In addition to 40-yard dashes and shuttle runs, important interviews await players like Oregon State RB Steven Jackson at the combine
At some point in the next five days, a running back will zip through his 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 4.3 seconds, raising eyebrows among the assembled scouts.
The stopwatches will be clicking non-stop in Indianapolis' RCA Dome this week and next. On another part of the field, a defensive end may shoot through his short shuttle run in 4.2 seconds and a linebacker might challenge the seven-second mark in the three-cone drill. Such excellent 'scores' will be duly recorded in dozens of notebooks and referenced many times between now and draft weekend in April.
But leave those stopwatches open for 20 minutes and let's see how these prospects do.
For years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' player personnel men have insisted that the most critical aspect of the annual combine is the opportunity to get private, sit-down interviews with potential draftees. NFL.com's Vic Carucci, who will be covering the combine in depth this year, made the same assertion on Wednesday. The ever-popular 40-yard dash may be the public face of the combine, but it is the interviews that prompt a team like the Buccaneers to bring every last scout and coach to Indy for a week.
Still, there is a timed element to this aspect of the combine, as well. There will be about 300 draft prospects at the combine and five nights for the 32 NFL teams to talk to them. Each team is allowed to conduct up to 60 interviews.
That makes for a tightly-run schedule. The stopwatch will be running as the personnel men try to combine a desire to dig deep into each interviewee's motivation and character with a need to move on quickly to the next man.
"There are two sessions, including one each day in the morning that goes from 10:00 a.m. to five p.m.," said Webster. "That's the one our coaches go to. Then there's a night session in which we're allowed 60 interviews. I don't know how many we'll get to, but we're going to interview a lot of people.
"We're going to talk to as many people as we can. Fortunately, we got a head start on our interviews at the Senior Bowl (in January)."
Webster arrived in Indianapolis on Wednesday, and Allen will join him on Thursday. The Bucs' video crew has been on the scene since Monday, and the team's college scouts plus Director of Pro Personnel Mark Dominik are just hitting town, as well. Head Coach Jon Gruden will stick around for the entire combine, but the team's assistant coaches will shuttle in and out of Indianapolis in relation to when players at their positions are scheduled to work out.
The interview sessions were somewhat of a free-for-all until last year, with little direction as to which teams could talk to which players at one time. Some of the most valuable team representatives at previous combines were the ones who could work the hotel lobby and direct prospects to their interview rooms. Now interviews are specifically scheduled and usually run on time.
"It used to be very disorganized," said Webster. "Now we can expect them to start on time and the players know exactly where to be. The combine was run very well last year."
Of course, the players wouldn't run their 40-yard dashes or prove how many times they can bench press 225 pounds if that information was irrelevant. Webster and the rest of the Buccaneer scouts will certainly get plenty of traditional use out of their stopwatches over the next five days. The goal is to leave Indianapolis with a complete analysis, both physical and mental, of the top prospects for the upcoming draft.
And the Bucs will approach that project with a plan. The team's college scouts were in Tampa for approximately a week before the combining, holding joint meetings in preparation for the annual event. The team has already begun the process of forming its master draft board, evaluating and ranking players. There is a feel for which positions have the most depth this year, and those spots, not the shallow ones, will be of most interest to Buc scouts this week.
"We're going to concentrate on those positions, probably," said Webster. "The positions with the most depth are the ones where you usually get some value in the later rounds."
Most of the actual combine workouts will be conducted over the weekend and at the beginning of next week. The offensive linemen will get their look on Saturday, for instance, while the quarterbacks will work out on Sunday and the running backs will be seen on both days. Webster will report to Buccaneers.com several times over the course of the combine with updates on the action.