As reliable as the changing seasons of a year, for roughly the last quarter-century the start of each calendar year has revolved around Football training and scouting combines. Whether it was developing young players, training them for the testing day, or consulting with professional teams in evaluating performances in order to unearth high yielding lower draft picks, scouting combines play an important role in developing and evaluating tomorrow's superstars.
The advent of the internet and super connectivity has changed the scouting combine from a once closed-door proceeding for insiders to a showcase event, broadcast through specialized networks and online portals. Though the secret closed-door coaching society has sprung wide open, the drills and, more importantly, the interpretation of the test scores remain.
For the young athlete, it is awe inspiring to watch these future heroes perform in a linear fashion, revealing the enormous physical gifts of those at the highest level. Unfortunately, within the training sector, since the mid 1990's there has been a steady rise of those who "prepare" athletes for the test, i.e. "train to test", as opposed to targeting sports performance. This has led to an odd series of questions posed by player personnel managers as to whether a player is merely a "workout warrior" or a diamond in the rough, ready to excel on the gridiron.
Despite the enormous attention it receives in the media, combine numbers are roughly twenty to twenty-five percent of an athlete's final grade. A conscientious athlete or coach should look deeper into the tests and understand how they were first designed to evaluate a player's potential. From the earliest formations of the scouting systems in professional football (i.e. LESTO / BLESTO) to Gil Brandt's revolutionary approach, the sport has consistently searched for ways to evaluate players with an eye towards the future. Unfortunately, this has led to an all too common occurrence-players test well, looking athletic, but have "nothing" when the ball is snapped. Or as it is sometimes expressed, a player "looks like Tarzan, play like Jane".
In this football-training series, we will review scouting combines, what coaches are looking for and methods to improve performance on the field as well as on testing day. In a final chapter, I will reveal for the first time publicly some of the approaches I use in analyzing the draft stock of players, which has resulted in teams picking up future All-Pro's in the later rounds, if not from the pool of the undrafted.
On the surface, the six major non-skill specific drills are the following:
. 40-yard dash, with 10 and 20 yard splits
. Vertical jump
. Broad jump
. 20 yard, "Pro" shuttle
. 3 cone drill
. Bench press
It should be noted that each of the drills are highly generalized and more of a legacy in the combine field. Within private closed-door workouts, my teams will utilize tests that are both easier to implement but provide far greater keys to on field performance.
Prior to reviewing these tests, let me cut to the chase for every Football coach reading this, borrowing from my book "Mastery on the Gridiron":
I have traveled across the country, in rental cars putting too much mileage on them with bloodshot caffeine laced eyes, been jettisoned in first class flights and taken to the finest restaurants and equally made my way to the far reaches of the rural countryside to work with Football players. And yet, through these years as I look back I have yet to see sprint lanes painted on the field or a Bench Press dragged out.
As it relates to physical traits, I will give you one clue that every young player should burn into memory. I have never seen a player cut because of too much bend. That might not resonate right now, but trust me, in time it will.
. 40-yard dash, with 10 and 20 yard splits
Representative of the linear speed ability, this test is quite obviously an indicator of top-end speed. More important than just the straight 40, timing splits at the 10 and 20 provide further clues as to how a player comes out of their stance and turnover at a "flying start" (after splits are removed). Though the "40" gets most of the media attention, throw in a 1.5 for the 10 with 3.8 on the Pro Shuttle and we have got something special.
Experienced scouting personnel will also look at stride length, how the foot contacts and further ask questions if the player is schooled in track work with start mechanics, shoulder carriage and arm swing. Each of these points are extremely important to understand and provide key clues on whether a player can produce or is merely a workout wonder.
Like the Broad Jump, the vertical is often mistaken by casual viewers as a basic jump test but in-fact judges strength. Though there certainly are naturally good jumpers, considering overall body composition and needs of the sport, this drill will test lower body strength and explosive power of the hips, glutes and hamstrings. Coincidently, most athletes out of collegiate Football are under-developed in the lower body and need to play catch-up in this area. However, for the athlete who has spent the last five plus years in the weight room developing a powerhouse posterior chain this can be a telltale sign of upside potential.
Within the Vertical Jump drill, technique is strictly enforced at the upper level as "jab" steps (putting one foot back before leaping) is not allowed and short-arming the first reach measurement is watched. The athlete simply must sink and while vigorously swinging their arms, leap up to flick the top rung.
I have had a number of my players lay down some extraordinary vertical results upwards of 45" and generally look at 39-41" as the base for skill position players, in combination with 1.5, 10.
. Broad jump
Again, a straight test for explosive power as a player comes out of a wide base position. As with the Vertical Jump, there is no "skill" in learning this drill and it merely measures a player's lower leg drive, explosive power, body composition and commitment to long term training. This is, quite obviously, an older drill that has been done for many years but consistently proves out good athletic ability. Nothing lights up the training room like watching an athlete, particularly a "big-skill" player soar past 11', with most athletes in 10' range. For interior Lineman, body composition is important because excess weight is a problem to be balanced out with leg drive and we're still looking for a minimum of 8'.
. 20 yard, "Pro" shuttle
Once we are into the 20 yard shuttle, a lot of playing ability is revealed as this will tell a great deal of an athletes "bend", explosiveness and body awareness in changing direction. This will also tell us key factors of a DB's reaction to movement on how he cuts, with many teams now analyzing how a player cuts (for young athletes, immediately review
). For interior Lineman the inability to bend, "z's between the knee's" will give us clues if the player is a "dancing bear" (stands upright) or can explode low and generate power from the hips, glutes and hamstrings.
The "Pro Shuttle" is performed with the player bisecting the line, in a 3-point stance, turning to touch the line five yards away with the right hand, immediately firing out to the touch the opposite ten yards away with the left hand, before turning back to run through the start line.
Despite the strong use of this drill, there are some serious problems to it because I can teach athletes, within minutes how to shave off at minimum a tenth, with obviously no improvement on physical traits. Of the six major drills, along with the 40, a good test can be manufactured quite easily and for my teams it is only a cursory test.
Of the numerous points to consider is how a player comes into the first cut, i.e. are they coming in "hot" and low as in a chute, cutting with the lead foot (right) square and not off the heel and then immediately changing direction. All players test results should be roughly .5 seconds quicker than in the 40-yard sprint or it indicates issues with explosive power, hip flexibility or possibly even a "manufactured" time. In future parts of this series we will go throughout to test better and to show coaches what to look for in order to avoid the "workout warrior".
"L drill" or 3 cone drill
The L drill, though a good time can be doctored, is generally a more revealing test. In this drill the athlete starts in a three point start, sprints up to a five yard mark, touch with the right hand before sprinting back to the start line where they touch the line again. Sprinting forward, the athlete navigates to the left of the top cone (five yards away), turning to the right, cutting underneath a cone set five yards to the right, around it and back around to the right of the second cone.
The key to this drill, which should be obvious by now; good bend, powerful hips, glutes and hamstrings or easier said, the foundation of an athlete.
My comments on the final drill will shock, if not annoy much of the online community but of the six major drills it is definitely of the lowest importance, though an athlete can mark themselves down in it. You will have many players talk of their Bench numbers but in-truth what top personnel directors and scouts are looking for is whether the players strength is "good enough". A successful score further demonstrates their dedication over the last five-plus years (remember, it's the University S&C coach, who works with these kids day in, day out, not some "trainer" who does a meet and greet photo op a month before the draft) and how they carry themselves in a test.
There are considerable other drills that need to be included in the next in our series but the crucial point is understanding the common denominator of an athlete's development starts with leg drive, explosive power and hip flexibility.
Within Renegade Training, my teams and athletes have excelled on the Gridiron for what is now our fourth decade of operation. We have done so by combining steely-eyed determination, a focus on the needs of the sport but more importantly teaching young athletes that greatness lays within via a testament of honor, commitment and loyalty. The next in our series we will spell out how you too can follow the mighty steps others have taken.