For NFL, scouting combine not working out as before

February 26, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

AFTER SIX DAYS of poring over heights, weights, medical reports and drug tests and asking thousands of questions, NFL executives and coaches still need more information about the nation's top college football players.

They couldn't get it done at the scouting combine that ended Monday night in Indianapolis. It seems the nation's elite took the advice of their agents, and a lot of them chose to take the physical examinations and engage in 15-minute interviews but skip the workouts because of the private ones they will schedule later.

In this era of personal trainers, the top dogs now want private workouts, too. It's a control thing, another battle of the NFL vs. player agents.

The NFL's competition committee will meet March 7 in Naples, Fla., to find some solutions, but there isn't much they can do. The agents have the upper hand because they have the players, and the players are the game.

"You look at the numbers, and the level is increasing. It's about at 33 percent for those not working out," said Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the league's competition committee along with Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay. "There are going to be about 80 to 100 players working out in March, and we didn't want that. It's not because of the financial cost for each team, but each team will not be represented at all of those workouts, and the player is going to pay for it.

"Each year we have spent a little time talking about this, but this year we're going to spend considerable more time trying to work out some type of compromise," he said.

Just how bad was it?

Out of one group of 16 running backs, only four agreed to be timed in the 40-yard dash, the benchmark of NFL running backs. New Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said there was one quarterback who ran it in 4.7 seconds, but decided not to throw. He wasn't highly rated.

"This was a kid who really had a chance to make a name for himself, but he didn't throw. A quarterback didn't throw," said a puzzled Lewis. "What kind of advice is that?"

This kind of snub might have cost a college player in the past, but not now.

This is the NFL. If you don't play the game, you don't win.

"If you don't want to see my guy, then don't come to his workout," said Roosevelt Barnes, a prominent NFL agent. "The best guys in the NFL, those who are astute and smart, don't just put all their eggs in one basket. Decisions aren't based on what happens at the combine, but they also look at a lot of game film. Those who are interested will show up."

If he can run a 4.3, they'll show up. If he can bench-press 220 about 30 times, they'll be there. If he is about 6-2 and 210, and can play press coverage or man-to-man, they'll post.

It's all about control.

At the combine, coaches are in control. They tell you when to warm up, when to run. They control the drills at each station for each position.

"Sometimes you want to be able to control as much as possible," Barnes said. "At the combine, you don't control anything. They don't know when you are in the peak of your warm-up. The ideal situation is for you to be comfortable, so you bring them to your college, to your track where you are familiar with your strength and conditioning coaches. Ideally, you want things on your terms."

League coaches and general managers have become angry.

Each of the league's 32 teams sends out his general manager, head coach and his staff for evaluations at the combine. They don't want to use more resources for individual workouts.

"If they come to the combine, then you are able to compare every defensive back to like, let's say, a Duane Starks and what he did under the same conditions," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. "But they say they want to be comfortable, that this is a slow track. A fast guy is fast on a fast track or a slow track, and a slow guy is slow on a fast or slow track. If three colleges have workout days on the same day, then we can't be in all three places at one time.

"I can understand a Byron Leftwich not working out because of an injury, or a junior because he was late to declare," Newsome said. "I understand for some of the guys who haven't been to a bowl game and haven't worked out during the last two months. But what's that, about 30 guys, certainly not the numbers that didn't work out at the combine. It's ridiculous."

Tony Agnone, a prominent Baltimore-based agent, said there are other reasons players skip the Indianapolis workouts. Agnone said one of his players suffered a knee injury years ago at the workouts, and there is still no insurance available to protect the players. Agnone said his player dropped from a potential second-round pick to the fifth round.

Agnone also pointed out that several players are coming off bowl-game injuries that might require as much as six weeks of rehabilitation. It would not be in their best interest to work out for scouts at that time.

"These kids go to bowl games, they have to study and prepare for exams," Agnone said. "They might be professional athletes, but they are still college students first. That's just the way it is. It's all how you want to do business. If you like these guys, show up for the personal workouts. If you don't, then don't show up."

That seems to be the consensus around the league.

"It's a trend," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary. "You hear about it more and more because everyone knows the running surface in Indianapolis is slow. This thing will continue to grow."

Said Lewis: "The NFL has to become unified. One option might be that no one from any team is allowed on campus after a certain time, and if you get caught, then you have to give up a draft pick. But this has to change. It's turning into a lot of wasted money and time."

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