Five Days In IndianapolisFebruary 26th, 2014
This was Joe’s second year going to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Man, Joe is just simply exhausted after five straight days there. He just got back his wind Tuesday night.
With the possible exception of Bucs training camp, it is the most work Joe does each year in such a short span of time. But it’s fun work because you are gathering so much information.
Sorry, there was no partying for Joe. The only places he had any beers was at the Peter King Tweetup and in Joe’s hotel lounge, a nice restaurant called “Ram” with really good craft beer. The place also sells beers to go in half-gallon bottles (think of Granny’s jug of moonshine in “The Beverly Hillbillies”).
Yeah, Joe could have gone out partying but each day he had to be at Lucas Oil Stadium at 8:30 a.m. or otherwise he would miss something or someone. Joe can party just about any day of the year, but he went to Indianapolis with one goal: Bucs content.
Joe heard from an old-timer that remembered when the NFL Combine was closed to media back in the mid-1990s. Guys had to sit outside the Hoosier Dome in the freezing cold hoping a general manager or coach would come outside so they could cobble together a story or two.
Now, what a difference! It’s like the NFL’s winter festival. Roughly 1,000 media members were credentialed. Just in one year Joe saw the place grow. Last year there were two radio stations on “Radio Row” in the concourse outside a club-level lounge where the media workroom is. This year, Joe counted five cities represented, most were Midwestern NFL cities with a radio presence: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Nashville and, of course, Indianapolis. Naturally, SiriusXM NFL Radio was there, as were three or four team-only radio shows like Browns Football Daily, daily internet radio shows that are produced by teams with the audio (and video) streamed from team websites.
Thankfully this year, someone decided to pay the heating bills at Lucas Oil Stadium. Granted, last year outside temperatures were in the teens. This year started out really warm, though it turned much colder later; at least there was heat. Last year, if you didn’t wear a coat inside, you froze.
The combine is sort of chaotic, but in a good way. First, fans at home watching on NFL Network see much more of the combine than reporters, who are not allowed to watch the combine live except in very small groups of about 12 or 20, which periodically get to watch the proceedings from a secluded suite. There is so much happening in the media workroom, it is sort of like a cocoon. You have no idea what is going on in the outside world until you get back to your hotel room.
During the first two days, virtually all general managers and coaches have a 12-to-15 minute media session. But while these media sessions are going on, you hear a public address announcer bark out, for example, “Alabama defensive back Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix at Podium-B,” or “Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson at Table-2.”
This announcing of players goes on all day long, no rhyme or reason to when they arrive. Team coaches and officials are on a pretty set schedule but not the players. They come at random although with some of the most sought players, like Johnny Football, Gil Brandt will try to give a 15- or 20-minute heads-up. on Twitter That’s rare.
Joe so wanted to ask Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray a few questions and on Friday, let’s just say nature was calling Joe. Fearful of what may happen if Joe ran to the little boy’s room, Joe suffered and suffered and suffered before, well, unless he wanted to have a very public accident, he had to take care of things.
Sure enough, just when Joe sat down, he heard the public address announcer, “Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is at Podium-B… “ Sonofa… !
NFL coaches and general managers and scouts walk by freely as do NFL media types. Once, when Joe was chatting with Bucs coach Lovie Smith briefly Thursday, Lovie told Joe “We’re going to give you something to write about this year.” He meant wins.
The combine kicked off big time when Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was the first to speak. And he was one p!ssed off coach. He spoke about the Wells Report, which detailed the ugliness in the Dolphins’ locker room. Philbin spoke for two minutes before fielding a question.
Here are random observations from some of the players Joe spoke with or got to muscle in a question to among hundreds of writers:
Johnny Football: Dude is very polished. Joe did not once hear him mutter a cliché. Very humble. Very forthright, even talking about how he spoke with a counselor at Texas A&M because folks at the university thought his partying was about to take him over. He insisted his beer-chugging ways weren’t much different than most college students’, but he learned he wasn’t just a college student. Johnny kept saying that his college party days are over and now he has to be a professional. Joe was impressed.
A.J. McCarron: Joe was very much unimpressed by this cat. The dude was flat bitter and Joe has no idea why. And not just a little bit arrogant, either. He tried to convince people he was persecuted because he played on a winning team in college. What the hell? This dude even tried to spar with reporters. If he didn’t sneer at reporters, he would mumble a response like, “I don’t know what kind of question that is?” Dude! Freaking chill out. You are about to be a millionaire. What, that Miss Alabama girlfriend of yours isn’t servicing you? Honestly, of the dozens of players Joe has crossed paths with at the past two combines, only one remotely acted as if he would rather have ingrown toenail surgery without Novocain than be in Indianapolis, and that was McCarron. He acted like he wanted to fight the world. Seemed pretty clear he’s not used to being away from Nick Saban’s blanket. This character better pray he’s not drafted by the Eagles or the Jets. Reporters there will chew him up and spit him out for lunch. Joe remembers a contact with deep knowledge of the draft telling Joe back in October that McCarron had personality issues (Joe is generalizing) that could really affect his draft stock. Man, that guy sure had McCarron pegged.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Very polished. Seemed pretty smart. Was just the opposite of McCarron. Looked everyone in the eye, shook just about everyone’s hand, wore a perpetual smile on his face. Was really enjoying the moment. Joe has a hunch he will be popular with the ladies if he lands in Tampa Bay.
Teddy Bridgewater: Came off as a really cool dude. Confident, but not cocky. Another really smart guy. Handled questions about his small frame as if he was throwing to open receivers in the flat. Another guy who impressed.
Mike Evans: Liked his mentality where he said he loves to play against press-man coverage because he thrives on the competition. Talked about how a good receiver has to be aggressive to the ball and must outfight a defender. Said he is honored that some compare him to Vincent Jackson. Welcomed challenges from top corners. The guy has passion for the game seeping out of his veins.
Derek Carr: Had the best story of all the players when he talked about his son nearly dying and that no amount of pressure from football will rattle him after the intense pressure of watching his infant son suffer. Carr also said that while he isn’t the quickest quarterback or the quarterback with the strongest arm, he can make up his deficiencies by working on the practice field and in the film room. Fantastic attitude.
Khalil Mack: Sounded a lot like Mike Evans, though with a very adult, calm demeanor. Said he can’t wait to show teams he can rush a passer with his hand in the dirt.
When covering the combine, you are often on your feet chasing — chasing for a position to interview a player when his name is announced or chasing a coach or GM in the concourse outside or chasing an NFL contact. After 10 hours of this, it catches up to you quickly. Friday Joe went to the Peter King Tweetup and needed to down a pair of two-espresso-shot coffees to feel somewhat awake.
After the Tweetup (Joe was reminded he was back in the Midwest as the fare there was pork tenderloin sliders – they were delicious!), Joe returned to his hotel, tried to have a beer at the lounge and struck up a conversation with some character who claimed he was an agent, yet he didn’t know who the Bucs’ general manager was and he had no business cards. Yeah, right.
This guy bought Joe two beers. At that point, Joe was so physically spent, it took Joe 10 minutes to motivate himself to get out of the comfy leather chair just so he could go up to his hotel room and drop.
Indianapolis is really an underrated city. Lots of things to do downtown if you are attending a sporting event. The people are extremely nice and polite. Hoosier Hospitality.
Though Joe was drained from covering the combine, it was fun work. Joe’s looking forward to next year already.