Prime-time workouts bring change to NFL Combine
INDIANAPOLIS — Half a year’s worth of the hardest work Jeff Foster’s ever had to do finally goes into production when the NFL scouting combine kicks off Sunday.
For more than a decade — since Lucas Oil Stadium opened and prompted the last sweeping set of changes — the NFL Combine has operated like the intricate mechanics of a clock, with thousands of players and coaches and scouts and agents and media moving around downtown Indianapolis in tightly controlled order.
That order was forever altered by the NFL’s decision to move the on-field drills from business hours into television’s prime time this year — 4 to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, then 2 to 7 p.m. on Sunday. Foster, the rest of the National Invitational Camp staff and a Combine Working Group of five general managers, including the Colts’ Chris Ballard, have spent the past six months rebuilding the Combine clock.
Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.
This week, the work they’ve done rolls out to the public.
“I will tell you that strategically, I never would have implemented this much change in any one year, simply because of the potential domino effect it can have on the logistics involved in the event,” Foster said. “With regard to that, it’s been an incredible challenge.”
Foster likens the process of altering the Combine to a technology rollout. Build the product, test it, tinker with it, repeat that process over and over again until the deadline hits, then let users work out the bugs that couldn’t be seen before the rollout.
The deadline has arrived. Essential feedback will start coming in during the week, as players and teams go through a Combine that looks vastly different than it has before.
“We’re asking everybody to be very flexible and very patient as we work through these changes,” Foster said. “I’m sure coming out of this Combine, we’ll have some good plans for making adjustments as we move forward.”
The NFL’s reasons for moving on-field workouts into prime time are simple and self-evident.
“Interest in the Combine has continued to grow,” Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of events, said in a statement provided to IndyStar. “By shifting the on-field drills to primetime, it’s easier for fans to watch on NFL Network and across the various NFL digital platforms, as well as to attend for free at Lucas Oil Stadium.”
And it could increase the city’s economic windfall from the event. Indianapolis expects an economic impact of $8 million to $9 million from this year’s event, according to Chris Gahl, Visit Indy’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, as the number of attendees continues to rise.
“Moving key components of the NFL scouting combine onto national primetime TV is incredibly desirable,” Gahl said. “It’s a unique opportunity to put a major NFL event on national TV with high viewership, the commercials coming in and out, showcasing the city skyline, what’s happening outside of the stadium will inevitably make national TV. That’s very desirable when you’re in the business of marketing a city.”
But the shift to prime time for TV drills had far-reaching impact on the Combine schedule.
For the first time, all 337 prospects will be in Indianapolis at the same time, a product of the schedule changes. Prospects, who used to fly out of Indianapolis the night after they finished their on-field workouts, will now spend an extra full day and two extra nights in the city.
Formal team interviews — every NFL team used to conduct the 15-minute interviews in hotel suites with 60 players, always at night after on-field workouts had ended — will now take place at night for three days, during the day and night for one day and only during the daylight hours in the final three days. The number of interviews for each team has been reduced, from 60 to 45, the amount of time for interviews has increased from 15 minutes to 18, and instead of taking place in hotel suites, the teams will conduct interviews inside Lucas Oil Stadium, squeezed in around watching prospects weigh in and work out on the field.
“We needed to make sure that across the board, all 337 players are not doing something at one time that conflicts with what an NFL team needs to observe or participate in,” Foster said.
A few of the changes were dictated by football, instead of logistics.
Fans of the Combine might notice a difference in the on-field drills this year. Foster, in conjunction with the Combine Working Group, has altered them in an effort to give teams better information. For example, offensive linemen will be doing a “screen drill” to mimic movement on screen passes and there’s a “smoke route” for quarterbacks to simulate getting the ball out quicker against a blitz.
“We made adjustments to every position,” Foster said. “Removing some drills, adding some drills, tweaking some existing drills in an effort to make the drills more reflective of today’s game.”
Future in Indy?
For the first time in as long as anybody can remember, Colts owner Jim Irsay opened the Combine this week by holding a press conference on Sunday afternoon, in large part to defend his city’s ability to host the annual event and lend his powerful voice publicly — he’s long been the city’s backer in NFL offices — to the effort to keep the Combine in its traditional home.
A cloud of public speculation has hung over the Combine’s future location for half a decade now, plenty of rumors swirling that the NFL will move the event out of Indianapolis, itshome since 1987, and into the state-of-the-art stadium Stan Kroenke is building in Los Angeles.
Foster, whose organization is based in Indianapolis, has been hearing talk of a move far longer.
“I will tell you, the interest is less than what it was two years ago,” Foster said. “I’ve been here 15 years, and the league has talked about moving it since probably my second or third year. We’ve done research and evaluated other sites, and again, the research tells us that it’s really important from an operational standpoint to have this event in Indianapolis.”
What separates Indianapolis is the city’s downtown, a compact, interconnected web that is perfectly built for the Combine’s needs, Foster said. The proximity of IU Health, Lucas Oil Stadium, the convention center and the hotels make any part of the Combine walkable in 10 minutes, 15 at the most, essential to making Foster’s clock keep ticking.
Foster and the NFL also have long-standing partnerships in Indianapolis with places like IU Health that are not available in other cities, certainly not within walking distance, and those partnerships are essential to making the clock run smoothly.
“The main thing is, we do it better than anyone else,” Irsay said. “No one can do it as good as us. In the end, isn’t that what it’s about?”
A change to prime time forced a complete overhaul; a move to another location could change the event entirely. For that reason, this year’s tectonic shift to prime time has reduced the amount of interest in a move, Foster said.
“Based on my conversations with the NFL, I don’t anticipate the event leaving any time in the very near future,” Foster said.
Irsay is even more confident in the city’s ability to continue hosting the Combine.
No matter how much talk there has been about moving the event to another city, Irsay chalks most of it up to speculation, and he believes the Combine isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
“We look forward to locking it up long-term,” Irsay said in his opening comments on Sunday, then doubled down later. “I see us locking it up long-term.”
For the moment, the focus is on the shift to prime time, and how that affects an event that began as a pure draft evaluation — created primarily so teams could get comprehensive medical information on prospects — and has slowly developed into a major offseason hub of activity and a marketing opportunity for the NFL.
“We are excited to be back in Indianapolis this year, and our current focus is on a successful 2020 Combine for prospects, clubs, media and our fans,” O’Reilly said in a statement. “While we are constantly evaluating how we elevate and improve all of our major NFL moments and events, we know we will return to Indy in 2021 and then have annual options through 2025.”
Foster, Gahl and a Colts organization led by Jim Irsay and Ballard will continue to fight to keep the Combine in its traditional home in Indianapolis.
No matter how much the event might change.
This article originally appeared on IndyStar: Prime-time workouts bring change to NFL Combine, push aside talk of event leaving Indy
Source : Link