After an outstanding career at USC, T Tony Boselli may have further helped his draft status by working out at the 1995 Combine
The premier event at the NFL Scouting Combine is the 40-yard dash, but the process itself is more like a marathon.
This year's combine, which begins in less than two weeks and is one of the signpost events leading up to the NFL Draft, is longer and later than in previous years. It will last a full seven days and, for the first time in Ruston Webster's memory, leak into the month of March.
In fact, the last day of the Combine, March 1, is also the last day for teams to re-sign veteran players whose contracts are expiring before they hit the free agent market. It is also just over seven weeks before the opening bell for the draft on March 23.
In other words, things are heating up in the NFL scouting realm, and all that heat is going to be concentrated in one spot for a week in Indianapolis.
Like any veteran NFL personnel man, Webster knows exactly what to expect at the Combine.
"Nothing every really changes there, with the exception of the limit we put on interviews a few years ago," said Webster. "Teams are capped at 60 interview per night, and the process is much more organized than it used to be. That has really worked well. But other than going later into the year and a day longer, this year's Combine should be just like the rest."
The Combine invites over 300 players to the RCA Dome and surrounding hotels every year for the purpose of reducing the scouting burden on all of the teams. Virtually every top-rated player will be on hand; in fact, since 1988 only three players who were not invited to the Combine have been drafted in the first round.
Not every top player will work out, however; in particular, many will skip the 40-yard dash in anticipation of holding a private workout at their own school. Most will come to Indy for the rest of the "fun," which includes measurements, weigh-ins, psychological tests and, most importantly, private meetings with officials from each club. The attending scouts would obviously like to see every player in action, which helps explain why, over the years, the Combine has gradually drifted from early February into the first blush of March.
"All of the players come [to Indianapolis], but the trend of not working out for the big-name guys hasn't changed much," said Webster. "That was kind of the point of moving the combine back, though, to try to put a little pressure on them to work out because there would be less time prior to the draft to get a private workout in. But the guys who are likely to be really high picks are going to wait and take their chances at their own school."
There are exceptions each year, as a handful of highly-rated players put on the shorts and give the 40-yard dash a crack. Eventual Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tony Boselli did, for instance, and he was eventually drafted second overall in 1995.
"Some guys take it as a challenge and they work out, and those guys usually end up helping themselves," said Webster. "See, the thing about it is, there's still time to work out again at their own school if they don't like their times at the combine. There are always a handful of guys who step up and do a great job. They blow it out and it really ends up helping their draft status a lot."
Among the field tests players are expected to complete are the 40-yard dash, the shuttle run, the vertical leap and the standing broad jump. There are also periods where players engage in workouts specific to their positions, such as passing drills for the quarterbacks and one-on-ones for the receivers and defensive backs. At night, players bounce from one hotel room to another to complete their team interviews. The week is an ongoing wave of players coming and going, as certain positions work out en masse on specific days.
Those interviews are often cited as the most important part of the week, as they may be the source of the only new information a team can gather on a player. While a 40-yard dash time is instructive, it rarely outweighs what a scouting department has seen on game tape.
"You can't really answer a lot of questions at the combine because it's just a workout situation," said Webster. "You still have to go off how they played, what you see on film during games. It's hard to 'manufacture' a player at the combine, but it might make you go back and look at a player again. A good performance at the combine can make you think, 'Maybe I missed something on this guy.'"
Webster and the rest of the Bucs' personnel department will be camped out at the Combine while the players come and go. The team's coaching staff will also work the event in shifts, as each assistant coach gets into town in time to see the players at his position work out. Coaches are also involved in the interview process, though that burdened will be a bit eased this year due to the team's participation in the Senior Bowl. The Bucs' coaching staff directed the South squad in that all-star game, and thus already has a good feel for the mental makeup of about 50 draft-eligible players.
"I think that helped our coaches," said Webster of the Senior Bowl. "They basically had a week-long interview with the guys that were on our team. I think they have a good feel for those guys, so they won't need to spend as much time with them at the combine as they might have otherwise."
After the Combine, Buccaneer scouts will still have to jet around the country to attend the various school-specific workouts. Still, the team's draft strategy is already starting to come into focus, and the week in Indianapolis will undoubtedly provide even more clarity.
"We're at the point now that we're honing in more on names and not just positions," said Webster.