Packers Draftees Dorsey, Bennett Revisit Combine Days


It was 17 years ago that Edgar Bennett, then a running back prospect from Florida State, attended the NFL Scouting Combine. But now that he returns to Indianapolis on an annual basis as the running backs coach of the Green Bay Packers, it's impossible for Bennett not to be reminded of his pre-draft days there back in 1992.

He bumps into coaches and scouts all the time at the Combine, evaluators who remember him as a player when they were scouting him. Bennett remembers them, too, at least some of them.

"It makes it fun, because they remind you of when you were going through the process and how it was," Bennett said. "Some of them remember a lot about you."

'How it was' for Bennett at the Combine isn't much different than how it is in 2009, except that the event was without the extensive media coverage and scrutiny that accompany it now as the No. 2 NFL offseason event, behind the draft itself.

As the '09 Combine begins this week in Indianapolis at new Lucas Oil Stadium, among the things that haven't changed are the memories players will take with them from this singular gathering of 300-plus draft-eligible prospects.

That may seem odd, particularly for accomplished players like Bennett - who went on to become Green Bay's fourth-round draft pick in '92 and three years later crack 1,000 yards rushing, the first Packers player to do so in 17 seasons - to remember many details about a few seemingly mundane days of drills, tests and interviews prior to entering the NFL.

But Bennett does remember that his roommate at the Combine was Penn State fullback Sam Gash, who went on to a 12-year playing career. It's something the two have reminisced about the past couple of seasons, while Gash has been an assistant coach with NFC North rival Detroit.

That experience isn't unique, because the NFL is a small world where a lot of things come full circle. For some, that circle starts at the Combine.

"You're always bonded as a (draft) class, always bonded with that particular year you get drafted," said John Dorsey, the Packers' director of college scouting who was a linebacker and fourth-round pick by Green Bay in 1984. "As small as football is, you always stay with that class. We still talk about it."

Packers scout Sam Seale was in Dorsey's class of 1984, though the two played different positions (Seale was a defensive back). Back then, Dorsey actually went to two combines - one in New Orleans and another in Seattle, before the multiple locations were "combined" to form one centralized event in Indy.

More than anything, Dorsey remembers being a small-college prospect who wasn't invited to any all-star games and finally got a chance to compare himself to the players from marquee schools. He quickly rattled off several names of players in his position group during workouts, five of whom - Carl Banks, Ricky Hunley, Wilber Marshall, Jackie Shipp and Billy Cannon - who became first-round draft choices.

"I think all small-school guys go into that thing trying to measure themselves against the big-school guys," said Dorsey, who came from Division I-AA Connecticut. "That's a natural thing. I think that's natural at whatever sport you're in.

"The Combine proved to me that, you know what, athletically I can compete with these guys."

Those always make for interesting stories to follow at the Combine, players without a reputation to speak of who find a way to elevate themselves in the eyes of NFL coaches and scouts.

Back in Dorsey's day, interviews were not part of the combines, but now they're one of the most important components, as teams can evaluate the personalities of players as well as their on-field skills. And when a so-called lesser-known player tests well in the drills and comes across well in interviews, where they rank in hype and pedigree becomes less and less relevant.

"Sometimes looking at a first-rounder compared to a potential free agent, a guy who doesn't even know if he'll be drafted, you can see differences in their attitudes, their work ethic and personality," Bennett said. "I've seen it as a player, and as a coach in evaluating players."

Bennett recalled the interviews being perhaps the most nerve-racking part of the ordeal, because more often than not a college football player has never experienced a "job interview" per se. But as a former player and Combine attendee, he can relate to what all the young players are going through.

"You just kind of remind yourself what it was like when I was in that position, and you try to calm the kid just to 'be yourself,'" Bennett said. "That's the main point in all of this. We want to know who you really are. We don't want you to come in and put on a show and pretend you're someone else. Just be yourself."

And you never know what lessons might be learned along the way. Hanging out at one of the '84 combines with star quarterback and fellow Maryland native Boomer Esiason, Dorsey recalled being approached by Cincinnati Bengals founder Paul Brown Sr., then the team's general manager.

{sportsad300}Dorsey, who was surprised Brown knew who he was, proceeded to tell Brown that he knew he got his first coaching job at Severn School in Severna Park, Md., because that was a prep school lacrosse rival to Dorsey's St. Mary's High in Annapolis, and Severn had a plaque near its field honoring Brown.

"I was trying to make an impression to see if he'd draft me higher," said Dorsey, noting that it didn't work, as Brown drafted Hunley in the first round and Esiason in the second. "But I'll always remember this quote. He said to us, 'Men, always respect those men who made this game great.' I thought that was really telling and have always adhered to those words."

As two former Packers draftees working at the Combine this week for the organization, Bennett and Dorsey always take note of players who respect the game and its history. Dorsey can even recall one of the first such players to make that kind of impression on him at the Combine back in just his second year as a college scout.

Dorsey was sitting in a restaurant with former Green Bay practice squad member and teammate Stan Shiver, who had become a graduate assistant coach at Florida State when in walked the same player Dorsey was getting background on from Shiver - Edgar Bennett.

"He was just humble," Dorsey said, "and he hasn't changed since Day 1."

The same can't be said for the Combine itself, but the memories for former players like Bennett and Dorsey never fade.

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