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The TST guide to the combine

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  Some of you may be asking, "Isn't the combine just where they time them running the 40-yard dash?"  No.

  Others might be wondering, "What the hell is that Wonder-licked test I've heard about?"  We'll get there.

  With the first group of attendees to the 2009 NFL Combine set to report on Wednesday, now would be an apt time to go over the fundamentals of the combine and what to look for.

  Throughout the combine, I'll post updates or summaries of different things to keep everyone abreast of the goings on in Indy.  Didn't know the combine was in Indianapolis?  Then this post is for you.

  Let's start with the basics.  The NFL combine, or National Invitational Camp, is nothing more than a series of exercises, tests and interviews designed to give NFL teams (through their coaches, scouts and front office reps) a better idea of the players they're looking at drafting at the end of April.

  The combine's origins are, as so many things in the NFL are, in injury prevention.  One of the two NFL scouting organizations wanted to screen prospective players before the draft to see how susceptible those players might be to injury once they started playing on Sundays.  Since that first "combine" in 1982, events have been added to try to provide a complete picture of each attendee: athleticism, intelligence, raw speed, media readiness, the works.

Workout drills

  Let's break down the physical tests of the modern combine:

  • The 40-yard dash
  • The bench press
  • The vertical jump
  • The broad jump
  • The shuttle run
  • The 3-cone drill

The 40-yard dash

The 40 is hands down the most well-known event at the combine.  Most people don't know the specifics, though, assuming it's just a 40-yard sprint that is timed.  The event actually mandates that entrants begin in a 3-point stance, but not only is the time taken at the end of the 40, but also at 10 and 20 yards.  The idea is to get an assessment of acceleration.  How quickly does a player get out of a static position to top speed and what is that top speed?

The 40 is a key event to just about every position, but pocket QBs, interior O-linemen, and kickers/punters don't need to have a great 40 to improve their draft stock.  Everyone else does.

The bench press

Cornerbacks might as well watch this one.  When you're 5'11", 180 lbs., you're just not going to put up as much weight as some O-lineman, like say Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt, who is 6'8" and nearly 350 lbs.  To somewhat even out the playing field, every entrant benches 225 lbs.  For those of you who don't hit the gym that often, that's two 45 lb. plates on each side.  Your old 3k can do this once or twice on a good day.  Last year's #1 pick, Jake Long, and the Jets' 1st round pick, who many here wanted to see in a Rams uni, Vernon Gholston, knocked out 37 reps.  Yikes.

The bench press is a key event for every position except kickers & punters.

The vertical jump

Another self-exlpanatory one.  Entrants are measured on a wall with one arm extended to determine their vertical reach.  Then, starting flat-footed, they squat and explode into the highest jump possible, touching a contraption that has multiple swivel-set flaps that determine how high a player jumped.  That height, minus their vertical reach, is their jump height.  Our own Chris Long had a great vertical jump last year which helped his draft stock.  The event is important not only for D-linemen who prove they can get up and swat balls down and not only for WRs & CBs to make plays on high passes, but for every player to show leg strength.  Their is no squat event or leg press, so this event is one of the biggest for draftees trying to put their quads on display.

The vertical jump is a key event for every position.

The broad jump

The obvious complement to the vertical jump.  The broad jump, or what used to be known as the standing long jump, is another event that test contestants explosion leg strength.  Players start flat footed, squat and swing their arms, and then jump as far as they can without losing their balance on the landing.  Players who step out of their landing with both feet are required to test again.  Pretty straightforward, yeah?

The broad jump is also a key event for every position.

The shuttle run

The shuttle run is a strange event for many people who haven't seen it.  It's a 20-yard sprint that is broken up into 3 sections: a 5-yard sprint, a 10-yard sprint, and then a final 5-yard sprint.  It's a bit hard to explain, but here goes.  The player starts in a 3-point stance.  The player then runs 5-yard to his right and touches a line with his right foot and right hand.  He immediately turns and explodes 10-yards down and touches the line with his left foot and hand.  He then bursts out and sprints 5-yards to finish the event.  It's a strange little agility drill, but important for scouts looking to get more info than a 40-yard dash provides.  Think about it.  How often do linebackers have to sprint 40-yards?  Not very often.  But pursuing for 5 yards, then changing direction for 10 and then again to make the tackle, hell, that's every damn running play for Pisa Tinoisamoa.

The shuttle run is a key event for everyone except pocket QBs and K/Ps.

The 3-cone drill

The final workout event is the 3-cone drill, another one that's a bit hard to explain.  Essentially, the entrant runs to a cone and back, touching the ground next to the cones with both the outside foot and hand.  Then, the player runs around the cone to a third, turns around, and then runs the route backwards.  It looks like a big 'L'.  The drill was conceived to mimic a pass rush route for defensive ends.  It's very important for players to show off their athleticism and acceleration.

The 3-cone drill is a key event for DEs, LBs and DBs.

Position drills

Along with the workout drills which assess the athleticism, players run through drills for their respective positions.  It gives the attending team representatives a chance to evaluate the attendees' abilities put into motion at their position.  These have a huge effect on draft position.  Joe Flacco jumped from the 3-5th round position to the 1st with his combine performance.  Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie saw a similar gain going through DB drills.

Evaluations

A lot of the combine goes on behind closed doors, and for good reason: it makes for horrible tv.  The other parts of the combine are:

  • Interviews between with NFL team representatives
  • Physical measurements (height, weight)
  • Drug screening
  • Injury evaluation / physical / X-ray / psych tests
  • Cybex test (a fitness examination)
  • The Wonderlic

Most of those are pretty self-explanatory except for the Wonderlic, I would think.  The Wonderlic is a 50-question aptitude test that gauges players' intellects.  Tom Landry first started pushing the test on potential draftees to see how smart they were, and how quickly they could pick up the playbook, the details of the league and the intricacies of full-speed football.  The average NFL score is a 21.  Some of the more notable scores usually gain some controversy.

Ex-Ram Ryan Fitzpatrick, NFL.com initally reported, aced the 50-question test in just nine minutes.  He later said that he had left at least one question blank.  Later on, the Wall Street Journal reported he scored a 38, still placing him in the 99th percentile.

Vince Young initially scored a 6, which scientifically makes him a "moron on par with a retarded donkey."  He later re-took the test and scored a 16, though many questioned the authenticity of both the test and score the second time around.

And that's about it.  The NFL Network will start airing combine coverage on Thursday, but the first action worth watching starts on Saturday, Feb. 21.