A new look: All football eyes are on the NFL Scouting Combine this week, and the NFL is making it even easier for fans to tune in as on-field drills have all been moved to primetime television.
NFL Network is airing four days of drills, beginning on Thursday night when tight ends, receivers and quarterbacks take center stage, with programming airing from 4-11 p.m.
It's a change from how the Combine ran things in the past and it's going to be an adjustment for those who are in Indianapolis to evaluate the players, as they are the ones who have grown accustomed to how the schedule ran in the past.
"Everything that is happening is new for all of us," said General Manager Kevin Colbert. "Everyone has to adjust. It is a bigger event. As you can see, it is growing at an unusual pace. We understand that and we acknowledge that. But we also acknowledge that football is the most important thing we have to get done here. There's a ton of medical business, football business, character business that we have to tend to while (the Combine) grows. We understand that it can grow, but we understand that there will be changes that we have to be able to work through and make it the best Combine we can."
For the players, there isn't a lot of adjustment because it's their first go-around. Colbert thinks it could work in their advantage in some ways to have the drills later in the day, but only time will tell.
"I am always going to look at the optimistic side, I think they will have better opportunities," said Colbert. "They have the extra time. They have an extra day to get their legs before they have to perform. And most of them will be performing in a primetime slot, which we are going to be asked to do in September when they start playing football games. You don't play a football game at nine in the morning unless you're over in London. It is more realistic for what they are going to be doing. Most pro days, some of them start in the morning, but most pro days linger into the afternoon as well."
One of the other changes is the addition of new drills this year, 16 new drills to be exact. They include drills at various positions, including quarterbacks who will now have end zone fade routes added to routes thrown and timed smoke/now route drills. Another new drill is named after Steelers senior defensive assistant/secondary Teryl Austin which will be run by the defensive backs. The drill is as follows: First, a player will back pedal five yards, then open and break downhill on a 45-degree angle before catching a thrown ball. Then a player will back pedal five yards, open at 90 degrees and run to the first coach and break down, then plant and turn around (180 degrees) to run toward a second coach and catch a ball from thrown by a quarterback before reaching the second coach.
"I think it will be interesting," said Bengals Coach Zac Taylor. "They changed some of the drills on the field, which it's kind of been the same way a long time, so it will be exciting to see. I know they added the red-zone fade drill down there with the quarterbacks and receivers, so I'm interested to see how that one plays out. It will give you something new to watch."
Taylor isn't alone in looking forward to how the new drills play out.
"I'm excited about it, excited to see what it looks like and obviously I think everyone's just trying to do everything they can to get better," said Lions Coach Matt Patricia. "And I think one of the things that's great about the combine is that they're taking a look at it from the same standpoint, how can we improve the information or the time or the schedule so that everybody gets as much as possible. So, it'll be fun to watch."
Catching on: Wide receivers always go in large numbers in the NFL Draft, and it's never a surprise to see many of them go in the upper rounds. That will likely be the case again this year.
A lot of that is due to college teams running pro-style offenses. But despite that type of preparation at some schools, they aren't always immediately ready to step onto the big stage.
"We've seen a lot of guys who do struggle as they transition and a real big part of that is where they come from and the style of offense that they run," said Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll. "They're not as ready as they need to be for the things we ask guys to do. Guys line up on the left side, they never get in the huddle, and they run a handful of routes. Particularly the natural athletes that come in with such gifts, sometimes they're not as tuned into the discipline it takes to be where the quarterback needs you to be so we can play you and throw the ball to you and get good results.
"I think the guys are more apt to be ready now in general because they get the ball thrown so much, they've been throwing and catching in seven on sevens their whole life, and all of that. But there is a whole other level that sometimes catches guys and it just depends. This is an interesting draft for receivers and it's going to be fascinating to see if we can uncover the guys that can make the quick transition and the guys who are going take a couple years. We're going try to resolve that through the process, but it's going be fun to watch."