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Big changes come to NFL scouting combine this year

NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Big changes are coming to the NFL scouting combine this year.

There will be more eyeballs on the league’s annual gathering of top college talent but fewer assistant coaches watching those prospects run through drills that have been tailored by position and more accurately mimic what they’ll be doing in the NFL.

The Denver Broncos and Los
Angeles Rams, two teams that missed the playoffs last season, are
leaving their assistants behind this year, figuring their staffs can
watch the on-field drills on broadcasts and review taped interviews
without having to fly to Indianapolis.

The decisions save upwards of $50,000 per team, but at what cost?

coach Sean McVay has two new coordinators concocting schemes and
zeroing in on targets in free agency and the draft, so he’s expected to
pop into Indy for just one day before returning to LA to continue
chasing the NFC champion 49ers and resurgent Seahawks.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio
will stay in town longer, but he also is leaving much of his staff
behind in what could foster a new trend into the NFL — or prove a big
blunder depending on how this change plays out.

NFL Network draft
analyst Daniel Jeremiah, for one, isn’t a big fan of the Rams and
Broncos not bringing their full staffs and personnel departments.

one thing that’s interesting, I’ve read all these stories about people
leaving personnel at home and coaches not coming to the combine. And I
don’t know how I feel about that because I think when you get a chance
to be around the players, as many opportunities as you can get a chance
to be around them and be in the room with them when you interview them, I
think there’s value in that,” Jeremiah said.

“Now, if you want to
go back and watch the workouts at home or you want to go finish your
interviews, if you’re a corners coach or a receivers coach, I should
say, and you finish up all the receiver interviews, and you don’t want
to stay in the building to watch the workout, I understand that because
you can watch it all on tape. But I think it’s a lost opportunity if
you’re a coach and you don’t get a chance to be in the room to be around
these players. It’s just another point of contact that I think can
really help you.”

Jeremiah likes some of the other changes coming
to the combine, like the new drills for the players and moving those
drills later in the day to prime time.

Every year, the top 300 or
so football prospects converge on Indianapolis for medical evaluations,
measurements, interviews and position drills in front of all 32 teams —
or at least those who want to watch.

This year’s group is loaded
at wide receiver and not as deep at edge rusher, tight end and
linebacker as it’s been in the last few years. The quarterback class
again is strong, led by national champion Joe Burrow with big questions
looming over Tua Tagovailoa’s health.

The combine rivals the Super
Bowl for the largest gathering of general managers, coaches, pro
personnel departments, players and agents.

Oftentimes teams capitalize on this to lay the groundwork for free agency that comes a couple of weeks after the combine.

This year, downtown bars and restaurants should be quieter as many of the on-field drills move from morning and afternoon into prime time.

NFL Network will broadcast 26 hours of live on-field drills Thursday
through Sunday, beginning with quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight
ends from 4-11 p.m. ET Thursday. That will be followed by running backs,
O-linemen and special teams Friday and defensive linemen and
linebackers Saturday. The coverage concludes Sunday with five hours of
defensive backs drills.

“I’m excited about it,” Jeremiah said.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be good for television because
we’re going to get more eyeballs, and it will draw more attention to the
event. I know talking to buddies around the league, they’re just kind
of skeptical. They just want to see how it comes together. It’s all new
to them. So I think you’ll have a better feel for how they like it after
we get through the week.”

Sixteen new position-specific drills
are coming to the combine with 10 old ones being eliminated as the
league incorporates some of the skill sets that colleges players are
bringing to the NFL nowadays.

For example, end zone fade routes
have been added for quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends with the toe
tap drill eliminated, and running backs have to run routes and catch
quick passes.

“It’s been long overdue to have our evaluation tools
match where the game is,” Jeremiah said. “I’m encouraged by that. I
think it’s going to be a fun part of the combine. It’s going to be
refreshing to see some of these new drills.”

Things will start off
strong Tuesday when tight ends, quarterbacks and wide receivers meet
with the media in the morning, followed by general managers and coaches.

Looming over the combine is the league’s labor situation.

Tuesday, the players union will meet with league negotiators at the
scouting combine. The union’s executive committee voted last week to
recommend rejecting terms of the new collective bargaining agreement
that NFL owners approved. Objections to an expanded regular season are
the main stumbling block to player approval. The current labor accord
lasts through the 2020 season.