NFL’s new combine drills may help scouts, attract more fans

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — National Invitation Camp President Jeff Foster spent the past couple months debating how to improve the annual NFL scouting combine.

His team settled on adding more than a dozen new drills, intended to help coaches and scouts evaluate draft prospects in an ever evolving game, make things more competitive for players and more entertaining for fans.

Foster figures it’s a win for everyone.

“First, we want to make sure the drills are reflective of today’s game,” he said Monday as players started arriving in Indianapolis for a week full of poking and prodding, testing, workouts and interviews. “We’ve been using the same drills for many, many years, which is great to use as comparative analysis. But we also wanted to make sure we were updating the drills to reflect how the game has changed. The second piece was to add some elements to it that would be more attractive to the players and the fans.”

What’s new?

Quarterbacks will be throwing end zone fade routes to receivers and tight ends and all three player groups will participate in a “timed smoke drill,” which examines how players adjust to pre-snap reads.

Running backs will now be tested on angle routes and drilled on using their eyes to navigate physical obstacles.

Defensive linemen will go through the run-and-club drill, using their hands and spin moves against five stand-up tackling bags — one of the most popular position group drills in training camp.

In all, 16 new drills have been added, with a handful of old standbys eliminated.

And organizers hope it will have another impact by ending the trend of top prospects opting out of some or all drills in Indy in favor of working with college teammates in the familiar surroundings of their own schools.

“That’s our hope,” Foster said. “We think the workouts at night create a better experience for the players and one they’re more familiar with because it’s more like a typical game day. If you have a 4 o’çlock workout, that’s kind of like a 4 o’clock kickoff. We think the combination will increase participation.”

MOVING OUT?

The combine has been held in Indianapolis every year since 1987 and it will be back again in 2021.

But other cities have been angling to attract the league’s second-biggest offseason event, pointing to the success of the league moving the draft around the country.

Colts owner Jim Irsay isn’t going to let it go without a fight, though.

“If you talk to team executives, coaches, team doctors, and they’ll tell you nobody does it like we do it here. We want to keep that in place,” Irsay told local reporters Sunday. “I think particularly medically, we’re really able to get people MRIs or whatever they need, I think that’s a strength, and the centralization of downtown is a strength. It’s important to us, it’s a big economic impact and we don’t take that lightly, so we look forward to having it here for years to come.”

The contract with Indy runs through 2025. But, Foster confirmed, the NFL can opt out of the deal any of the final four years.

“Other owners would love to host this event,” Foster said. “We’ve talked about it before, so we understand that interest is there. It’s up to us to explain to leadership why we should have it in Indy.”

BIG STAGE

Almost all of the roughly 300 players coming through town this week have something to prove. And some from smaller schools want to show they can excel on the big stage.

Some of the less familiar names this year include tight end Adam Trautman, who hopes to become the first Dayton player drafted since 1977, and tight end Charlie Taumoepeau, who could become the highest draft choice out of Portland State since the Denver Broncos took TE Julius Thomas in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

Safety Kyle Dugger can become the first draft pick out of Lenoir-Rhyne, a Division II school in North Carolina, since 2000. And offensive lineman Ben Bartch is trying to be the first draft pick out of St. John’s, a Division III school in Minnesota, since the Vikings took Kurt Wachtler in the 15th round in 1974.

One other note: Rhode Island has never had more than two players drafted in a single year but will have three players in Indy: receivers Isaiah Coulter and Aaron Parker, and offensive lineman Kyle Murphy.

BY THE NUMBERS

National champion LSU easily has the largest contingent of players, 16, coming to Indy this week. And some of the nation’s bitterest rivalries will be on display here, too.

Ohio State and Michigan each sent 11 players. Alabama has 10, while Auburn, Notre Dame and Utah each have nine invitees.

Clemson, the national runner-up, had seven players make the cut, and Oklahoma, this year’s fourth playoff team, is sending four.

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