Thursday, February 28, 2013

We Got A Great Big Combine

The latest drill at the NFL Combine
The notion of "news" from the NFL Scouting Combine is always a bit strange, seeing as nothing actually happens there. Guys whom NFL scouts and front office types have been watching for four years show up, do a few drills, answer a few questions, and sweat a lot. That's it. Nobody - and this is the key part - actually plays any football. They do exercises, very few of which have application on a football field, and serious men with serious stopwatches and logo-embroidered collared shirts stand around and make serious noises about how serious it all is.

You do get plenty of breathless stories about someone's stock rising or falling based on a combine workout - the guy whose 40 slipped 2 tenths of a second is suddenly a pariah, never mind that A) there's a thousand reasons someone might have a variance of two tenths of a second and B) who's to say the guys doing the timing are absolutely precise themselves.

So we get stories. We get stories about how Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse did a broad jump of 11 feet, one inch, which should be incredibly useful the next time he has to cover a receiver who's on the other side of a ten foot wide pit full of alligators. Or that B.W. Webb of William and Mary topped the 20 yard shuttle dash rankings by .01 seconds, which surely will come in handy when they change the rules of football so that you run back and forth across the field instead of, say, to the end zone.

And then there's poor, benighted Manti Te'o, whose draft status - undisputed stud until his...unique dating habits got exposed - is now suddenly wobblier than Tennessee's athletic department funding because he ran a 4.81 in the 40. This, apparently, is earthshattering news that will undoubtedly cost the kid millions of dollars as his draft stock does a full-on Louganis because he had a bad 40 time at the Combine. This, then, is the story, never mind that anyone who'd watched the years and years of game film we have on Te'o would have already had a pretty decent idea of what his strengths and weaknesses were. But in the rush to sprinkle football news into the parched earth of the offseason, to make sure to cement the NFL's grip on its fans year-round, the Combine gets blown up into the equivalent of the season finale of the Bachelor, where EVERY. DECISION. COULD. BE. VITAL., and nothing's too insignificant to analyze to death. After all, they need to keep diminutive early-period Klingon Mel Kiper Jr. off the streets somehow.

Which is why we get breathless coverage of large men in shorts standing around on a field, sweating. And breathless coverage of guys lifting weights, and not in a totally-awesome-Magnus-ver-Magnusson sort of way. (Seriously. How cool would it be if they mashed up the Combine with World's Strongest Man competitions? I want to see NFL prospects dragging a bus full of cheerleaders by their teeth, and I want to see it now.) And breathless analysis of guys standing there in sweaty shorts. And it's boring as hell, and it's bad for the game - and if you doubt me, I will beat you to death with a Mike Mamula bobble head - because the whole damn thing is now so fraught it's overwhelming.

As a football fan, I don't want to know what sort of 40 time an offensive lineman has. If you're playing major college football, you're going to be somewhere within a narrow band of results or you never would have gotten on the field in the first place. What I want to know is can he knock a defensive lineman who looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on his butt, forty times a game. Show me that at the Combine and maybe there's something to get excited over. Until you do, all I'm left with is the possibility that a few seconds out of context will get weighed more heavily than years of hard work.

Me, I prefer the hard work. And the game tape, especially if the alternative is more large men standing around drinking Gatorade, and raising their draft stock exponentially by doing so.
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