The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' main office at One Buccaneer Place was closed on Monday in observance of Presidents Day. (For the record, the Buccaneers have never had a player named Lincoln but have fielded three Washingtons – Chris, Mike and Todd.)
There wasn't much time for the folks in the team's player personnel department to rest, however. With the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine due to begin in just two days, a group of more than 30 Buc representatives is preparing for a very busy and very important trip to Indianapolis.
More than 300 players will move in and out of Indy between Wednesday and the following Tuesday, following overlapping four-day schedules based on position groups. For instance, the offensive linemen, tight ends and kickers will arrive on Wednesday and begin their rotation of orientations, physical exams, psych tests and, on the fourth and final day, workouts on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
For that reason, some of the Buccaneer visitors to the Combine will only be in Indianapolis for a few specific days as well, most notably the position coaches that match up with certain player groups. The first wave of Buccaneer coaches will feature two of the staff's newest appointees: Offensive Line Coach Pat Morris and Special Teams Coordinator Dwayne Stukes.
For a portion of the Bucs' Indy contingent, however, the entire seven days are valuable…and almost non-stop. Led by General Mark Dominik, Head Coach Raheem Morris and Director of College Scouting Dennis Hickey, the Buccaneers will cap each day with several hours of sit-down interviews with the prospects on hand. The other 31 teams in the league will do the same; in fact, the interview rooms are generally arranged in one central location at the players' hotel. Players make the rounds, visiting one room marked with identifying team flags after another.
The interviews are limited to 15 minutes each, but quite a bit of information can be gathered in that time. This is a crucial part of a team's evaluation process; between the college all-star games in January, the Combine and the upcoming Pro Days, the Bucs will conduct an interview with every player on their draft board. The physical workouts are important, too, but they often just confirm what teams have learned about the players from watching live games and hundreds of hours of taped action. These 15-minute get-to-know-you sessions are the biggest draw of the Combine for the Buccaneers.
"It gives us a chance to really sit down with each individual player," Dominik said previously of the annual Combine. "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."
If making a dent in their interview schedule is Goal 1A of the Combine for the Buccaneers, then filling out a player's medical jacket is 1B. 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 23 and March 1. 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. 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. To make sure the team leaves Indianapolis with as much useful information as possible, the player personnel staff is already hard at work preparing for the trip.