Combine Talk

Posted: February 25th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Comments Off on Combine Talk

All the key members of the Eagles coaching and scouting staffs are in Indianapolis this week for the NFL’s Scouting Combine. You’ll hear a lot of talk about measurements, 40-times and who bench-pressed the most, but the real keys are medical checks and interviews.

Back in the 70’s (19, not 18) there was a player named Nolan Cromwell. He had been a star at Kansas, but had injury concerns. Teams were having trouble with his schedule because all of them wanted to bring him to their facility for testing. The teams realized there was a solution to this problem. Bring all the draft prospects to one location and do the medical checks there. The Combine was born.

It has changed a lot over the years. It used to be a secretive event. Now it is on TV for everyone to see. This year, for the first time, the workouts are being held in prime time, for your viewing pleasure. We’ll see how that goes.

While the workouts are valuable, the medical checks are the most important part of the process. Players get good care at their schools, but this takes things to a whole other level. Players will find out they have degenerative shoulders or knees. They’ll find out they broke a bone as a kid and never knew it. Crazy stuff.

These aren’t just players. They are a huge investment of time and money. Teams do not want to take someone that will be a medical risk. Sprained ankles and broken arms heal. Teams are more focused on players who have lingering issues. A kid can be healthy at 22, but have issues that will really affect him at 28. Pro football doctors and specialists have become pretty good at finding players with issues.

As for interviews, they are also important.

Eagles coaches loved what they saw of Wentz when they studied his game tape. This was their chance to really grill him on football and find out how his mind worked and also how he interacted with them.

It is harder and harder for teams to talk to players. Agents coach these guys up on what to say and how to act. You have to fight through that wall to get to the real person. My favorite story happened about a decade ago. A player told one team that he had left school early to take care of his mother. He played up being the good son and made himself out to be the football version of Mother Teresa. Someone from the team then asked him why the first thing he had done was get an advance from his agent and buy a fancy sports car. Silence.

Teams do their homework. They know a lot about these kids. Now they want to see how they interact with them. Sometimes the teams will be all buddy-buddy. Other times they will be more adversarial, trying to see how the player reacts.

Let’s hope some receivers give the right answers when they meet the Eagles.


Jimmy Bama wrote a piece on the WR prospects at the Combine.


As I said, teams have done their homework on all of these players. Bo Wulf wrote a tremendous story for The Athletic, giving us a day in the life of an Eagles scout. I’m not sure enough people understand how much goes beyond tape study and the game of football. This was an interesting part of the story.

After meeting with the academic advisors, Wolking steals some time to type out more notes in the lobby. These conversations are some of the more important ones a scout will have because they inform how a team can best coax the most out of a player at the next level. His knowledge of the staff paid off as he met separately with one academic advisor who recently relocated from a school in Florida.

The advisors answer questions like “What’s his best learning environment?” “How does he treat women?” and “Would you be surprised if you got a call late at night that he was in trouble?” Some scouts enter those conversations with preconceived notions about the player and ask leading questions. The good scouts are the ones who actually listen to the answers.

“It’s like speed dating but not with the person,” an advisor says.

Of course, the Eagles are not looking to hire someone to groom as an accountant. There is a difference between “smart” and “football smart.” Often, the academic advisors have more insight into maturity levels and life skills than anything else. And immaturity isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s stuff they’re gonna grow out of, right?” Wolking says. “You’re not killing the kid to say, ‘Oh, he wears his mood.’ It’s just, ‘Hey, if you like him, just know this is the type of kid you’re gonna get.’”

As Wolking puts his tablet away and walks out of the lobby, a student working at the building’s front desk notices his jacket and lights up before a hearty “Go Birds!”

Teams need to know the type of people they are potentially bringing in. This goes beyond 40-times and scoring TDs. The best scouts are the ones who can find the right fits for their teams, on and off the field.

Make sure you read that story. Great job by Bo.


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