The 2011 NFL Combine is entering its third day, but today is the day things really start to heat up. After two days of basic measurements and administrative matters, we finally get some of the famed workout drills all day today. The workouts consist of the 40-yard dash, positional skill drills, vertical leap, broad jump, and the three-cone and shuttle drills. Today's participants will be offensive linemen, tight ends, kickers and other special-teams players.
If you don't get NFL Network you can actually watch live footage of all these drills beginning right now at nfl.com. Coverage starts with the offensive linemen and special teamers running 40-yard dashes at 6am. Mike Mayock has put together a solid run down of the activities, and I thought I'd use it to focus in on today's performers.
The events open up with the 40-yard dash, which really has limited applicability for offensive linemen. While some first step burst can be important, top-end speed does not seem to be the most important asset for the big guys up front. Tight ends and many special-teamers on the other hand could use some quality speed. Although tight ends are usually bigger than wide receivers, they are becoming more and more athletic, leading to better and better 40 times. I think the highlight of today will have to be watching kickers run the 40.
On the other hand, the bench press will be where it's at for offensive linemen today. While speed and technique can be important, sometimes it's all just about raw power. You don't want a strong guy with no explosiveness and technique issues, but raw power can overcome a lot. The same can hold true for tight ends given the need for blocking. At the same time, you don't want a tight end who is so strong that he's almost too musclebound.
The vertical jump can measure lower body explosiveness, which is pertinent to offensive linemen. When you're down in a two- or three-point stance you need to show some serious explosiveness in that first move, particularly when you're trying to drive forward on a rushing play. The broad jump can be pertinent to that as well.
Finally, the three-cone and shuttle run drills are important for things like lateral quickness and to a certain extent, a player's agility. A player can be as strong as all get out or have as much straight-ahead speed as anybody, but if he can't move side to side with quickness he will struggle. For offensive linemen and tight ends that seems particularly pertinent.
The two position drills everybody will want to pay attention to today are the offensive linemen's kickslide drill and the tight ends Gauntlet drill (also run by wide receivers). Mike Mayock discussed them in detail and I've transcribed the important stuff from his comments:
OL - Kickslide Drill: The kickslide drill looks at the basic movement for offensive linemen, and more particularly for offensive tackles. It's my understanding that guards and centers take part in this activity as well, but I'm not 100% sure of that. The offensive linemen run two versions of this drill, once in a 2-point stance and once in a 3-point stance. In both instances they're facing a defensive lineman. 12 yards and a little off angle behind the offensive lineman is a bag of sorts that represents the quarterback. The idea is that the offensive linemen are supposed to open up at a 45 degree angle and kick slide down past the quarterback punching away the defender.
According to Mayock scouts and coaches want to see "natural benders." They want guys who can drop down on their knees and bend down easily. They do not want to see heavy-legged waist benders or players that are too high in their stance. When the defender gets even with the player, the offensive lineman is expected to turn with his inside arm, and grab and push the defender past the quarterback, running him by the dummy representing the quarterback.
This drill shows the ability of the offensive lineman to get out of his stance on the 45 degree angle and keep great balance. This drill is most important for offensive tackles since they're dealing with edge rushers play in and play out. If you want to watch this particular drill, you can catch it live on NFL Network and nfl.com at 10am and 11:30am.
TEs - Gauntlet: This drill will be used with wide receivers as well. The 49ers really don't have a need for a tight end at this point, but it's still an interesting drill to watch. The tight end will line up on a particular yard line and run 53 2/3 yards down the yard line. There will be five quarterbacks firing passes at him, with three on one side and two on the other side. The tight end will look one direction to the first quarterback, catch the pass and then throw it down just as quickly. He will follow that by looking the other way to the second quarterback, catch the pass and then throw it down again. He'll do this three more times.
This drill tests things like hand-eye coordination, vision, hands and instincts, among other things. The key is reaching out to catch the ball rather than receiving the ball into their chest. They have to do this to get rid of the ball just as quickly and turn to the next quarterback. Some common timing routes involve a tight end running a certain distance and turning around to quickly catch a pass. The tight ends will be looking back and forth trying to make eye contact with the QBs.
You can watch the Gauntlet drills live on NFL Network and nfl.com at 1:15pm.