Editor's Note: Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Greg Gabriel has 30 years of NFL experience as a scout for the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants and Chicago Bears. Here, he shares an inside look at how NFL front offices prepare for the annual combine process.
Starting today, all 32 NFL clubs will be sending a large contingent of personnel to Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine. The combine isn't just about who runs the fastest and who jumps the highest. There is a lot more to it than that and clubs spend a lot of time preparing for the event.
History of the Combine
The combine as we know it today began in January 1985. That is when the first "combined" combine was held. Before 1985, there were three scouting combines (National, BLESTO and Quadra) and each held their own workouts at different venues over about a five-week period. Quadra dissolved after the 1984 draft and its members joined either National or BLESTO. To make things easier on the players, the league and the clubs decided to have a joint "combine."
In 1985, the combine was held outdoors and took place on the campus of Arizona State University. Harry Buffington, who ran the original combines, looked at weather data going back 20 years and saw that there was only an 8 percent chance of rain in Tempe in January. The data proved wrong as there was rain on two separate days.
The following year, the combine was held at the Superdome in New Orleans the week after Super Bowl XX. Because the Super Bowl was the week before, that combine didn't go very smoothly.
The main reason for the combine is to get the medicals done. New Orleans did not have enough medical facilities close by to have the medical tests completed in a timely manner. Add that to the aftermath of the Super Bowl and the event that year was a small disaster.
Indianapolis became the host city in 1987 mainly because of the amount of hospitals and hotels relatively close to the dome. If you have ever been to Indianapolis for the combine, you will notice that you don't need a car. Everything is within walking distance. For that reason, the combine has stayed in Indy for 28 consecutive years.
A lot goes on during combine week.
In my opinion, the medical exams are the most important reason for the event. It is a lot easier and cost-effective to bring 335 players to one city for mass physical examinations than it is to have each of those prospects travel to 32 different cities.
During scouting meetings, scouts make sure the decision-makers know what players may have a medical condition that has to be checked. Each team comes with a list of players that have to be thoroughly examined. As of a few years ago, there have been more than 600 MRI's done at each combine. Clubs have to know who will be a medical risk. The odd thing is, a player may flunk one club's physical and pass another's. Each team looks at conditions differently.
After the medicals, another very important aspect of the combine is the interview process. Teams are allowed to interview prospects in two places. Each team has a room on the main floor of the players' hotel and interviews take place there every night. These interviews are limited to 15 minutes and clubs are limited to interviewing 60 players during the week.
Names are submitted to the combine office in advance and the combine workers set up each player's "dance card." Though these interviews are short, they give the decision-makers an opportunity to meet with the player in a private atmosphere.
The other place where interviews take place is at the "Train Station," adjacent to the players' hotel. These interviews are far more informal and often coaches from different staffs get together and do a joint interview. These informal interviews are held by position and start the first night a player arrives in Indianapolis. When a player is not involved in a formal interview, he has to make himself available at the site of the informal interviews.
The coaches don't just pick players at random; they are given a list of who to interview by the personnel staff. Coaches usually only interview players that the club has an interest in. There is too much work to do and not enough time for a coach to waste his time on a player the club has no interest in.
The event that gets the most publicity and TV time is the workout.
Each player performs in a series of events/drills that test speed and agility (40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle and three cone) as well as the vertical jump and standing long jump. When they have completed these drills, they go through another series of drills that are relevant to their position.
The nice thing about the combine is that a club gets to compare player A to player B doing the same drills on the same surface at the same time. This can be an important part of the evaluation process.
Like with the interviews, the clubs' coaches aren't studying every player. They spend the majority of their time evaluating the players that have been assigned to them by the personnel department. The coaches and scouts have to find out if each assigned prospect fits the "profile" of what the club is looking for at each position.
Behind the Scenes
While the television cameras are focused on the events in the dome, there is a lot of "behind-the-scenes" work being done as well.
Each club has a number of unsigned players on which they have to make a decision. Will they try and re-sign that player, let him go or let him test free agency?
Since just about everyone connected with the NFL (including agents) is in Indianapolis during the week, there are many meetings going on in the hotel suites of the GM and contract negotiator. Negotiations are happening nearly 24 hours a day in the hotels surrounding downtown Indianapolis. These aren't spur of the moment meetings either. They are planned sometimes weeks in advance.
With free agency coming in a few weeks, clubs are also trying to get a handle on who may or may not be available. This is often discovered during these private meetings.
As you sit down and enjoy the combine on the NFL Network next week, just remember there is a lot more going on than what you see on television.