INDIANAPOLIS - A selected group of writers from the Professional Football Writers of
America were given access to one of the early-morning quarterback and wide receiver
workouts inside the RCA Dome on Sunday morning, and I was glad to be among them for
Most importantly, it was a unique opportunity to experience firsthand what NFL coaches and GMs experience in person. Of less importance, but still contributing to my sense of excitement about the upcoming hour-and-a-half session, was that it was my first time out of the media room during the day since arriving in Indianapolis. The stadium and a section of the attached convention center is usually only accessible to NFL team representatives who are evaluating the draft prospects throughout the day during the NFL Scouting Combine.
As our group made our way into a restricted area of the convention center, the long hallway had a number of doorways marked as stations that many of the players had already been through: Blood Pressure ... Orthopedic Station ... Height and Weight ... Heart Exam. One of the last doors before entering the RCA Dome was the entrance to the weight room where players thrust 225 pounds of weights into the air while performing the bench press — until they just can't lift the bar one more time.
Inside the tunnel beneath the seats of the dome, more doorways were marked with stations and a few players were sitting in small, folded chairs waiting for their turn to enter their next room, the next phase of being examined from all possible angles.
They were being run through the cycle, obviously just waiting to get one step closer to the relief of being done. While draft prospects have often tried to describe in words what the experience is like, the dulled, lifeless expressions on the faces of a few of the players sitting in those chairs in the hallway provided the best account of all.
After taking an elevator up to the suite level, we positioned ourselves in
comfortable, cushioned chairs outside of one of the suites that was located on
the far side of the 50-yard line from where the action was taking place. We
were told to bring binoculars, which was good advice since we were actually
sitting at about the 25-yard line. But with no charge for admission for this
unique opportunity, I certainly wasn't going to complain.
As we settled in to watch the action, the players in the quarterbacks and wide receiver group that were on the field were already underway running the 40-yard dash to our left and on the near sideline.
And it was very, very quiet.
Since the stadium was only sparsely populated, that wasn't a huge surprise. But I didn't quite expect it to be nearly library-quiet. Those NFL talent evaluators who were in attendance were mainly grouped on our side of the stadium, below us and well to our left between the goal line and the 40-yard line. And they obviously were busy concentrating on the tiniest of details as they watched the athletes on the field who were hoping to be drafted this April.
Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan runs the 40-yard dash.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
The first player to run was wide receiver Adarius Bowman
out of Oklahoma State. He leaned over, put both hands on the ground to get
balanced, and then slowly raised his left arm backwards waist-high. As he broke
out into his sprint, he ran with a smooth stride. I watched his face through my
binoculars. As he pumped his arms in nearly perfect synchronization with
his legs, his face didn't show any strain, and he almost seemed to be running
effortlessly to the point where I wondered if we were seeing his best effort.
After he crossed the end line, he started to walk back to the pack of players who were stretching and waiting for their turn. He seemed to have an odd gait about him, but not really a limp. It wouldn't be long before he would be seen sporting his gray Combine jersey, becoming an onlooker for the rest of the workouts. Was that his plan from the start? Or was their a slight problem while he was trying to run that had caused him to let up a bit?
I couldn't tell. There were no slow-motion replays on the jumbo-sized screens at each end of the stadium. There was no sideline reporter to pull him aside to find out what was going on so that we could be be sure.
As I watched more players run, more details about what they did prior to their start of the dash, how they came out of the blocks, and their style of running as they reached the midpoint of their runs became more noticeable. After all, there was nothing else to do. I didn't have someone on television providing analysis and commentary for me, and no one was flashing times up on the scoreboards inside the RCA Dome for me. So I was paying attention to the little details much more than usual.
Florida's Andre Caldwell hopped up and down like a frog, drawing his knees up to his chest to loosen up his legs one last time before one of the biggest 40-yard dash performances of his life.
Florida State's De'Cody Fagg's shoulders lurched forward with such force in tandem with each stride that he took that I wondered how they were staying connected to his torso.
Mount Union's Pierre Garcon rotated his arms over his head one at a time to loosen his shoulders up before putting just one hand on the turf. He stayed low out of his starting position longer than many of the other runners, waiting to gradually arch his back until late in the run.
Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson looked like a track star as he approached the line. With strong, muscular thighs and a confident demeanor, he snapped out of his stance and arched quickly, covering the distance with quick, efficient steps. He sure looked fast.
But the faces during their runs were just as interesting to watch as their strides and technique. Some were obviously straining to summon up every bit of speed they could muster. Others showed no expression at all beyond what appeared to be an intense state of focus. You had to wonder if they were confident that coaches had already seen their film and would still be impressed without them turning in an eye-popping time. Or maybe they are simply that cool under pressure.
After the dash, the players got organized for passing and receiving drills. Michigan's Adrian Arrington, LSU's Early Doucet and Oklahoma State's Bowman didn't participate.
Indiana wide receiver James Hardy.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
But the most interesting drill was the gauntlet, where each receiver started on the near sideline and ran to the opposite sideline while being peppered by passes from five quarterbacks, three on one side and two on the opposite side at evenly-spaced intervals. The drill challenged the receivers' concentration, reaction time and ability to strictly use his hands to catch the ball. And for the quarterbacks, the challenge was to throw a well-timed pass chest-high so the receiver wouldn't have to slow down or speed up.
Here are the players who stood out, along with a couple who left the field injured before the workout was completed:
- Harry Douglas (Louisville), Andre Caldwell (Florida) and California
receivers DeSean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins were all very efficient and
smooth running the gauntlet. Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson was the most
aggressive running the drill, grabbing at each football and practically
putting dents in the field as he spiked each ball to the turf while snapping
his head left or right to locate the next one. Alabama's Martinez Hall was
very sharp as well, arguably showing the best concentration while watching
the ball come into his hands before turning to look for his next catch. And
Missouri's William Franklin turned a miscue into a positive when he kicked
one of the balls he had tossed to the ground, but then didn't let it
distract him from pulling in his next catch.
- Hawaii's Colt Brennan was smooth and accurate, especially on the short and
medium routes, including a nice throw on an out route to Indiana's James Hardy. After a Senior Bowl week that raised some questions about his ability
to succeed at the pro level, he bounced back with a consistent performance
at the Combine. Hardy looked sharp as well, displaying his advantage as a
big, fast target. He even showed nice flexibility on a poorly thrown ball by
LSU's Matt Flynn, stopping his route quickly to lean back and grab a pass
that was thrown behind him roughly at knee-level.
- Louisville's Brian Brohm simply looked like he was already a pro
quarterback throwing balls to draft prospects. The velocity of his passes
matched up well with the routes, his accuracy was impressive, and he showed
he has the arm strength and accuracy on the long ball that will put pressure
on teams to consider making him the first quarterback in this draft —
especially if Boston College's Matt Ryan stumbles a bit during his Pro Day.
Ryan chose not to work out in Indianapolis and also didn't participate in
the Senior Bowl in January.
- Hawaii wide receiver Davone Bess did some outstanding work during the
gauntlet drill, showing his quick reaction time, good acceleration and
strong concentration skills. But he also impressed with his cutting skills
while running his routes and for his ability to locate the ball and make
over-the-shoulder catches in stride.
- Virginia Tech's Justin Harper made a spectacular one-handed catch up the
left sideline on a pass thrown high from Tennessee's Erik Ainge.
- Delaware's Joe Flacco was a bit inconsistent on some of his short and
medium throws, primarily with balls sailing a bit high. But his arm strength
and accuracy on the deep throws stood out, especially on passes to UCLA's
Brandon Breazell, California's Lavelle Hawkins, and Louisville's Harry
Douglas. Douglas was very fluid on his deep routes, showing nice
acceleration and showcasing his ability to make the over-the-shoulder catch.
- After running the gauntlet drill, Houston's Donnie Avery pulled up a bit
and reached for his left hamstring. He left the field to be examined,
limping a bit as he made his way to the tunnel. Two days earlier, Avery had
told the media that he had tweaked his hamstring about a week ago and wasn't
sure if he was going to be able to participate in the 40-yard dash.
- Florida State's De'Cody Fagg stretched for a slightly errant throw on an out route, snagging it right at the sideline chalk, but then seemed to catch his toe on the turf as he came down. He rolled to the ground, curled up and grabbed at his knee in obvious pain. He he was carted off the field with an unmistakable and understandable "What-in-the-world-just-happened-to-me" look on his face. He's going to have the knee examined on Wednesday to determine the severity of the injury.
After the group's workout had ended, we returned to the media room, definitely more enlightened about what NFL talent evaluators are seeing, and perhaps more importantly, how they are seeing the action — at a level of detail that the casual onlooker or fan doesn't take the time or have the patience to watch.
Will the one workout session we witnessed have any real bearing on the draft stock of the players we watched?
We may never know for sure. And the impact will undoubtedly vary from team to
team as some will see these workouts as more beneficial than others in their
But we may at least get a small indication of its impact when these players' names are called out from the podium during the last weekend in April.