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Importance of the Combine lies behind closed doors

INDIANAPOLIS -- Away from the NFL Network cameras, the stop watches and the bright lights of the RCA Dome, the real evaluation process occurs at the NFL Scouting Combine. It happens in the interview rooms and at the medical offices. It unfolds in the hallways and at the written examination areas.

I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but the combine can be a very dangerous event if it is given a priority place in the evaluation of football talent. **Full story ...**

With years worth of college tapes to look at, Pro Day workouts to evaluate and all of the players' postseason All-Star game highlights to see, the impact of the artificial drills the players participate in at the combine is minimized.

Obviously, the physical drills still play a role in the evaluation process, but they are but a small piece of the overall review, often taking less weight than that of the interviews, medical reports and background checks.

As Colts coach Tony Dungy noted, "To be honest for me, the 40 and those times have never been that big of a deal. I like the other side of it. Especially getting to meet the players and the information you can gather. Just seeing how they go about their business. The medical information, the background information, obviously that's important to us as well. I think it's the total picture you get from the combine and whether this guy is a tenth of a second faster than that guy, that's never really been that huge to me."

Dungy's sentiment reflects that of several coaches and talent evaluators.

Vikings coach Brad Childress hit a home run with reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson in the first round of last year's draft. Peterson, known for his firm handshakes, made an immediate impression on his coach in the interview room.

"You know the movie (Jerry Maguire) where they say 'He had me at hello?' He had me at the handshake," joked Childress, who added, "In my mind the player's resume is his tape. ... Us being able to get one-on-one with the guys and assistant coaches being able to get one-on-one with the guys and spend some time away from this (the media hoarde) is important. You're just basically checking the kids veracity, what comes in his eyes."

Texans coach Gay Kubiak added, "I think the interview process may be as important as anything we do. We've seen the kids work out, not only this weekend, but at their individual workouts; we're watching them play, studying those guys. The time we spend seeing how they do with our people, our organization goes a long with me."

While the coaches stressed the interviews, the front office members focused heavily on the value of the medical evaluations.

Redskins executive vice president of football operations, Vinny Cerrato, downplayed the role of the drills and spoke definitively about where the bulk of his focus lies.

"I know the drills on the field, I mean you get a chance to see them athletically and stuff, but you don't play football in shorts and t-shirts. So, the medical evalutations are huge, I mean, because, we'll take people off our [draft] board for the medical and pscyhological evaluations, but we won't take anyone off our board for what they do out on the underwear crews," said Cerrato. "So the medical and stuff is very important."

Packers general manager Ted Thompson has shown a knack for drafting elite young talent. Last offseason he was criticized by some for not being more active in free agency given the Packers' salary cap room, but was vindicated after his draft-heavy roster finished 13-3 and landed in the NFC Championship Game.

Like Cerrato, he discounted looking too heavily into a players' raw workout numbers and stressed the importance of the medical evaluations.

"They're all very important. The medical thing probably even more than anything else because you can imagine the logistical problems if we had to bring these 350 people to Green Bay to do physicals; so that's hugely important for all 32 teams," explained Thompson.

So while everyone obssesses over 40 times, bench press reps and verticals, remember the real evaluation is going on behind closed doors.

Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards puts it best: "You can't weigh too much on a beauty pageant. Everyone likes a beauty pageant. The best thing people like about a beauty pageant is when they put on the bathing suits. It's the same thing out here. They run around and jump, they touch the ground, they flip, they do all the cartwheels. But at the end ... you have to get back to the tape. That sometimes gets lost in the shuffle."

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