Miami G Vernon Carey and the rest of the offensive line prospects were the first to work out on Saturday morning
St. Elmo's. Amalfi. Eagle's Nest. These are some of the most popular dining spots in downtown Indianapolis, according to tourist guides.
Maybe someday Ruston Webster can get back to Indy and check them out. Right now, there's no time.
Here's how Webster spent his Friday night in Indianapolis: five hours of interviews, one after another, from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. That's 15 minutes per interviewee – exactly the amount of time his team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will have to decide upon their first-round draft pick on April 24. When the Bucs are on the clock that Saturday afternoon two months from now, they'll be happy for the marathon interview schedule kept by Webster, General Manager Bruce Allen and the rest of the Bucs' representatives at the annual NFL Scouting Combine.
Scouts, coaches and personnel men from all 32 teams are in Indianapolis for a little less than a week to look over 337 of the best draft-eligible players in the land. On Saturday morning, the on-field work began in Indy's RCA Dome as the offensive linemen took their turns running through drills. Though there wasn't a single 40-yard dash run until the weekend had begun, the business of the combine had begun on Thursday, with the first round of player-team interview sessions. Once those began, the Bucs' crew had their hands full.
"We have absolutely no free time, though there is a lot of waiting around," said Webster, who has been representing the Bucs at the combine for the better part of two decades. "Right now we're in the middle of our first day of workouts, but we've had four interview sessions in the last two days. We've probably interviewed roughly about 60 guys counting what the coaches have done during the day and the scouts' interviews."
Team's assistant coaches are allowed to meet with the players at the combine during the day when there is time in the players' schedule. The evenings are specifically set aside for more interviews between the draft hopefuls and the scouts, general managers and other personnel men. Each team is allowed a total of 60 evening interviews over the course of the combine, and the Bucs knocked off a third of their allotment on Friday night.
The prearranged interview schedule, a combine feature just implemented last year, helps immensely in the Bucs' attempts to get through their entire list.
"The thing that's really helped us is the interview schedule at night, with everything a lot more organized," said Webster. "It's not nearly as stressful. We still do the same amount of interviews but everything is planned and every player know where he's supposed to be at what time and how many interviews he has on the night. That's really helped us."
This year's combine schedule is much like the one used last year, which was a big success. Things are quite a bit different on the Bucs' side, however. While Webster, the team's director of college scouting, remains, Allen is in his first year with the Bucs and former Tampa Bay player Doug Williams was just recently hired as a personnel executive.
Williams, who guided a young Bucs team to the playoffs in the late 1970s and early 1980s, won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins and was most recently the head coach at Grambling, has proven to be a valuable asset in dealing with the players at the combine.
"It helps to have a Doug Williams in the (interview room) with us – that's a positive," said Webster. "That's helped us with these young players, who respect him. It's actually gone pretty well."
Teams interview a player with the goal of learning about his personality and motivation, to discern his dedication and approach to the game, perhaps to answer some questions about his past. The young men hear many of the same questions from one meeting to the next and sometimes get a feel for what the interviewers want to hear.
"I think most teams emphasize the same points," said Webster. "The thing about it is, once these kids go through a few interviews, they get it down pretty pat. But it still helps us.
"And this has actually been a real good group overall, in terms of the shape they've been in and the way they look. It's a big group and a really athletic-looking group, so it's been pretty impressive, actually."
Though the first few days were most useful for the interview sessions, players were also put through physical evaluations and taken to the weight room for strength tests.
"We've already done heights and weights for the offensive linemen, tight ends, running backs and defensive linemen," said Webster midway through Saturday. "They've lifted – done their 225s – and now they're into the workout period."
After the offensive linemen go through the paces on Saturday morning, the running backs and quarterbacks were set to take up most of the rest of the weekend. The last afternoon of workouts is Tuesday, when the linebackers and defensive backs get their turns. Those sessions should have a fine turnout.
"I think the positions everybody likes to watch work out are the speed guys, so the DBs and receivers get the most attention," said Webster.
As for the biggest story of the first two days of the combine – the decision by RB Maurice Clarett not to work out – it wasn't much of a story to Webster.
"A lot of guys don't work out at the combine, so it's not a real surprise," said Webster, and indeed, possible number-one pick overall QB Eli Manning has also elected not to throw. "That's especially true for the players who are high profile or semi-high profile. So it's not really a shock."