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Combine-related questions (and answers)

2/18/2008 - NFL

NFL teams descend upon Indianapolis this week for the seven-day meat market known as the scouting combine.

The league expects more than 330 prospects to attend the activities beginning Tuesday, and there is no time to spare.

By the time the players leave, many will have submitted to:

• drug testing
• physical examinations
• body measurements
• psychological testing
• Wonderlic intelligence testing
• Cybex strength testing
• informal and formal interviews, some videotaped
• a meeting sponsored by the NFL Players Association
• media interviews
• bench press tests
• 10-, 20- and 40-yard dashes
• vertical-jump tests
• broad-jump tests
• agility drills, including the 20- and 60-yard shuttles measuring lateral quickness, and the three-cone drill emphasizing speed and body control

Although 40-yard dashes and bench press sessions draw much of the public scrutiny, NFL teams value the combine on numerous other levels.

ESPN.com asks and answers 10 combine-related questions heading into the week:

1. What do NFL teams value most about the combine?

The medical evaluations. We will hear plenty about 40-yard dash times and Wonderlic scores this week, but the medical evaluations provide teams with answers they can't get anywhere else.

The combine allows NFL team doctors to run players through in-depth physical examinations, including X-rays and MRIs. The exams allow teams to better gauge the severity of injuries and whether those injuries might affect a player's long-term abilities.

2. Which players' medical situations bear scrutiny?

Texas receiver Limas Sweed battled a wrist injury during the season. He played with a wrap on the wrist during Senior Bowl practices, then left before the game. Teams need to know about the wrist before they decide whether he is worthy of a first-round draft choice.

Miami linebacker Tavares Gooden also enters the combine with medical concerns. He weighed in at the Senior Bowl but missed the game amid concerns about a hip injury.

Teams also want to evaluate Auburn pass-rusher Quentin Groves, who suffered three dislocated toes during the season. Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu is expected to attend the combine, despite suffering a serious knee injury this offseason.

3. Who can watch workouts?

NFL personnel and NFL Network cameras are allowed inside the RCA Dome for workouts. For the second consecutive year, the league will allow selected members of the Professional Football Writers of America to observe quarterback workouts, albeit from afar.

4. How do teams answer character-related questions?

Players submit to extensive interviews with team personnel in various settings. They meet informally with coaches, and they submit to formal video interviews that become available to all teams. In addition, teams meet with players during four-hour blocks late at night.

Each team can conduct formal interviews with no more than 60 players. Rules limit interviews to 15 minutes. Some teams collaborate on interviews, giving them access to additional players beyond the 60-player limit.

5. Which players can help themselves on the character front?

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden might be a top-five pick anyway, but teams have questions about his judgment. McFadden was part of a group that scuffled with a bouncer last month. Two years ago, he suffered a dislocated toe during a fight outside a bar.

TCU defensive end Tommy Blake dominated for much of his college career, but he left the team for "personal reasons" in August (he returned for the final eight games of the 2007 season) that beg for elaboration. He also gained weight while away from the team, diminishing his play. He improved late in the season and helped himself in the East-West Shrine game, but teams want to know what happened.

Teams also will seek assurances from Indiana receiver James Hardy that his off-field issues are behind him. Oklahoma State's Adarius Bowman is another receiver with some explaining to do. Bowman began his career at North Carolina, but the Tar Heels kicked him off the team after police busted him for marijuana possession.

6. How can teams evaluate so many players?

The NFL invited 335 players this year. All but two -- Georgia's Mikey Henderson and LSU's Kirston Pittman -- accepted the invitations, according to the league.
The sheer number of players creates logistical challenges. Combine organizers divide players into 11 groups. The groups arrive at different times throughout the week.

Kickers, punters and other specialists join one-third of the offensive linemen to comprise the first group. The remaining offensive linemen form the second group. Tight ends comprise the third. Players in the first three groups arrive Tuesday and Wednesday. They leave the combine as the final few groups arrive Saturday.

A mix of quarterbacks and receivers comprise the fourth and fifth groups. Organizers pair quarterbacks with receivers to facilitate passing drills. Running backs form the sixth group.
Defensive linemen form the seventh and eighth groups, with linebackers in the ninth and defensive backs spread across the 10th and 11th.

7. Which players could help themselves most with fast 40 times?

Groves, the pass-rusher from Auburn, has drawn comparisons to Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware. He ran the 40 in 4.45 seconds before suffering dislocated toes. If he runs in the same range at the combine, Groves could cement his status as a first-round choice.

Indiana cornerback Tracy Porter is a burner with 4.3-second speed. This draft lacks a consensus No. 1 corner, so a fast time could help Porter move up the list.

Scouts also have timed Virginia Tech receiver Eddie Royal in the 4.3-second range. A fast time at the combine could help Royal build on a strong Senior Bowl after an inconsistent college career.

East Carolina running back Chris Johnson also has the potential to run in the 4.3s or better.

Sweed, the receiver from Texas, could run in the 4.4s, much faster than his estimated 40 times. He looks the part at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds.

8. What physical measurements matter beyond height and weight?

Teams record hand size, arm length and body composition.

9. How many reporters cover the combine?

The NFL expects to authorize credentials for 400 to 500 reporters for an event that drew fewer than 50 a decade ago. League personnel maintain a large media room in the convention center, which connects to the RCA Dome. The NFL makes prospects, NFL head coaches and front-office executives available for interviews in the media room.

10. What is the atmosphere in the convention center during combine week?

The place is bustling with more than NFL personnel and prospective players. The convention center also hosts a massive cheerleading competition during combine week. High-ranking NFL prospects and future millionaire players sometimes have a hard time navigating corridors filled with preteen girls, their families and media.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.