- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS — His No. 10 University of Texas football jersey has been sold a thousand times over since he led the Longhorns to the national championship last month.

But Friday afternoon, in a dank conference room at Indiana Convention Center, Vince Young was merely QB25.

Welcome to the NFL Scouting Combine, where every player, from Young and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush (RB04) to North Pole, Alaska, native Daryn Colledge (OL06) and Olympian Jeremy Bloom (WO08) endure days of medical and psychological testing, grilling from NFL teams and, of course, the famous Wonderlic test.

Marquee players like Young and Bush are here to make sure they have no broken bones or torn ligaments and to meet with coaches and general managers, while Boise State’s Colledge and Colorado’s Bloom want to make enough of an impression that teams will be writing down their names April 29-30.

The convention center and RCA Dome have become the center of the NFL for six days each February. It’s where 330 players are being evaluated but also where nearly 500 agents had their annual meeting Friday and the league’s medical, training and video staffs conduct meetings.

Throw in an ever-growing media contingent present to satisfy fans’ appetite for everything NFL and the scouting combine has become the major event between the Super Bowl and draft.

“The combine has become more expansive than when I was last coached [1997],” Buffalo Bills general manager Marv Levy said. “It still serves a great purpose. It’s the first chance as coaches and general managers we have to see these players. Our scouting staff has been following them for a couple of years and know every little detail about them. Now you can see the human element. They’re not just commodities now.”

Said Colledge, an offensive lineman: “It’s a cattle call.”

Increased interest

Indianapolis has played host to the scouting combine for nearly 20 years. A seven-person committee evaluates the draft-eligible players — a player needs four votes to get invited.

Before then, groups of teams conducted their own combine-type events. Washington Redskins director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer, who will be entering his 35th season with the team next fall, remembers attending a combine in 1983.

“After we won the Super Bowl, we went to Tampa, and there were eight other teams there,” he said. “A bunch of other teams had their combine with the Cowboys, and Seattle had one in the Northwest.

“It wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. It’s exploded.”

Only in the past couple years has the league rented a large conference room for media interviews. Outside the media room, autograph seekers armed with Sharpies, deflated footballs, mini helmets and glossy pictures scurry around, hoping to secure signatures.

Elsewhere in the convention center, there are rooms reserved by weight equipment companies hawking their products, and even Smith Barney has a room to advise the players with their financial planning.

None of the above was present back in the day.

“One of the big ways it’s changed is all of what happens here is put out there within minutes,” Redskins offensive coordinator Don Breaux said. “It used to be such a clandestine operation with everybody holding information. We approach things the same way, and things are probably a little more organized now.”

Said Tyer: “When we first started coming here, there certainly wasn’t a lot of press. In the old days, it was just scouts, medical people. Not even all of the coaches would come. Now they do, and you also see a lot of owners.”

Every coach in the league is here, and so are most owners. In one pocket of the convention center Friday morning, Dallas coach Bill Parcells and agent Drew Rosenhaus were chatting. On another floor, NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw was predicting doom in regard to a new collective bargaining agreement.

‘Grueling experience’

Each player spends four days in Indianapolis, and only one day do they take to the practice field.

Day 1: Players visit the hospital for X-Rays and lab work, followed by Cybex testing at the hotel.

Day 2: Complete medical exams, the Wonderlic test and bench press.

Day 3: A full day of psychological testing.

Day 4: The workout. Many of the top propsects will do nothing physical, waiting for their school’s pro day in late March/early April.

“It’s a grueling experience for them over a four-day period to try and perform effectively and put their best foot forward so they can make a positive impression for the teams,” Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban said. “When I was in college coaching, I encouraged my players to take advantage of every opportunity and do everything they could to benefit their future.”

The first three days include plenty of hurry-up-and-waiting. Between Thursday and Friday, Tyer said the Redskins’ medical staff examined nearly 175 players. A player must go through the same examination five times — there are six or seven teams represented in each exam room.

“They know every injury you’ve had since middle school,” Wisconsin receiver Jonathan Orr said. “A lot of the guys said they hurt more now after this than they did before. But they’re making a big investment.”

The Wonderlic test is a 50-question, multiple choice exam. According to the Wall Street Journal, St. Louis Rams receiver Kevin Curtis (48) has the highest score among current players.

Jeff Foster, executive director of National Scouting, which organizes the combine, said the medical examination is the most important to the teams.

“I surveyed a number of teams, and they said medical was the single most important aspect of the combine,” he said. “They’d been evaluating the athlete playing football for the last two years, so the key ingredients are the medical and the interviews. Medical is No. 1, interviews are No. 2 and psychological and workouts fall somewhere in the mix.”

After each of the first three days, teams can request individual, 15-minute interviews with players. It was at the scouting combine last year that the Redskins met with quarterback Jason Campbell. The Campbell interview was attended by owner Dan Snyder, vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, coach Joe Gibbs and the offensive coaching staff.

“When you get out of that meeting, you have a feel for the person,” Breaux said. “With Jason, it ran the whole gamut. We talked about his personal life, his college situation and then we asked him how he made certain reads and how he was coached during the week at Auburn.”

Said Gibbs: “The interviews are very enlightening — it’s probably the best thing you can do. You get a chance to have some communication with them and feel what kind of personality they have. You know how fast they can run and how high they can jump and you watch them athletically. But that’s not the No. 1 thing you’re looking for. You’re trying to see what kind of person they are. Everybody out there has talent; it’s about what kind of character they have that will determine what kind of career they have.

“When you sit and talk to somebody, you can ask them about some things in the background and it’s interesting to hear their feedback. And you get an idea if they’re on the same page as you. It’s very short and brief, but it’s very useful. Some of them come out of that meeting, you say, ‘I want that guy.’ You can tell by a short conversation how impressive a guy is and that they will fit well with you.”

Two months later, the Redskins traded this year’s first-round pick to Denver for the Broncos’ pick and selected Campbell at No. 25.

Come their workout day, the players who do run, throw and catch can improve their draft position. Last year, Hampton’s Jerome Mathis ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds — best among receivers. The Houston Texans drafted Mathis in the fourth round, and he made the Pro Bowl last season as a kick returner.

The workouts are done Tuesday. The Redskins’ front office and coaching staff will begin further evaluations of players. Groups of players will be brought to Redskin Park, and coaches and scouts will criss-cross the country for second and third looks.

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