We promise this is the last time we’ll bemoan the Combine’s relevance this year. Honest.
Holding back and letting the Combine fade into our rear-view mirror is difficult if not impossible, because for the next two months the results generated by the running, jumping, and lifting that took place in Indianapolis will be cited and respected as though they have some kind of power and importance.
There’s always a Dontari Poe who sets the Combine ablaze, posting numbers so far out of the norm that a GM who doesn’t bump his name up is simply foolish. But we’ll repeat a line once more that we’ve written several times over the past week: the 40-yard dash times and bench press reps are important, but only marginally when compared to game film and player interviews. Major changes to the Combine are being considered, but they’re mostly motivated by the television audience, and the NFL’s unrelenting pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Coaches, GMs, and scouts aren’t concerned about entertainment at the Combine. For them it’s a tool, not a show, and they don’t care if we think it’s boring and mostly useless.
But many believe that a process which is designed to evaluate talent on a level playing field has become stagnant and archaic, and now even the talent evaluators are expressing the need for change.
Last week Judy Battista of the New York Times relayed the potential ideas for change that the NFL is considering, most notably two ideas that could dramatically increase the excitement and competition surrounding the 40-yard dash and bench press. The 40-yard dash could become a 40-yard race, with players running side-by-side. A similar change could be applied to the bench press, and players will lift side-by-side.
Jack Bechta, an NFL agent who also writes for the National Football Post, talked to coaches and team executives at the Combine. One AFC head coach wants to see to an even more dramatic change to the 40-yard dash, one that takes the race concept to its logical extreme.
“I’m tired of watching guys take 10 minutes to warm up to run a forty. Just line them all up side-by-side by position in two groups and let them race it out on the sound of a whistle, just like the snap of the ball. Each lane will have a clock and it’s a better emulation a game situation.”
All they need is some helmets and jousting gear, and we’d have American Gladiators. Maybe they can give a few players a gun filled with Nerf balls too. That’d be fun.
An NFC general manager was a little more realistic, saying that he’d like to see defensive backs and linebackers covering running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends in drills. You know, kind of like they do in games.
“They do it all the time in all-star games, so why can’t they do it here?” he asked Bechta, saying that as a counter argument to those who fear getting injured and seeing their draft stock plummet.
Unfortunately, the counter argument to this anonymous GM’s counter argument is simple. While it’s true that a player can tear an ACL during the Pro Bowl and derail his career, we can assume that since he’s a Pro Bowler, his bank account is stocked quite nicely and he’ll be just fine. Players at the Combine are still broke students.
Elsewhere, an AFC offensive line coach imparted some wisdom that should be painfully conventional, but sadly it isn’t. Share it with his, Bechta:
He didn’t understand why any NFL lineman should run a 40-yard dash for time. (More linemen tweak their hamstrings preparing for this test than anything they do). He also said the mirror drill (when they put their hands behind their backs) is worthless. He wants more game-type functional movement drills.
Truth. The mobility of every player needs to be gauged, and that also applies to the big men on the offensive line who need to drop and shift quickly to cover blocking assignments. But isn’t that measured enough in the three-come drill?
There was also an intriguing idea from one general manager to streamline a cumbersome interview process that whisks players away far too quickly.
“We currently have 32 teams trying to interview over 300 players for fifteen minutes each. That’s absurd and a waste of everybody’s time. Why not have each player interviewed just one time for one hour in front of a panel consisting of one coach, one personnel director and a professional psychologist who does interviewing for a living. Each team can submit questions in which the panel can tailor the interview to each specific player. Have the interview video taped and sent to each team.”
The speed dating aspect of the Combine’s interviews is no doubt annoying, and having a professional psychologist on site would weed out this year’s Pacman Jones much quicker. But this suggestion would entirely strip the interview process of its intimacy, robbing teams of a chance to make a connection.
The changes for TV and entertainment will gradually be phased into the Combine. It’s the other business aspect–that part about getting young men signed to lucrative contracts, and making sure the teams who offer those contracts aren’t signing a douchebag–that will prevent any sweeping changes that emphasize testing real football skills in game situations.