Combine Crunch

When you train for the NFL Combine, your sole purpose is making the best impression for the pro scouts.

By Warren Anderson and Tim McClellan

Warren Anderson, MS, CSCS, and Tim McClellan, MS, CSCS, have trained 4l first-round NFL draft picks over the past 17 years. They have worked with athletes in many sports, including 12 medal winners (four gold) at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. They can be reached through their Web site: www.makeplays.com.

Training & Conditioning, 12.3, April 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1203/crunch.htm

When representatives of NFL franchises watch athletes at the annual scouting combine in Indian-apolis, they see investment opportunities. And like all successful business people, NFL representatives want a good return on the investments they make. Consequently, franchises look for athletes who exhibit growth potential and dependability--plus excellent playing skills (see "Combine Calendar" at the end of this article).

In this article, we'll describe how we evaluate and prepare collegiate athletes for pro tryouts at the NFL scouting combine. This process of evaluating and then preparing athletes for the combine can be applied to tryouts for other pro sports leagues, such as the NHL, NBA, or WNBA. We will focus on the NFL process, since the bulk of our experience is there.

EVALUATE
We begin this process by doing a thorough evaluation of every athlete who comes to us. Our evaluation is designed to identify any strengths and weaknesses that could affect his marketability with an NFL team.

First, we look at the medical history and current medical status of the athlete. Obviously, an athlete has to be in top condition to be considered by a pro franchise, but when we review past and current medical issues, we look closely for evidence of injury. Due to the amount of money pro football teams invest in each athlete, they will intensely scrutinize any past or present injury. No one wants to spend millions of dollars on an athlete who spends more time in rehab than on the gridiron.

If one of our athletes has a previous injury, we work on minimizing the possibility of that injury hampering his performance at the combine. For example, if an athlete has suffered a torn ACL, we will work on strengthening the muscles supporting that knee joint through drills and work on the Cybex machine.

Another common injury that we often address is the sports hernia, which is also referred to as an inguinal hernia. It is a nagging, soft-tissue sports injury that can really hamper performance. When we have an athlete with an inguinal hernia, we put him on a continued regimen of physical therapy and massage. Instead of dry-land running, we have the athlete go into a pool to strengthen the area without it having to bear the body weight.

Another area that we evaluate is the athlete's productivity as a college athlete. If the athlete only started in half the games, that will devalue him in the eyes of NFL scouts so we'll need to put him through throwing and agility drills to ensure he'll make a good showing when those scouts watch him in Indianapolis. The idea behind this strategy is that spotty productivity in college can sometimes be countered by a stellar performance at the combine.

Next, we look at performance testing, because NFL scouts strongly emphasize measurements and numbers. Athletes who are not prepared to turn out the numbers that scouts want to see are devalued as a commodity in the combine. Therefore, our job as strength coaches is to make weak athletes stronger, slow athletes faster, and so on, because we want to make sure our candidates are "on the mark" for what the scouts want to see. For example, NFL scouts generally expect a lineman to run a 40-yard dash in 5.2 seconds, while receivers need to cover that distance in about 4.4 seconds. As for strength, scouts are more interested in a person who can bench 225 pounds 15 times than someone who can bench 290 pounds three times.

Since numbers are so big with NFL scouts, our evaluations also take into account how others rank the athletes. Specifically, we look at the athlete's Blesto and National Football Scouting rankings. Blesto and National are two commercial services that provide scouting reports on college football players to 27 NFL franchises.

Both companies look at the athlete's record and performance to come up with a numerical ranking. These rankings take into account the athlete's gridiron history along with height, weight, speed, and strength. For example, a candidate who has been very productive in college as a wide receiver, but who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds, won't be rated as well as a counterpart who turns out a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.

The point is, many bad rankings can be overcome by training, especially because the rankings change during the season, much as a student's grade-point average changes from semester-to-semester. If a student comes to us during his junior year or early in the senior year, our job includes boosting his Blesto and National rankings. Should that student come to us after the competitive season closes, we'll focus his training on overcoming the weak areas identified by Blesto or National so that he'll make a good showing at the combine.

A couple of years ago, for example, one of our clients was a defensive end who played well in college and planned to try out for the NFL. He weighed in at 240 pounds at the beginning of his senior season. The NFL values defensive ends who can rush the passer. These players need to be big, powerful, and fast.

Our client had the speed and the skill, but at 240 pounds, he was a little light for an NFL line. He had to get up to 275 pounds while maintaining his speed and strength. We put him on a diet and supplements along with a strength-training and speed-training program. He was able to get his weight up to 275 pounds without losing his speed. During his senior year he became a good edge rusher and was eventually a second-round draft pick.

WORKOUTS
While preparing a player for a pro tryout should ideally be a year-long process, we also have developed a program for the weeks between the end of an athlete's collegiate competition and the combine.

Unlike preseason or in-season training, a pre-tryout program is designed to help an athlete turn in a good performance at one event: the combine.

Training for the combine is no small undertaking, and it requires a great deal of time and effort from the athletes. In fact, some college football players elect to carry a lighter class load during this period so they have more time for training.

Since these pre-combine training programs are extremely athlete-specific, we cannot provide an example that will apply to each and every every athlete. However, we can provide an example of a general program that is designed to keep a college football player in top condition for the combine after completing the regular season. Table One (at the end of this article) depicts a sample weekly plan that we use for training football players for the NFL Combine. Table Two (at the end of this article) shows a sample daily plan for those same players.

If you plan to train one of your athletes for the NFL Combine or for another professional sport, keep in mind that your pre-tryout training program has but one, focused goal: To enable your athlete to turn out a top performance in front of the pro scouts.



TABLE ONE: Weekly Plan

MONDAY
9:00 a.m.
Physical therapy
Sprint workout

12:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Upper-body lifting

4:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Sports vision therapy
Individual drills
Video session

TUESDAY
9:00 a.m.
Physical therapy
A-linear running drills
Position-specific practice

12:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Lower-body lifting

4:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Massage or flexibility therapy
Video session

WEDNESDAY
10:00 a.m.
Proprioception circuit
Core circuit
Recovery workout
Physical therapy

2:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Video session

THURSDAY
9:00 a.m.
Physical therapy
Sprint workout
Plyometrics

12:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Upper-body lifting

4:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Sports-vision therapy
Individual drills
Video session

FRIDAY
9:00 a.m.
Physical therapy
A-linear running drills
Position-specific practice

12:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Lower-body lifting

4:00 p.m.
Physical therapy
Massage or flexibility therapy
Video session

SATURDAY
10:00 a.m.
Physical therapy
Individual skill work (if needed)
Massage or flexibility therapy



TABLE TWO: Sample Daily Workout

MONDAY
Workout begins at 9:00 a.m.

Pre-workout supplements
Physical therapy needs are addressed

Lower-body neurological warm-up. Side-strike box, 1x10 seconds each of front, back, lateral, front crossover, and rear crossover

Upper-body neurological warm-up. Speed bag program

Mobility program. 1x15 each of leg cradles, backward hamstring, knee-to-chest, inchworm, lateral crossover, kicks, quad walk, RDL walk, kick skips, and overextended lunge with twist

Flexibility program. 10 minutes

Sprint mechanics drills. 2x20 yards each: a-skip, high knees, butt kicks, individual leg b-skips, individual leg knee punch, b-skips, cross-country ski, alternate a-skip and b-skip

Sprint-start drills and sprint starts. 2x15 yards each: fall and run sprints, arm motion to sprint, high-knee run in place to sprint, mountain climber to sprint, individual leg takeoff from stance, build-up sprints

Forty-yard dash/speed training. 8 to 12 reps, either on build-up sprints, on-offs, resisted run, assisted run (depending on individual)

Shuttle run. Segmented reps, depending on weaknesses

Plyometrics. 40 x 190 ground contacts, depending on individual

Lactate flush (cool down) 5-8 minutes

Pool recuperation program. 10-12 minutes

Post-workout supplements

Physical therapy as needed


At 12:00 p.m.

Pre-workout supplements
Physical therapy as needed

Upper-body mobility warm-up. Five-to-seven minutes

Dynamic stretching. Upper-body emphasis

Strength training. Upper body.
a. Bench press. 5x50 percent, 5x60 percent, 5x70 percent, 5x82.5 percent,
2x185 pounds, max reps
b. Dumbbell military press. 10x50 percent, 8x50 percent, 6x50 percent, 6x50 percent
c. Weighted dips. 10 reps, 8 reps, 6 reps, 6 reps
d. Circuit.
1. Straight-bar front raise. 4x8
2. Dumbbell French press. 4x8
3. Flies. 4x8
4. Lying tricep extension. 4x8

Core. Martial-art core circuit. 20x1-minute stations

Pool. Aqua-jogger float. 8 minutes

Post-workout supplements

Physical therapy as needed


At 4:00 p.m.

Pre-workout supplements

Physical therapy as needed

Treadmill agility warm-up. 3 x 2 minutes

Mobility warm-up.
a. Rope. Bob-and-weave series. 4x15 yards
b. "Opening hips"over rope series. 4x15 yards

Static and dynamic flexibility. 10 minutes
"Pre-hab"exercises for rotator cuff. 3x10 each, external rotations, elevations, scapular refractions, horizontal adductors

Reaction drills. 10 minutes specific to position

Sports vision therapy (skill players only). 30 minutes

Video education session. Review all combine drills, position-specific drills, player game films (review must be done by qualified football personnel)

Lactate flush. 5-7 minutes

Post-workout supplements

Physical therapy, sports massage therapy, or flexibility therapy as needed




Combine Calendar
Every February, the NFL holds its annual scouting "Combine" in Indianapolis, Ind. The Combine is an invitation-only event that brings in the top 250 to 300 prospects for the upcoming NFL draft.

These players are flown to Indianapolis and grouped by their respective positions. Then, the testing begins with complete physicals--including blood work, X-rays, and drug testing--administered by physicians representing each of the 32 NFL teams.

After the medical examinations, these potential NFL athletes are tested for speed (40-yard dash with splits at 20 yards and 40 yards), agility (pro-agility, three-cone, plus 20-yard and 60-yard shuttle runs), vertical power (vertical jump test), horizontal power (standing long jump), flexibility (sit-stretch test), upper-body strength (225-pound bench press for maximum reps), and intelligence (Wonderlic test). In addition, all players are given flexibility tests (stand-and-reach, shoulder elevation) and isokinetic knee evaluations. Each player is also filmed stripped down to his shorts for a body-type evaluation, which includes measurements of arm length and hand circumference. Every evening, teams will conduct interviews with potential draftees.

Players are then taken through a battery of position-specific workouts on the field. These workouts are filmed and later scrutinized by the participating team representatives. Results by position are logged on the computer and comparisons are drawn.

Before the draft begins, teams will fly in prospective draftees for interviews, and perhaps re-check physicals. In some cases, a top prospect may hold a late workout for the observing teams. In other situations, a player who has been injured and unable to previously be tested will be given the opportunity to workout before representatives of an interested team.