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Behind the curtains at the combine


A fast time in the 40-yard dash can greatly increase the draft stock of a player.

INDIANAPOLIS – Past the media center, which is packed with reporters from likes of ESPN's John Clayton to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, hangs a series of ominous blue curtains, blocking the all non-league personnel from the inner workings of the NFL Scouting Combine.

Behind the curtains is where it all happens: the drills, tests, medical exams and team interviews.

In a silent hallway leading to the field, college prospects are ushered from room to room as orthopedists and other doctors perform extensive medical evaluations.

"The medical information, the background information, obviously that's important to us," Colts head coach Tony Dungy said. "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."

After their medical testing is completed, players go through physical tests which include the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone drill, 20-yard drill and 60-yard shuttle.

The 40 is one of the most popular drills at the combine as tenths of a second can greatly increase a player's draft stock, especially for running backs. Chris Johnson, a ball carrier from East Carolina, hopes to attain first-round status by running a 4.24. By comparison, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the University of Southern California's pro day in 2006.

In the bench press, players press 225 pounds as many times as possible.

On Saturday, the offensive linemen tested their strength with Jake Long of Michigan leading the group with 37 repetitions. He was followed by Jeremy Zuttah of Rutgers, who recorded 35.

{QUOTE}Perhaps the most important components in the evaluation process are the team interviews.

Most coaches have watched years worth of college film and know the players' behavior on the field. During the interview, they get a sense of how the person is in the locker room.

"I think the interview process may be as important as anything we do," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "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 way with me."

The team's general manager agreed, adding that he can learn a lot about a prospect in 15 minutes.

"If there are issues with a particular player who you have questions about, you have done enough research already that you can get to that pretty quickly in the 15 minutes," Rick Smith said. "By and large, that 15 minutes is getting a general feeling about a guy. I can look at a guy and talk to a guy and see if we feel good about a guy as a person. I think you can do that in 15 minutes.

"One thing I like to ask guys is - this thing is hard. There is a lot of pressure in this league. One of the things you are constantly trying to assess is how is a guy going to respond. So a lot of times I will ask guys, 'What is one of the most difficult things you experienced in your life and how did you fight through it? How did you do? How did you approach it?' Just to get a guy's mindset about how he is going to react when things get tough."

Evaluating football talent is a thorough, highly scrutinized process that could only take place behind curtains.

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