Future Buccaneer Sammie Stroughter was one of the wide receivers who showed off their skills at last year's Scouting Combine
Kickers, specialists, offensive linemen and tight ends.
Players at those positions will comprise the first wave of approximately 300 top draft prospects who will pour through Indianapolis next week. Since offensive linemen will be the first players to run their 40-yard dashes at Lucas Oil Stadium and defensive backs will be the last, it's safe to say the times will improve throughout the week. On the other hand, bench press numbers may go in the opposite direction.
However, the entire week - specifically Wednesday, February 24 through Tuesday, March 2 - will be incredibly valuable for the hundreds of NFL scouts, coaches and personnel directors who make the annual trek to Indy. That's why the first wave into Indy will also include the vast majority of those personnel professionals.
In fact, the Bucs' core group of evaluators, led by General Manager Mark Dominik, will arrive on Wednesday and stay the entire week. The Buccaneers' coaches will come and go depending upon when the players at the positions they oversee are on display.
For each group of players, it's basically a four-day swing through Indianapolis, beginning with such issues as registration and orientation and eventually culminating in their on-field work. The offensive linemen, for instance, will check in Wednesday, get medical and psychological tests on Thursday, have an NFLPA meeting on Friday and finally hit the field on Saturday morning. Each night, they will also run through a series of 15-minute interviews with any team that requests time with them. Each NFL team sets up in a room on the bottom floor of the same hotel that houses the players in Indy, making it easy for the players to knock out one interview after the next.
As much as the dashes and the bench presses are the media's focus during the combine, it might be these evening sessions at the hotel that are the most valuable part of the trip for NFL team reps. Each team can interview up to 60 players during the week of the combine.
"It gives us a chance to really sit down with each individual player," said Dominik. "It gives you a chance to break down film with the players. They talk to our coordinators, they talk to the position coach, I'm in there, [Director of College Scouting] Dennis Hickey is in there, the area scout's in there. That's an important element."
The majority of the medical examinations take place in meeting rooms within the stadium complex, with NFL trainers looking on. Some tests require players to make a trip to a nearby hospital, but the up-close look that teams get at the health of their top-rated prospects can be invaluable.
"The medical information you get coming out of the combine is certainly relevant to how you stack your draft board, what players you're concerned about that may have something that could linger or affect their long-term playing ability," said Dominik. "And then watching them physically compete against each other, the guys who do compete. Certainly the [running] times are of some importance, but it's also about the competitive mentality. You add all that up and it becomes a very important week for the NFL Draft for us."
There are a total of 11 groups of players that will come and go between February 24 and March 2. That includes two groups of quarterbacks and wideouts, which often produce the most entertaining on-field drills. In addition to the basic 40s, there are route-running sessions in which things such as a quarterback's accuracy and a receiver's hands can be judged, though obviously not for the first time.
Both QB/WR sets (Groups 4 and 5) will work out on Sunday, February 28. The final two groups, which includes all of the defensive backs, will finish the week up with their workouts on Tuesday. The last Buccaneer representatives will leave Indy that day, armed with much new information on most of the players they hope to add to Tampa Bay's roster. Shortly thereafter, the master draft board at One Buccaneer Place will get another serious makeover.
Answer Man Throws a Bone
The Buccaneers' Answer Man made his, um, triumphant return to Buccaneers.com last week, posting his first lengthy Q&A column in three years. His next column is due to be posted on the site next week, but in the meantime, he has asked for space in today's notes in order to admit to a small mistake and try to make up for it.
*Answer Man: *One column in and I already got one wrong. I hope I can improve my batting average going forward.
Really, it's not a huge deal. It was more misleading than completely wrong. A Buc fan named Aaron from Orlando had asked me when we were going to hear from General Manager Mark Dominik regarding the upcoming offseason and the "state of the franchise." I answered that Dominik would be speaking with the media regarding free agency last Friday, and that Buccaneers.com would be running a "Behind the Flag" video interview with him this week.
The first half of that was accurate. Dominik went over some of the more interesting details of the upcoming free agency period, which should prove to be quite unpredictable, and Buccaneers.com has since posted two stories as a result of that press briefing. Read them here and here.
However, the Behind the Flag promo was a bit premature. Dominik and his entire staff are in all-day draft meetings this week, with the NFL Scouting Combine looming. That sit-down interview with the Bucs' G.M. is now scheduled to take place after Dominik and his staff return from the Combine.
As penance for my mistake, I will now answer one of the questions from my mailbag, once again bursting at the seams, in advance of next week's long column. This one was chosen at random (kinda sorta at random...I didn't take the very first question I pulled out, just the first one that looked like it could generate a medium-length answer):
Kyle Gibbs of Bowling Green, Kentucky asks:
Why aren't the Bucs getting any free agents right now? There are probably good players that can help them.
Answer Man: Patience, young Kyle. The NFL's 2010 free agency period doesn't begin until March 4 turns into March 5 at midnight. At this point, players who were under contract in 2009 remain under contract (unless they are specifically released) so they could only re-sign with their own teams right now. Try to think of the NFL year as going from March to March; it doesn't end after Week 17 of the regular season or after the Super Bowl.
Now, there are players who sign with teams between the end of one season and before the start of the new year in March. The Bucs announced a handful of those signings on January 8, as a matter of fact. Because the contracts for those signings don't really kick in until March, those are known as "reserve/future" deals. Doing it that way allows even the teams who are still in the playoffs to take advantage of the pool of "street free agents," as those players who are not on any roster at the end of a season are called. In the Bucs case, this year, all of those reserve/future players were young men who had finished the season on Tampa Bay's practice squad. Practice squad players immediately become full free agents as soon as the season ends, so they have to be re-signed if a team wants to keep them around.
The question, Kyle, is whether or not you'll need continued patience after midnight on March 5. In other words, how active will the Buccaneers be in free agency and how active will the free agent market be overall? With the uncapped year coming up - what is referred to as the "Final Year" in the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) - there are a different set of rules governing free agency than what the league has been used to since 1993. Most important to this discussion is the fact that, in this coming year, players would need six accrued seasons to become unrestricted free agents, not four. Barring a breakthrough in negotiations for a new CBA, this rule alone will keep several hundred potential free agents off the market - and these are the young, in-their-prime type of free agents that would have drawn the most interest. Perhaps there will be a compensatory influx of more experienced veterans hitting the market, some of whom are released by their teams in cap maneuvers, but that is difficult to predict.
General Manager Mark Dominik has clearly put the team's major emphasis this offseason on a loaded draft in which the Bucs have 10 picks. However, he has also said that nothing is holding him back from signing free agents and the Bucs won't hesitate to add a player that can help them if the deal makes sense.
Hope that helps, Kyle. I look forward to answering a lot more questions next week.
Still Searching for Community QBs
Earlier this week, the Buccaneers announced their latest attempt to identify some of the most noteworthy "Community Quarterbacks" in the Tampa Bay area. That search continues.
Through their many community projects, the Buccaneers recognize that there are countless individuals in the Bay area who lend their time, energy and leadership to assist those in need. Few seek any sort of recognition for their efforts.
The Buccaneers are counting on friends and family of such Community Quarterbacks to help deliver some of the recognition these citizens so richly deserve. Do you know someone who is a servant to the community, a leader in a charitable cause or just an everyday hero such as a teacher or community leader? You can nominate them for the Community Quarterback award here.
If you intend to send in a nomination, please do so soon. The deadline for the Buccaneers to receive nominations is Friday, March 5.
Five individuals will be chosen from among those nominated as the 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Community Quarterbacks. The award winners will join distinguished Buccaneers representatives for a ceremony and dinner at One Buccaneer Place, the team's state-of-the-art headquarters. All winners will receive a commemorative Community Quarterback football and a $2,000 donation in their name to the local charity of their choice.