At combine, players playing numbers game Teams poking, prodding in preparation for draft

February 08, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- The first thing you notice are the white sweat shirts. All the college players have one, with a number and initials for the position they play. Next up is RB05. That happens to be University of Virginia running back Tiki Barber.

"It may be a little dehumanizing, but going in you know what it's going to be like," said Barber. "The NFL is a business and we're their investments. It's no different than Microsoft checking things out before they spend big dollars. The nickname for this is the meat market and whoever came up with that name was right."

Nearly 360 players, most of them college seniors, will work out for the 30 NFL teams here in the RCA Dome. For the next three days, they will be pricked, prodded, timed, stretched, tested, photographed and psychologically analyzed at the annual scouting combine.

The combine has been going on for years, with a new crop of prospects every year. Herd them in, move 'em out. It's serious business.

"It was about 7: 30 in the morning, and I was already getting the hospital treatment," said Virginia Tech quarterback Jim Druckenmiller. "Man, I hate needles and they had some big ones to take blood. Next thing I know they're taking X-rays of parts of your body that you didn't know existed, and then you're getting an EKG where they are sticking these little patches all over your body.

"That was the best part, though. At least I got a chance to lay down."

Most of the big shots are here. Florida State's Peter Boulware and Warrick Dunn. Kansas State's Chris Canty. Florida's Danny Wuerffel. Ohio State's Orlando Pace.

Sorry, no Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.

"I really don't mind that. That means the rest of us quarterbacks will probably get a better look," said Druckenmiller.

Oh, there are a lot of players who aren't household names. They come in all sizes, from 5 feet 9 to 6 feet 7. From the 179-pound Dunn to the 360-pound Jamie Nails, a tackle from Florida A&M.

"It's the opportunity for guys to show the scouts they are just as big, strong and fast in person as they are on film," said Jeff Mitchell, a center out of Florida. "It's your chance to show them that you can perform. At the same time, they're using you for a test drive to see if you're the real deal."

The evaluations are thorough, ranging from physicals and interviews to the Wunderlich test, which measures a player's intelligence.

The players love that one.

Listen to Mitchell: "The best question was do you prefer the back seat or the front seat? If you say front say, then you're considered a leader. If you say back seat, then they consider you a follower. Some of the questions are unbelievable."

And there are just so many questions.

"On one test, there were 477 questions," said Jay Graham, a running back out of Tennesee, also known as RB12. "That came after the pre-test, which had more questions. After a while, you're like, uh, uh, just trying to answer them the best you can. They all just start running together. Somehow or another, you just hope this all works out for you."

Some players wait for this opportunity all their lives. Barber has. Or was that RB05?

Druckenmiller's agent even had his client go through similar preparations before heading to the combine.

So now it's crunch time. Each day, the players are separated into position groups to be tested. They file out of the hotel to the nearby RCA Dome, where they work out for the scouts and hundreds of agents who call late at night.

Then they come back to a small hotel lobby, where they are mobbed by reporters looking for their team's possible first draft pick.

"I admit, I've waited all my life for this," said Barber. "I get excited when they call my number. It's my turn to perform to the best of my ability."

Pub Date: 2/08/97

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