by Gil Brandt, NFL.com
They say there is no offseason in the NFL. And whoever "they" are, they're not kidding.
After the Super Bowl comes the Pro Bowl. After the Pro Bowl comes the free-agent signing period. And all the while, teams must step up their preparation for the draft in April. That preparation started months ago, but it really heats up this weekend — when college players from around the country gather in Indianapolis for the NFL combine.
Before we get into this year's combine schedule, a brief history. If there is one prime example of why the NFL holds the annual combine, it's probably former Rams safety Nolan Cromwell. In 1976, after his playing days at the University of Kansas, Cromwell — like other players — found himself flying around the country visiting with different teams. Because he was injured during his senior year, Cromwell was having X-rays taken everywhere he went. The Cowboys were the 16th team on his trek, and he looked terrible after an all-night flight from Seattle.
There had to be a better way, and that's why the league condensed the process into three workouts in 1977. The workouts were conducted by three scouting services — National, Blesto and the newly-formed Quadra, which consisted of the Cowboys, 49ers, Bills and Raiders.
The system was streamlined even further in 1984, when the workouts were moved to one site. The combine is an invitation-only event. With the exception of invited players and NFL team officials, it's closed to everyone else.
THE COMBINE SCHEDULE
More than 300 players will descend upon Indianapolis for the combine beginning Thursday afternoon. Here's what will take place:
The first group — kickers and offensive linemen — will arrive Thursday and have dinner around 6 p.m. Players stay at a hotel within walking distance from the RCA Dome, where the workouts will take place. After dinner, players will get a brief orientation on how to conduct themselves in the coming weeks (after the draft, rookies will have a three-day seminar that expands on life in the NFL).
At 7:30 Friday morning, the first group heads over to the RCA Dome for measurements — height, weight, arm length, hand span, etc. The physicals begin at 8:15. All 32 NFL teams have trainers and medical staff present. At this point, the players are split into two groups. The first group is videotaped for body build. The second group is interviewed on tape — these are 10-minute interviews where players are asked about their background, their goals, etc.
At 1 p.m., players are tested for strength — scouts record how many times they can bench-press 225 pounds.
In the afternoon, players are available for media interviews. Not too long ago, media were scarce at the combine — until last year, they would just hang around the hotel lobby hoping to speak to players on their way back from the RCA Dome. Nowadays, there are at least 100 writers on hand, plus radio and TV crews. For the first time, there will be a special interview room setup adjacent to the RCA Dome.
After dinner, players make their way through the first floor of the hotel, where all 32 teams have their own rooms set up for player interviews, psychological testing and simple "meet-and-greets." The team officials are well-stocked with hats, shirts and other team apparel — all sorts of goodies to entice players to stop in and visit with them. By the time players leave Indianapolis, they probably have about 50 extra pounds worth of NFL souvenirs.
Saturday morning, the first group returns to the RCA Dome for speed and agility testing. They'll run 40-yard dashes, which will be timed in three separate intervals of 10, 20 and 40 yards. They'll do jumping drills and specific football drills — the offensive linemen will do pass-protection drills, for instance, while the running backs will be catching passes out of the backfield.
By noon Saturday, the first group will be on its way home. The combine will be over, but the workouts and interviews and training leading up to the draft (April 21-22) is just beginning.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Here's a breakdown by position of how many players will be at the combine and which players I think will make an impact:
Offensive Line: 61 players invited • First two players drafted from this group: Leonard Davis (Texas), Kenyatta Walker (Florida) • High pick you may not have heard of: Shawn Draper (Alabama)
Running Back: 28 players invited • First two players drafted from this group: LaDainian Tomlinson (TCU), Deuce McAllister (Mississippi) • High pick you may not have heard of: Correll Buckhalter (Nebraska)
Defensive Line: 55 players invited • First two players drafted from this group: Andre Carter (Cal), Gerard Warren (Florida) • High pick you may not have heard of: Cedric Scott (Southern Miss)
Quarterback: 18 players invited • First two players drafted from this group: Michael Vick (Virginia Tech), Drew Brees (Purdue) • High pick you may not have heard of: David Rivers (Western Carolina)
Wide Receiver: 49 players invited • First two players drafted from this group: David Terrell (Michigan), Koren Robinson (N.C. State) • High pick you may not have heard of: Eddie Berlin (Northern Iowa)
Linebacker: 27 players invited • First two players drafted from this group: Dan Morgan (Miami-FL), Jamie Wilborn (Vanderbilt) • High pick you may not have heard of: Orlando Huff (Fresno State)
Tight End: 19 players invited • First player drafted from this group: Todd Heap (Arizona State) • High pick you may not have heard of: Arthur Love (South Carolina State)
Defensive Back: 61 players invited • First two players drafted from this group: Fred Smoot (Mississippi State), Nat Clements (Ohio State) • High pick you may not have heard of: William Peterson (Western Illinois)