A Peak Behind the Curtain … Monday Cup O’Combine

From Indianapolis, Indiana

Every year at the NFL Combine the powers that be allow the Pro Football Writers Association to send a small group of media types behind security to watch one of the workouts. Otherwise the media is kept out of the actual physical activity with the exception of the NFL Network, which really isn’t media as much as it’s public relations for the league.

Sunday morning my number came up and I got the chance to go behind the curtain and watch quarterbacks and receivers working inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

I’d like to tell you it was a scintillating 90 minutes of football at its finest. It would be far more truthful to say that I had trouble keeping my eyes open. There is nothing exciting going on because this isn’t so much football as it is the underwear Olympics.

All the players are decked out in their Under Armour shirts, shorts, socks, sweats, etc. There are no pads or the other things that make watching football so much fun, like crowd, music and pageantry.

On this Sunday morning, it was about one of two groups of quarterbacks in the Combine, throwing to one of two groups of wide receivers. By the time our group was allowed in to watch, the players had finished their 40-yard dashes and jumps, both standing long and vertical leaps. We’ll provide a few details on those numbers a bit later.

What we saw was quarterbacks throwing to wide receivers. The players were put through almost the entire route tree from outs and INS, short and long, double moves and tap-tap on the sideline catches.

On the field in this segment were nine quarterbacks and 23 wide receivers. The biggest names on the field were Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick from Nevada, Jake Locker from Washington and Ryan Mallett out of Arkansas. Among the receivers on the field were A.J. Green of Georgia, Jon Baldwin of Pittsburgh and Julio Jones of Alabama. All of those names are considered possible first-round picks.

The quarterbacks would get three throws in a row, while the receivers rotated in one after the other. When things were all done, most of the quarterbacks got a chance to throw the ball about 30 times, while the receivers were in position to catch passes 20+ times.

There are no statistics, no scoreboard; in fact you could hear a pin drop in Lucas Oil. Every once in awhile the players will get fired up as a group and let out a motivating cheer. There are assistant coaches from NFL teams running the drill, with help from some Indianapolis college players who act as ball boys.

The players move from one route to the next very quickly; there’s no wasting of time. It’s a short period of time for what is essentially part of a job interview for the players.

Now, let’s move the view off the field and into the stands. This is where the GMs, scouts and coaches spend their days here in Indianapolis. Over six days, there are two of these sessions every day, one early in the morning, the other in early afternoon.

In the good old days – maybe 10 years ago – all the watchers sat in the stands. Generally, team personnel would sit together, but there were always little groups of observers that would cross the boundaries of several teams. Some of those actually paying attention would sit alone, keeping others away so they could concentrate on what was happening on the field.

But the move into the new Lucas Oil Stadium has brought luxury. Teams have the ability to rent a luxury suite for the Combine, complete with catering and whatever type of food and liquids they would like. The suites sweep around the middle ring of the stadium’s northwest side, and just about every team in the league has gone ahead and rented a suite, filled it with food and drinks and that’s where they congregate between sessions or exchange notes on what they’ve seen.

There are still some scouts and personnel types that stay in the stands to watch. There are a handful of observers that even stand on the field, because they want to get close to the action.

All of this is filmed by the NFL and is shown live on the NFL Network, with cameramen scurrying all over the field and other technicians moving cables and such.

As this group of players roll through the passes there are obvious things that jump out. Gabbert and Mallett both have powerful right arms and can deliver a pass with authority. They are easily the class of the QB group, followed by Locker and TCU’s Andy Dalton. Accuracy was a problem for all the quarterbacks, no surprise given the unfamiliarity of the passer and the catcher. CLARIFICATION: Gabbert did not throw in the drills, but he was on the field and chucked a few passes that clearly indicated the strength of his arm.

The one part of the passing drill that provides some entertainment is the gauntlet. A receiver runs across the field and along the way is supposed to catch seven balls while running as fast as he can. The quarterbacks are about 10 yards away and generally drill their passes. If they are not accurate, then it’s a drill that will drive the receivers crazy as they try to move fast and still catch all the balls.

Among the receivers Jones from the Crimson Tide had a good morning, catching almost everything thrown in his direction and showing speed in every move he made. Green struggled at times to catch what appeared to be passes that weren’t badly thrown. From the naked eye, he also did not seem to move at the same pace as Jones; Green was a tad slower.

One of the unknown receivers who grabbed attention was Fort Valley State’s Ricardo Lockette, who showed good speed and body control.

7 Responses to “A Peak Behind the Curtain … Monday Cup O’Combine”

  • February 28, 2011  - jimmeDK says:

    Gabbert didn’t throw at the combine though, did he? At least he wasn’t supposed to.

  • February 28, 2011  - RW says:

    Good report. Julio Jones made some money for himself with his outstanding workout which could/should vault him into top 10 pick country. That’s a little unfortunate because I don’t see Pioli trading up that high to get him but, `cest la vie.

    The other area of high need is, of course, NT and those guys work out today. Realistically, a guy like Phil Taylor of Baylor could be there, and, with a good workout/interview/background etc, might fill the need bill for the Chief’s top pick so Taylor is a guy I’ll be watching carefully as the Combine rolls on today.

  • February 28, 2011  - Rick says:

    Yeah, the couple of top flight WR’s will be gone by the time we make our selection and trading up to get one would probably prove too expensive. So, that said, our best bet at value will probably be either a linebacker of a tackle, both of which we could use.

  • February 28, 2011  - Bob Gretz says:

    Heads up for jimmeDK – I’ve added a clarification to the story. Gabbert DID NOT throw in the drills, but he was throwing some passes on the field in the time we were allowed out there and while the target was stationary, he showed the power in his arm. Impressive in that area.

  • February 28, 2011  - BigJimInWisconsin says:

    Today’s Monday, right? Otherwise, I’ve got some explaining to do to my boss about yesterday … ;-)

    Go CHIEFS!

  • February 28, 2011  - el cid says:

    The only problem with the Combine is that it is like going into a candy store, to many choices. Hopefully, Mr Pioli and staff have looked at enough game tapes to strain their eyesight and not turn into me, everyone looks like a possible fit.

  • February 28, 2011  - napahank says:

    Just heard Gholston is soon to be cut. I remember this time three years ago a lot a Chief fans drooling over the prospect of getting him and irate that we did not. It just goes to show you that drafting should be left to the “experts” and not mere fans who become obsessed with workout freaks.

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