The Combine: My Thoughts

The combine was originally created as a cost cutting move to save the teams money.  Instead of the teams sending hundreds of scouts criss-crossing the whole country looking at prospects, it made much more sense to have a centralized meeting place. 

 Initially, the combine was mostly for teams to check players out medically.  They didn't have all this physical "testing" that goes on today, it was mostly a way to physical examine the prospects and check out old injuries etc.

Now we have a bunch of tests that gives us lots of information but tells very little about what type of football player a guy will be.

1. 40 yard dash:  I'm amazed how much stock gets put into someones time.  Yes, I know it can indicate how quick a guy is not played on a track, with track shoes, and in shorts and a T-shirt.  I don't care how fast a guy is in that situation.  If I want to find out how fast he is on the football field, I'll turn his game tape on and see if he runs away from people or not.

Hines Ward and A. Boldin (throw in Jerry Rice) are just two current examples of pro bowl players whose stock dropped because they ran "slower" forty times.  I would love to see the long list of "faster" WR's drafted before these guys.  Again, I don't care what his track time know what I want to know? ...can the guy make a tough catch in the middle of the field, in sloppy field conditions, lose a shoe, and have a defender have the angle on him, and the guy still scores a TD...remember Hines doing that a couple years ago? 

Don't GM's, scouts, coaches get it?  I know they all say they place much more emphasis on a players production than what they do at the combine...but...just wait...some future pro bowler will run a slow forty and see his stock drop while GM's/scouts will elevate a lesser talent with less production because he ran a tenth (a tenth!!) faster. 

2.  Bench press.  Again useless test.  There is never a time during a game, where any player, at any position would ever be in the bench press position and need to perform a bench press manuever.  There is an enormous difference between weight room strength and FUNCTIONAL football strength. 

I'll give a personal example.  I played RB at a small 1-AA program years ago.  I was about 180 LB's and could bench about 315-320 LB's, which was pretty good for my size.  My roommate and best friend was a D-lineman,  6'2" 250 LB's, big burly guy but could only bench about 300 LB's.  Again, we're talking about weight room strength.  So, one day were wrestling in the dorm, and rolling around, and I'm thinking I'm going to try and pin him...I'm feeling all good because I can bench 320 LB's...yeah right!... he literally lifts me up in the air off of him, with ONE arm, picks me up off the ground with my feet dangling, my arms flailing, and threw me in the air across the room about 15 feet, like a rag doll, and into our couch (he could have thrown me into the wall or where ever he wanted to, I was completely helpless!!)...we laughed so hard and I NEVER told him I was stronger than him again...that is FUNCTIONAL strength.

The fact is whether a guy can rep 225 LB's15 times or 30 times it's no indication of what kind of functional strength he will have on the football field. None whatsoever.  For example, a player  may have extremely long arms, which would be an advantage at some positions (OT, CB etc) on the field but is a distinct disadvantage with a weight room manuever like the bench press.

As an aside, the weight training programs for football players has always been a pet peeve of mine.  Since my playing days, almost 20 years ago, very little has changed with mainstream strength and conditioning coaches.  90% of them say the same thing, do the same thing and teach the same thing as 20 years ago...bench press, squats, dead lifts, over head presses etc.  We know physiologically that is not the optimum workout for a football's not about bigger muscles, (btw, muscles trained this way often become overly tight and more prone to rips/tears), it's about faster twitch muscles, explosive muscles, functionally stronger muscles that transition to the players position.  I know Troy P. understands the proper way to train to be a football player (I also read where Troy refuses to drink Gatoraide, he only drinks water to replenish his body...yes he get it...all those 'sports drinks" are all's a bunch of junk science replacing your lost vitamins and minerals...there all sugar's all about the marketing listen to Troy, just drink water and save yourself the money) ...his trainer gets it...I know his off season workout was posted last do maybe 10% of the overall trainers...the rest go along with the crowd because everyones teaching the same crap.  And it's why they will continue to use the bench press as the ultimate test of strength...when it actually means very little.

3. Vertical jump.   So?

4. Shuttle run.  So?

5. Broad jump. So?

6. Positional drills.  Can offer some benefit to see players throw catch, throw etc.  But what QB won't look good with no pass rush while throwing in shorts?  Yes, you can see what "zip" a guy has, but I say just turn the film on!

7. Wonderlic. Can have some relevance but I'd rather have him diagram some plays on the chalk board.

8. Interview

9. Medical exams.  I think these last two are the most important information gleamed from the combine.  I actually think the interview should be more than 15 minutes.  I don't know about you, but before I give a guy millions of dollars, I want to spend at least a day with him, questioning him, finding all about him, what makes him tick, strengths/weaknesses etc.  These prospects are so well schooled for the interview, they know what to say, what not to say...if you have a whole day with him they just can't fake it.  I know we bring a number of guys each year to Steeler facilities to work them out and spend time with them but I know there is a limit to the amount of players that can visit.  Bascially, I want as much time as possible with anyone I'm considering drafting.  As a side note, Limas Sweed was talking about how surprised he was the Steelers drafted him....he said he barely talk with any Steeler reps before the draft...I just find it interesting your second round pick you barely interview...maybe if they had interviewed him they would have found out he has an aversion to actually catching the ball!!...just kidding.

I think the combine is mostly for us football fanatics who can't get enough football.  In fact, I love the time leading up to the draft and the draft itself, almost as much as I love the season. 

 There was a player last year whose "stock was falling" and his comment was appropriate, "I don't how that can happen when I haven't picked up a football in two months.  I agree.

So while the combine offers us some stuff  to fill the "void" with in the off season, I just don't think it's all that important.  I think the reason the Steelers historically draft well is because we don't place too much emphasis on the combine 'numbers'.  Every year most teams seemed to get enamored with the dog and pony show and forget it's all about what happens on the field.  I hope most teams continue to fall into that trap...drafting the players who run the fastest, jump the highest, and circle the cones the quickest...and we'll continue to draft the best football players!





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