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The scouting combine is over and the Bucs’ representatives are returning to Tampa, worn out but armed with a huge amount of information relevant to April’s NFL Draft


Thanks to workouts by players such as Oklahoma LB Teddy Lehman, this year's NFL Scouting Combine was a display of impressive speed

Business at the NFL Scouting Combine came to an end Tuesday afternoon with a palpable sense of relief from the hundreds of players, scouts, coaches and officials on hand for the event…particularly the scouts. The annual combine is undeniably an important and productive event, but it is also relentless, the work of a month crammed into about six days.

Ruston Webster, waiting in Indianapolis International Airport for his flight back to Tampa late Tuesday afternoon, admitted that he and his fellow Tampa Bay Buccaneers representatives were worn out from the week's work. All were very much looking forward to the return to Tampa.

Ah, but here's the rub: The combine may be over, but the work it has generated is not. Following closely behind the Bucs' flights back to Florida (not literally, one hopes), will be cargo flights bearing boxes of videotapes, photos and notes from the overflowing week of activities at Indy's RCA Dome.

With 337 players at the combine – minus a few that declined to work out – there are hours of footage of receivers running routes, quarterbacks proving their accuracy and cornerbacks displaying their footwork. Every scout can't make every workout, but the tapes are lasting evidence for the evaluations that will continue between now and April's NFL Draft.

"The (area) scouts are coming into town next week for meetings," said Webster, the team's director of college scouting. "We have those meetings at that time because now we've got all the information from the combines. We'll spend a week or so going over that information, then we'll hit the workout circuit."

The combine is the meaty middle of the three-part process of player evaluation that begins after the college football season ends.

First come the all-star bowl games, such as the Senior Bowl, in which the same group of NFL scouts and coaches spend weeks in such places as Mobile, Alabama, watching practices and conducting face-to-face meetings with players. The combine offers the most concentrated display of talent before the draft, but there is always a significant number of players, particularly among the ones expected to go very high in the draft, who choose to schedule separate workouts on their college campuses. Those 'Pro Days' are the third step in the process.

Teams strive to leave the combine with the information they need on all the players not planning Pro Day workouts. What happens at the combine can also change a team's opinions of which workouts it needs to attend during March and April.

"In some cases it narrows the list and in some cases it broadens the list," said Webster. "A couple guys worked out well that maybe you weren't expecting, and you've got to take another look at them, at least. It doesn't mean your feeling about them is going to change in the end, necessarily, but it means you should at least double-check them."

It works both ways at the combine, players rising and falling in teams' estimation based on surprising 40-yard dash times or interview-room attitudes. Like any NFL team, the Buccaneers are guarded about their true opinions on the draft prospects, but Webster did leave the combine with the same overall impression that most analysts have reported: This is, potentially, a very strong draft class.

"The only thing I would say is that I thought it was one of the faster groups, as a whole, that I can remember," said Webster. "There is a whole lot of speed in this draft.

"I think there was a better percentage of players who worked out at the combine this year, and you can see that there are some real strong positions. I think the draft is deep. You should be able to get good players throughout the thing, and definitely on the first day (during the first three rounds)."

That will certainly make draft weekend more satisfying for Webster and the rest of the Bucs' scouting staff. It takes most of a year, a lot of time on the road and many late nights, but NFL scouts get to see their hard work come to fruition each spring in the draft. Now that the combine is mercifully complete, Webster and his colleagues are one step closer to that denouement.

"The combine is a grind. You go from basically 6:30 in the morning to 11:00 at night, and it's just a grind the whole way. But it was good. I think we got some things accomplished that will help us down the road.

"It's been a long week and I'm glad to be heading back to Tampa."

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