There isn't a whole lot about this NFL offseason that qualifies as typical, what with the current CBA carrying an expiration date of March 3, but the NFL Scouting Combine is an exception.
Set for its 14th consecutive year in Indianapolis, the Combine will offer all 32 NFL teams an up-close look at 329 of the top college football prospects available for the draft that's scheduled for April 28-30. The Combine begins on Wednesday, Feb. 23 and runs until March 1, and like so much of anything having to do with the NFL, it has evolved into a television event that provides six days worth of programming to NFL Network.
"The purpose of the Combine is three-fold, actually," said Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert. "First and foremost is the physical examination of the players. Secondly, it's the physical workout, the testing, of the players. And thirdly, it's the personal information, the character, the interviews, that we'll have access to at that point."
The NFL Scouting Combine began in 1982, when it was known as the National Invitational Camp (NIC), and its primary purpose was to gather medical information on the top draft prospects. That inaugural NIC was attended by 163 players, and the information was provided only to the teams that belonged to a service called National Football Scouting.
In 1985, all NFL teams decided to participate in future National Invitational Camps, with the goal being to share the costs for the medical examinations. After brief stints in New Orleans (1984, 1986) and Arizona (1985), the camp was moved to Indianapolis where it has operated since 1987.
During the early years of the Combine's existence, teams sometimes got themselves into trouble by overemphasizing the prospects' performances in the speed and agility drills at the expense of how those same prospects played in games over the course of their college careers. Hence the birth of sayings such as, "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane," and even the Steelers occasionally fell into that trap.
That hasn't happened lately, and the Steelers will send their contingent to Indianapolis for the three reasons Colbert explained, but it's likely their primary interests are the medical and the psychological information they'll get a chance to gather.
Each team can interview up to 60 players at the Combine, with a maximum time allotted of 15 minutes per, and the Steelers already have their list of 60 put together. Each of those 60 will meet with a Steelers contingent to include Colbert, Coach Mike Tomlin, either Dick LeBeau or Bruce Arians depending upon whether the guy plays offense or defense, College Scouting Coordinator Ron Hughes, Pro and College Personnel Special Assistant Joe Greene and Kevin Wildenhaus, who serves as the team's psychologist.
"You try to be realistic and figure out who might be available to you through the first three rounds," said Colbert about how the Steelers compile their list of 60. "We're not going to interview somebody we think is going to be drafted among the top 10 overall picks, because we're not going to have a realistic chance at them. You try to guesstimate with each guy on your list. Other players are available to be interviewed in more of a mass setting in a separate location, where there might be, say, six offensive line coaches interviewing one offensive lineman at the same time because of the time limitations.
"That is the beginning phase, for the most part our first exposure to the person, more so than the player. Usually out of the seven players we end up drafting, we'll have interviewed five of them at the Combine."
The Steelers, by virtue of losing Super Bowl XLV, will pick 31st in each round of the 2011 draft.
"At this point – just trying to get a handle on the underclassmen, which we're still in the process of doing – I think it'll be a strong draft at offensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver," said Colbert.