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Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Updated: February 19, 1:26 PM ET
Headed to the Combine: Aaron Curry and ESPNTheMag.Com (Uh, Separately)


Dude can hit. But how fast can he cover 120 feet?

Obviously, ESPN.Com will be all over the NFL Combine this week / weekend. ESPNTheMag.Com is working with ESPN Insider to give you some quality action as well. Check back. Here now: a piece on Aaron Curry's Combine prep.

There's gonna be a test.

On a Monday morning in Tempe, Arizona, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry stretches on the carped floor. It's a study session of sorts: he's cramming for the mental and physical inquisition known as the NFL Combine.

Curry has come to the Athletes Performance Institute, a sprawling weight room/running track/football field/swimming pool/café/spa in the shadow of Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium. The NFL Combine is just as important as actual game day performance. It serves as the final major analysis, so guys like Curry—even though they're proven playmakers—have to take it seriously.

The Institute is run by a lithe, crew-cutted man named Mark Verstegen. After years of implementing fitness programs for IMG, Verstegen hooked up with adidas to build the Institute. "Just a few years ago, this industry didn't exist," says Verstegen. "We tell kids they have to be great, but how will they do that without a plan?"

Since 2001, prospective draft picks have been coming here and spending eight hours a day, six days a week in single-minded pursuit. They'll lift weights, stretch, and work with position coaches, like former Rams quarterback coach Terry Shea, on what to expect at the Combine. Nutritionists ensure that each meal is tailored for each players' caloric specifications. Each players' agent foots the bill.

Curry has been here since December. At 6-3, 247 pounds, Curry is known for his coverage skills and running ability. In '07, he returned three of his four picks for touchdowns. In the wake of Steelers' James Harrison interception and 100-yard jaunt in the Super Bowl, backers with superior coverage skills will certainly be a prized commodity. The latest recipient of the Butkus award (given to the nation's best linebacker), Curry will likely be the first linebacker selected in April's draft. But he isn't leaving anything to chance.

"I hear guys say they've studied enough film, or that they're satisfied with a certain part of their game," says Curry. "I get up every morning thinking of ways to improve my game."

If Curry's game lacked anything, it's his ability to rush the passer. Blitzing the linebacker wasn't a huge part of the Demon Deacons scheme, so the Combine is his chance to prove he has the speed to come off the edge. Part of his eight-hour day is spent working on sprinting techniques. The key to a successful 40-yard dash is the start - essentially the first 10 yards. On the four-lane running track outside the weight room, Curry finds the stance that's comfortable for his 6-3 frame. Then he fires out, trying to stay as low as he can.

On the final day of the Combine, Curry will line up for the actual run. Should he run a 4.6 or better, Curry would likely solidify a top five position in April. But should he falter, and post some pedestrian number, all those picks and the spectacular runs that followed, may not seem so spectacular.

Gotta ace the test.