to happen in what could have a showdown like capacity.
The current format has players getting in line for physicals at 6:30 am, standing in line for hours, then having their limbs, joints, knees and shoulders being pulled, pushed and rotated to their limits. Some doctors are more aggressive than others and some have minimal experience in the field.
Numerous players, including 310 pound plus lineman are crammed in an MRI machine for up to 30 minutes or more. Some players reported that the air in the MRI machine was not working and when they asked to be removed because they were feeling claustrophobic, they wouldn’t immediately do so and told them to be still for 15 more minutes. If you ever been in an MRI machine you can relate to these issues. Then imagine you are 6’5” 315 pounds. These machines are not made for these size men. It’s truly a “cattle call”.
So after very little sleep (most players settle down about midnight after their interviews and snacks), much standing around without food or sometimes even a place to sit, being pulled at, tugged at, even accused of hiding an injury, it’s on to an energy draining cybex test, having up to seven or more vials of blood drawn, and then off to more meetings. That coupled with another long evening and they are supposed to be fresh for the biggest audition of their life that also takes place on national TV? Oh, and all performed in some really tight fitting florescent clothes you are forced to wear.
Of course, this is a stressful time for these young men trying to get drafted as high as possible, not embarrass themselves, make great impressions, begin their dream and perform at their very best under duress in a stressful environment. I know there are worse things, but the Combine needs to grow up, mature, get with the times and make some more adjustments that are simply common sense.
For starters, here are some changes that should be made:
Players should be allowed to come a day earlier if they choose. The Combine started an extra day earlier this year. The extra day was meant to allow for more sleep, travel recovery time, more/longer informal interviews, and make for a more civil pace for everyone. But for some reason none of the players felt any more rested than years before. I believe just more things/activities were crammed into that extra day.
Physicals, drawing of blood and even opportunity for interviews should be “AFTER” the players perform all the on-field drills and forty. Essentially, the schedule of the combine should be flipped around. Would this mean all the players who would perform under these more friendly conditions would do better than all those before them? Perhaps, but it’s a new era and now is the time to make these adjustments.
Formal interviews should be increased to 20 minutes from 15. Juniors and QBs should be 30 minutes and the players should have the right to choose which teams they want to meet with in case there is limited time for them. Additionally, all player meetings should cease at 9:00pm. They currently run to 11:00pm. Having the extra day on the front end could help the whole process.
No physicals, scans, X-rays, tests or meetings should start before 9:00am. Players come from all over the country and come from different time zones. Players from Pacific time zones who have to be at the doctor’s for MRI’s at 7:30am are getting up at 3:30am Pacific time and will be up for the remainder of the day (their first full day in Indy).
Each player should have their own room: There are some really funny stories floating around about the roommate situations at the Combine. Players get stuck with roommates who snore, want to sleep with the TV left on, stay up late on the phone and keep the other player awake. The NFL makes good money on the Combine so buck up and give the players their own rooms.
I did run into NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith and player president Eric Winston one day. They were making their rounds and talking to a lot of agents and players and getting a feel for the whole environment and listening to grievances from agents. So don’t be surprised if the Players Association asks for a bigger role in shaping future Combines.
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