At 4:17 p.m. ET on Tuesday, the combine wrapped up in Indianapolis. Without question, this was the best combine we've ever had. The reason for this was because the players were coming in just fantastic condition, mostly because they were training and working out in preparation for these days as soon as their college football season ended. For instance, Georgia's David Pollack left school right after the season and trained every day.
When we saw these guys go through the drills, we realized just how hard they had worked and what that means at the pro level. If a guy was willing to train just for the combine, imagine what they will do for the NFL season. We had a greater percentage of players run more than ever, and that includes guys who are certain first-round picks.
Adding to it all is what's at stake financially. These guys realize how much money is involved. A good workout can mean being picked a few spots to a few rounds higher than expected. And for the first-round prospects, a couple of spots means a couple of millions in signing bonus money.
That brings me to the point everyone here has been talking about for days: Because of the turnout of players who decided to work out, those that were advised not to by their agents or coaches or whoever are going to be at a significant disadvantage until they actually do work out. This year more than ever proved that it is vital to give a complete workout at the combine.
The batch of inside linebackers ran on Tuesday. Of the 13 in the group, 12 ran with one medical exception. And of the 12 that ran the 40-yard dash, 11 of them ran it in 4.9 seconds or better.
Boomer Grigsby from Illinois State (4.62), Robert McCune from Louisville (4.50), Adam Seward from UNLV (4.56) and Odell Thurman from Georgia (4.68) ran for some of the best times.
There are more outside linebackers than inside linebackers at the combine. Seventeen of the 22 linebackers in attendance worked out on Tuesday. Four of them had medical excuses and one, Florida's Channing Crowder, was advised by his agent not to run.
All of their times were impressive. Not one of them went over 4.95. Of note, TyJuan Hagler of Cincinnati ran a 4.53, Derrick Johnson of Texas ran a 4.56 and Michael Boley of Southern Miss ran a 4.59 twice with an injured right elbow.
SIZING UP THE LINEBACKERS
The tallest linebacker was Troy's Demarcus Ware, who is 6-foot-4. The shortest linebacker was USC's Matt Grootegoed, who stood in at 5-103/4. Ware is an interesting case study: He grew up in Auburn's back yard in Alabama, but wasn't recruited to play there. Part of the reason is because he was a 165-pound wide receiver, and the Tigers' staff liked him but didn't know what to do with him. Troy took a chance on him, and he's blossomed into a heck of a football player.
The heaviest linebacker was Ryan Claridge from UNLV, who tipped the scales at 254 pounds. He has a banged-up right shoulder, so he didn't run or lift. The lightest linebacker was USC's Grootegoed, who weighed in at 218 pounds. Grootegoed is working out as a linebacker but some teams may have designs on him becoming a safety or special-teams expert.
Lastly, it's worth noting that Derek Wake of Penn State had a 45-inch vertical jump. This guy is big -- 6-2 5/8 and 236 pounds. So for him to jump that high must be some sort of record.
Thirty players made up the early group of defensive backs to work out, and 26 of them did actually run. One of the players who didn't run was Adam "Pac-Man" Jones of West Virginia. That's too bad, because a lot of people wanted to see what he could do.
Several players ran under 4.50 in the 40. Nebraska's Josh Bullocks, Ball State's Justin Beriault, Bethune-Cookman's Nick Collins, Ohio State's Dustin Fox, Illinois' Kelvin Hayden, Iowa State's Ellis Hobbs, Miami of Ohio's Alphonso Hodge, Cincinnati's Daven Holly and Washington's Derrick Johnson.
But two guys worth mentioning are Ronald Bartell Jr. of Howard, who ran a 4.43 and a 4.37, and Domonique Foxworth of Maryland, who ran a 4.34 and 4.37. Bartell is a 6-11/4 cornerback, and with that kind of speed he will garner some attention. Foxworth stands at just over 5-11, but that speed can't be ignored.
While that first group looks impressive, the second group of DBs did just as well, so I suppose you could say that this group ended the combine with a bang. Of the 30 guys in this group, 24 of them ran. Three of them had medical excuses, two left the combine early, and one more chose not to run based on the advice of his agent.
Brace yourself: Eleven players ran for times of 4.40 and under! Eleven! Of the 11, six ran for times of 4.35 and under! Those six young men are Arizona State's Chris McKenzie (4.31), Auburn's Carlos Rogers (4.31), Houston's Stanford Routt (4.34), Nebraska's Fabian Washington (4.31), Oklahoma State's Darrent Williams (4.31) and Stanford's Stanley Wilson (4.34). All six of these guys worked out as cornerbacks, so that is a very promising sign for the future of NFL cover corners.
If that weren't enough, McKenzie also leaped 45 inches in the vertical jump and 11 feet, 4 inches in the broad jump. McKenzie told NFL.com he felt he would have done even better had he not strained a pectoral muscle while doing his bench presses. His former coach at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, Joe Kersting, claims to have timed McKenzie in under 4.2 in the 40! McKenzie talked to only a handful of teams at the combine -- he claims he was "under the radar" at Arizona State, even though the Sun Devils went 9-3 last season -- but he'll certainly get a longer look when they see his numbers, which he'll try to improve upon at one of ASU's two pro days. His agent, Jack Scharf of Momentum Sports Group, was especially pleased. "(We) knew I made myself a bit of change," McKenzie said.
North Carolina strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who once blocked three punts in one game when he played for Eastern Tennessee State University in 2003, had a 46-inch vertical jump.
This year, we had 100 more national media members attend than last year. The media interviewed 143 of 331 invited players, nearly 50 percent. I would say just about 90 percent of the players that will be Day 1 selections were interviewed.
In addition, 18 coaches and general managers interviewed with the media, so that's a total of 161 people that the media had the chance to speak to. We also had the mayor of Indianapolis, Art Peterson, come by and talk about Indianapolis' new stadium. Just more signs that the combine is becoming as big as the draft.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, RUN!
NFL coaches and GMs have been pleased with the turnout of players willing to work out at the combine this year, and I think a lot of it has to do with NFL Network. Having the cameras there broadcasting the 40-yard dashes and 225-pound weightlifting drills have given the players an early chance to make a name for themselves. It doesn't do a player much good to not be seen. That's also probably the reason why you've heard more about Ronnie Brown and Mike Williams, and less about Cedric Benson and Braylon Edwards.
NFL Network also did a superb job covering the combine. Everyone I talked to around the country who watched it on TV and NFL.com has been impressed. I think it's great that fans got the chance to see what happens under the RCA Dome bubble, and I would hope that NFL Network expands the coverage in 2006. An idea we had was a live prime-time broadcast of the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers working out.
The focus on the combine may be on the players and NFL coaches and GMs, but you cannot believe just how many people it takes to get this event so organized. Lots of scouts and lots of assistant coaches pour in tons of hours making sure every aspect of the event runs smoothly.
At the end of the first group of defensive backs, the drills were stopped and a ceremony was held to honor Duke Babb, who was with me at the Dallas Cowboys back in 1960 and 1961, and was working his final combine. Babb has been working for National Scouting since ... well, forever. I don't really know because he's been there for so long. Babb ascended to become the coordinator of National and the combine, which is really a big job. Without question, he is a major reason why the combine is what it is. Some of his fellow scouts gave him some nice gifts, and the coaches on hand gave him a round of applause.
Another man worth mentioning is Mark Gorscak, who is in charge of the 40-yard dash drill. Mark gets the players ready to run and also judges them on whether they get off to a false start or a rolling start. Mark's the guy that makes sure the 40 times are clean.
One final mention -- to Old Man Winter. Many times I have come to Indianapolis and seen more snow than I'd like without a pair of skis. Fortunately, the weather has been very mild and cooperative. We had a touch of snow, but there weren't any below-zero days. Like the combine itself, the weather has been ideal.