Photo Gallery: NFL Combine Look Back
The NFL Scouting Combine is the ultimate job interview for more than 300 of the top college players. It's an opportunity to prove yourself in front of every NFL head coach, assistant coach, general manager, scout and just about everyone else involved in NFL football operations who descend upon Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
For Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton, center Maurkice Pouncey and quarterback Landry Jones the combine was an opportunity to show what they were capable of, how they could handle the pressure, and give teams a chance to really get to know them.
For Markus Wheaton the combine was all about setting goals. He finished with a mixed bag, reaching some of the goals, but falling short on others. But all-in-all, he was pleased.
"For the 40 I wanted a 4.3," said Wheaton. "They came and told me 4.3 was my hand time and the electric was a 4.4. I was upset about that. I think it was the 60-yard shuttle I was one of the top two. My broad jump wasn't where I wanted it to be, but close. I was top 10 in everything so I was happy about that."
Wheaton was no stranger to the combine, having watched it on NFL Network. But no matter how much you watch it, when you get there and all NFL eyes are upon you, it's a whole different ball game.
"There is a lot of pressure, especially when you first get out there," recalled Wheaton. "Then, once I got set I thought I was fine, that I was relaxed. We went through the jumps first and there was nothing much with that. It's when you get to the 40-yard dash and everyone is watching you. It's pretty nerve wracking. I was so tuned in I didn't see anybody."
He knew plenty were watching, though. Not just those in Indianapolis, but friends, family and football fans everywhere.
"It's just like football," said Wheaton. "Once you start playing you aren't thinking about anything like that. You are tuned in and doing what you have to do. As an athlete you are used to being in front of the cameras, so I didn't think much about it."
Wheaton admits the longest part was going through the medical testing, from maneuvering the stadium concourse to get x-rays, to having an MRI, to being asked about every injury he has ever had.
"A lot of the stuff I didn't even think was relevant to what was going on, like ankle sprains in 2009," said Wheaton. "But they are looking to invest a lot of money in us and wanted to make sure they had everything covered.
"I was so tired when I went for the MRI and you can't move and it takes 30 minutes. I fell asleep when I was in there and I twitched when I was asleep and had to start over. I probably twitched two times and then the third time I tried my hardest to stay up. I fell asleep but didn't twitch that time so it was good."
Wheaton, who roomed with then Baylor receiver Terrance Williams, did most of his one-on-one interviews with teams during the Senior Bowl the month prior, so didn't have that stress on his plate during the combine, instead being able to focus more on the workouts.
"I woke early because you are so excited to perform and do something you have been waiting so long to do," said Wheaton. "When you are doing the workouts, you are watching to see what someone else ran and thinking I have to beat it. Then you see somebody beat those numbers and you think I have to one up that. It's all about having fun and competing and just trying to showcase your talents."
After talking for a few minutes about his combine experience, MaurkicePouncey laughed and said, "I don't want you to think it was all bad. It really wasn't."
But when he thought back to the experience, the first thing that came to mind was all of the medical testing that the athletes go through. It's a necessary evil as there is a lot on the line, but it's no fun.
"When you first arrive you go straight to the hospital, get all of the exams, get hooked up to the heart monitor, those types of things," said Pouncey. "The next day you meet with all, and I mean all, of the doctors in the NFL, from every team. Even their assistant's, assistants, pull on you, and that is one of the worst parts of the combine.
"For an MRI you go into this big semi-truck that they pull right into the building and there were three or four MRI machines and probably the littlest ones you could get in and you have to be in there 30-40 minutes."
Like he said, though, it wasn't all bad. After getting through the medical tests, and the snoring roommate, Pouncey soon got to enjoy what he was there for – football.
"When you got to the field stuff and got to go out and compete with all of those guys, that makes it all exciting and worthwhile," said Pouncey. "That is the exciting part. You are all out there competing, seeing what time everybody ran because they won't tell you but everyone else knows. I am pretty sure everyone feels the same way; I want to do better than him. At the same time you are competing, cheering each other on, because you are all trying to live out a dream."
Pouncey admits that there were definitely nerves, especially with interviews on tap with 27 teams, including the Steelers. When he met with them, in front of him were team President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, and an array of others.
"You are going in there, meeting all of them, and this is your dream you are going for," said Pouncey. "You are more anxious than anything, waiting to hear what they are going to say, what college tapes they are going to look at with you. You are nervous at first. You are waiting for them to speak first and then you are like, okay. Everybody was really cool."
Pouncey said he felt an immediate connection with the Steelers contingent and got a strong feeling that black and gold was in his future.
"Coming out of that meeting I knew this team was going to draft me," said Pouncey. "They didn't tell me exactly, but the way they acted, the things they said, the clips we watched and what we talked about on and off the field I felt so comfortable with them. The only person I told was my brother. Even when my mom asked who I thought was going to draft me, I told her I don't know. When that day came I knew the Steelers were going to draft me.
"Going into the combine you think all you need is one team out of 32 to like you, so just go out there and impress everybody. Walking out of that meeting with the Steelers made me so extremely happy. I thought this is where I am going to be and it happened."
Landry Jones was in agreement with his teammates, with the medical side of it being the worst part for him as well.
"They wake you up so early," said Jones. "I got up around 3:45-4:00 a.m. and you are up and going until 11 pm."
On the agenda the next day was meeting with the teams, where different teams approach the one-on-one interviews in starkly different fashion.
"It just depends on the team whether they are super intense or laid back. It just depends on each room," said Jones. "When I met with the Steelers it was great. They just wanted to get to know me, get to know my personality. Coach (Mike) Tomlin made it more like a conversation, asking questions about myself. It wasn't too intimidating. It wasn't bad, it was pretty good."
By the time the actual workouts come, which is usually the third day for each position group, it's been a stressful few days for the players. But as Jones said, getting on the field is what makes it all worthwhile.
"The whole deal leading up until you go is nerve wracking," said Jones. "Your nerves are already spent. You have been talking to coaches, doing all of these interviews. You just feel like all of these eyes are on you so you have to be the best you that you can be. It's a little bit exhausting.
"When I was on the field everything melted away. Once I was on the field I was better than when I was doing all of the interviews and stuff. It's the best part because you know after you are done on the field the whole process is done. You are finished with it. It's a long couple of days."