INDIANAPOLIS — For those who have watched the annual NFL Scouting Combine on TV the past few years, the lights-camera-action aspects — the 40-yard dash, bench press, throwing drills, etc. — are, perhaps understandably, the more interesting facets of the event for the casual NFL fan.
But for the dozens of NFL prospects participating in the Combine each year, the on-screen portions are just a small percentage of what all they're really going through in what amounts to a whirlwind experience in downtown Indianapolis.
The four-day haul for the players usually start with a wake-up call earlier than 6 a.m., and then they're hitting the sheets usually past midnight, only to get right up the next morning for another 18-plus hours of poking, prodding, interview questions, psychological testing and much, much more.
For Ryan Kelly, the whole Combine experience is still very fresh on his mind. The Alabama product just went through the ringer at this time last year, and said that perhaps the best part of the whole ordeal is when it's all over.
"They definitely try to overload you with stress during that week, just to see how you're going to handle it," Kelly said. "That's kind of the fun part about it: when you finish it, you feel really good about it."
For Kelly, his performance at the Combine only further proved what most team officials already knew: that he was easily going to be a first-round pick in that year's NFL Draft. He was taken 18th overall by the Indianapolis Colts, and immediately became the team's starting center; he would start all 16 games in his rookie season.
But even sure-fire first-round picks can be overwhelmed — even if it's just a little bit — by the whole Combine experience.
The typical process actually starts when their college careers end, when they sign with an agent. Then, a prospect chooses when and where they will train, and usually they train specifically for their position drills at the Combine. Some players choose to play in a postseason all-star-type game like the Senior Bowl or the East-West Shrine Game, while others choose to focus on training.
But once they arrive in Indy, the prospects are either ready to go — or they aren't. Their first day, they go through registration, then they have a hospital pre-exam and X-rays, then they have overflow testing, then they have an orientation program, and then they spend the rest of their night interviewing with NFL team officials, which can include the team general manager, head coach, their specific coordinator/position coach or even the team owner.
The next day? More of the same. Measurements, medical examinations, overflow testing and interviews.
Day 3 includes psychological testing, an NFLPA meeting, position group workouts, media interviews, the bench press portion and, yet again, more team interviews.
And, finally, the fourth day is the on-field workout portion — timing, stations and skill drills — before perhaps more interviews. And then it's time to head home.
"By the time the actual physical part comes, you've already sat through — I think I sat through somewhere (between) 30 and 40 meetings; they're 15 minutes apiece, and you're just knocking those out until about midnight every night, and getting up at 6 a.m.," Kelly said. "And then your day's filled with psychology testing. So by the time the actual physical stuff comes, you're pretty much gassed."
The Combine experience perhaps gives those prospects a leg-up when they get drafted and sign with their teams, as their first weekend in their new cities is typically spent in Rookie Minicamp, which is also known as a whirlwind process.
And while the Combine can make or break some players, Kelly made sure he didn't fret too much about all the stress that can come with that pressure.
"It's a really stressful event," Kelly said. "But looking back on it, it was really fun."
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