The NFL Combine looks pretty glamorous. Sure, there’s pressure; but it’s basically a bunch of gifted athletes showing up in Indianapolis, getting a ton of cool clothes, running around a little bit, and guaranteeing themselves a high-paying job, right? Not exactly. As it turns out, the NFL Combine is an absolute grind. Before you even think about getting in a 40 stance, you’ve got to get up before dawn, pee in a cup next to a stranger, stand on a stage half naked, get prodded by doctors for hours on end and endure the most stressful job interview you can imagine. And that’s only day two.
Most of the NFL Combine takes place far away from the TV cameras and the talking heads. By the time the actual on-field workouts take place, the athletes have been put through the wringer in a series of long days and stressful activities. Then they’re expected to post the best numbers of their life. I talked to my former teammate Ross Scheuerman, a running back from Lafayette College who earned an invite to this year’s Combine, to find out what goes on behind the curtain of the world’s most scrutinized workout.
Day One: Wednesday, Feb. 18
Scheuerman’s flight arrives in Indianapolis late Wednesday morning. He gets to the hotel, fills out some paperwork, receives a schedule and gets his gear. He learns he’s in group six, the running back group. A small number of scouts (known as “scout leaders”) will guide his group throughout the Combine, giving them instruction, direction and encouragement. After Scheuerman checks in, he hops on a shuttle with his group and heads to a nearby hospital for preliminary medical tests.
At the hospital, Scheuerman is subjected to a battery of tests and screenings: X-rays, blood tests, EKGs—the doctors use everything at their disposal to find out about his body. Some players undergo MRIs. All of this happens in between a lot of waiting around. Doctors ask Scheuerman extensively about his injury history. The examinations might seem a bit excessive for a 22-year-old male in peak physical condition, but NFL teams want to make sure a player’s body can withstand the pounding of the pro game before they spend a draft pick on him.
After the hospital, Scheuerman and other players who arrived that day (the running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers) congregate at the hotel for an orientation dinner. “A few guys spoke from the NFLPA, guys who’ve played the game and been through the process. They offer you good advice,” Scheuerman says. But players don’t have much time for conversation (or digestion) after dinner. They have team interviews that night.
The interviews are conducted in a big conference hall at the hotel. Players usually sit down with a team’s position coach, answering questions and getting drilled on their football knowledge.
“Some guys would ask you to draw your favorite run play or your favorite pass play. And you would have to draw what every single player’s doing on that play,” Scheuerman says. “Another team gives you an iPad with their film on it, and they show you plays and ask you to identify fronts and coverages and stuff like that.”
The interviews run from 7 to 11 p.m.
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Ross Scheuerman, RB, goes through drills at the 2015 NFL Combine
Day Two: Thursday, Feb. 19
Scheuerman wakes up at 4:30 a.m. for an early morning drug test. He waits his turn to whiz in a cup under the watchful eye of a drug test administrator, then he’s off to breakfast.
“There are designated meal times, but the days are so busy it can be hard to find time to eat,” Scheuerman says. If you’re wondering what the food at the Combine is like, Scheuerman says it’s pretty standard. “Eggs, potatoes, oatmeal, sausage or bacon in the morning. Chicken, veggies, potatoes for dinner. They’ve also got protein bars and energy chews around the hotel.”
After breakfast, Scheuerman is off to get measured, which is as awkward as it is important. When a player’s name is called, he walks onto the brightly-lit stage wearing nothing but compression shorts, where he is inspected by hundreds of scouts looking on from stadium-style seating. It’s kind of like the bad dream we’ve all had, where you’re in front of the class in nothing but your underwear. “It’s a little intimidating,” Scheuerman says.
After his height, weight, hand size and arm length are measured and recorded, Scheuerman moves on to the medical examinations. This is not your average physical. The medical examinations are a marathon affair.
The players visit several rooms, each containing a doctor and three to four team scouts. Each player carries a file from room to room containing his X-rays, test results and medical history from the preliminary medical exam the day before. There’s also a painful amount of waiting before a player gets poked and prodded.
“In each room, you take a seat and wait to be called. When you get called up, you get on a table, and they contort your body in all of these weird ways,” Scheuerman says. “They twist your knees and your shoulders, just trying to make sure everything is solid. Then they ask about your injury history and stuff like that. If a team is suspicious of something, they’ll ask to have more imaging (X-ray, MRI, etc.) done on a certain body part.”
After examining a player, the doctor reads the player’s entire medical history to the coaches present—all of their injuries, areas of concern, the number of games they’ve missed, etc. The whole process takes four or five hours. Luckily for Scheuerman, he was found to be injury-free.
After the medical exams, Scheuerman heads upstairs to the media section of the hotel. This is where all the coaches and superstar players give their interviews on TV. A small-school prospect like Scheuerman doesn’t hold his own press conference at the podium. Rather, he sits at a table and is interviewed by some reporters for about 15 minutes.
That night, it’s back into the big conference hall for more team interviews. Some bizarre interview questions have been thrown at prospects in the past, but Scheuerman doesn’t get much of that. He believes most of the weird questions are likely to come during informal team interviews—short interviews held in the team’s hotel suite. Players whom coaches want to learn more about—such as juniors who came out earlier, guys with potential character issues, or players who weren’t available to talk at the various college All-Star games—are usually the ones who get brought in for informal interviews. “I would guess that’s where more of the bizarre questions get asked,” Scheuerman says.
After another long night of team interviews, Scheuerman heads to his hotel room at about 11 p.m.—roughly 19 hours after he woke up.
Day Three: Friday, Feb. 20
Scheuerman rises before the sun to get ready for the Wonderlic, a cognitive ability test that every player at the NFL Combine must take. It’s not some sort of dumb jock, everyone-gets-an-A type of exam. The Wonderlic is tough, requiring the test-taker to answer 50 brain-twisting questions in only 12 minutes.
“Everyone was in one big room, lined up in rows. It’s a written test,” Scheuerman says. “It was kind of like taking the SAT.”
After the high intensity Wonderlic, Scheuerman is thrust into a long series of psychological tests. “You get a card that has all your appointments for the psychology tests. I had four different psychology tests in a row from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” Scheuerman says. “You would just sit in these rooms and take the tests. One was written, but the rest were on tablets or computers. Sometimes you had to complete certain patterns and answer questions that try to mess with your mind a little bit. There are also questions about your leadership and what you would do in certain situations.”
After a mind-numbing day of testing, Scheuerman has to completely switch gears and get ready for the Bench Press. He says, “You’ve really got to flip the switch and get a whole new mindset.” The Bench Press test is conducted at Lucas Oil Stadium, on the same stage where the measurements were taken. Prior to the test, the players are instructed on what the coaches are looking for and what will and won’t count as a rep.
“You can’t lift your butt off the bench, you can’t bounce the bar, and you’ve got to lock it out every rep,” Scheuerman says. The prospects get some time to warm up backstage on a couple of extra benches. The testing is done in numerical order, and Scheuerman’s number is 31. That means he has to wait for 30 other running backs before it’s his turn to perform.
“Once I heard my name and school called, I came out and just went to work,” Scheuerman says. He knocks out 15 reps of 225 pounds.
After an exhausting day, Scheuerman heads to more team interviews. “You’re in there for three or four hours every night, and it just depends on what teams want to talk to you,” Scheuerman says.
Former Lafayette running back Ross Scheuerman
Day Four: Saturday, Feb. 21
After three long days, Scheuerman and the rest of the running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers, finally get to perform the 40-Yard Dash, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump, field work and agility drills. These are the drills that get the most hype. Few people know what the players have gone through before this point.
The players get to “sleep in” until about 8 a.m. Then they eat breakfast and shoot over to Lucas Oil Stadium. “My group hit the field at about 10:30 a.m., Scheuerman says. “A couple of strength coaches put us through a warm-up.” After the warm-up, Scheuerman is given a series of flexibility tests.
“They test the flexibility of your shoulders, your groin, your hamstrings, a bunch of different things,” he says.
Scheuerman and the rest of the running backs head over to the Vertical and Broad Jump tests, where he logs 33 and 121 inches, respectively. After that, his group has to wait for the receivers to finish their on-field drills before they run the 40. “We probably waited an hour between the Vert and Broad before the running backs started doing their 40s. There’s a lot of waiting around. You’ve really got to try to stay lose,” Scheuerman says.
By the time Scheuerman’s turn comes, it’s roughly 3 p.m. He hasn’t eaten a solid meal since breakfast, and he’s been on the field for roughly five hours. “I think that’s the whole idea of the Combine,” he says, “They put you through these stressful situations to see how you react. They know it’s not ideal conditions, but they want to see you respond and compete. It’s pretty surreal finally running it when you’ve trained for it so much. It’s dead silent, and all the coaches and scouts are sitting to your right. So I just tried to block all of that out and focus on me.”
When a prospect runs his 40 on TV, his time is immediately displayed onscreen. Not so at the Combine. Scheuerman says, “You don’t even know what you ran. There’s no screen that flashes it or anything. So you have to go back to all the guys, and everyone is looking at NFL.com on their phones to figure out their time.” Scheuerman runs a 4.62, a solid time that puts him in the middle of the running back pack. He feels he can improve upon it at his Pro Day in March.
After the long wait for the 40-Yard Dash, the pace quickly picks up as Scheuerman and the other running backs move into the on-field positional drills. “We moved through those extremely fast,” he says. “You get one rep at each, so you really don’t want to mess that up. I just paid close attention to the guys in front of me to see any mistakes they made.”
Scheuerman focuses and performs well in the field drills, then moves to the agility drills. “I actually had to skip in front of some people because it was getting close to 5 o’clock and I had a flight at 6,” he says. Despite the time crunch, he finishes the agility drills with excellent results. He runs the Three-Cone Drill in 7.06 (ninth best among RBs), the 5-10-5 Shuttle in 4.11 (fourth best among RBs) and the 60-Yard Shuttle in 11.40 (fifth best amongst RBs). As soon as he finishes his final drill, he takes off to his room, quickly grabs his stuff and heads to the airport. He barely catches his flight, and finally gets a chance to catch his breath after four grueling days.
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