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Eye on the Midwest: NFL Combine


With field workouts at the 2009 NFL Combine for defensive players beginning Monday, 49ers area scout Ethan Waugh checks in from Indianapolis to keep you up to date on the testing, interviews and drills.

On Monday, the defensive linemen and linebackers went through their workouts. Both of the groups performed well. There were not a lot of extremely fast 40-yard dash times, but there were several guys who fit what we're looking for – often referred to as "tweeners." Most played defensive end in college, but project well to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the NFL level. Additionally, there is a solid group of inside linebackers and interior linemen as well.

During the workouts, I was one of the timers for the 40-yard dash. Dave McCloughan, our Director of College Scouting, Matt Malaspina, a fellow area scout, and I timed the 40s. We sat in the 24th row. We would love to be closer, but each team draws a number out of a hat and is assigned the row that corresponds to that number. I sat in the middle and recorded both Dave and Matt's time as well as my own of each player. From those three times, we come up with an exact number for each guy. We all will essentially watch every linebacker, but I'll try and focus on the guys from my area.

Connor Barwin from Cincinnati is one defensive end/linebacker from the Midwest that performed extremely well. In fact, he ran one of the fastest times out of all defensive ends (4.66). He is long, athletic, and has a strong basketball background.

Some of the Wisconsin linebackers who are in my area have not run yet because of injuries, so we'll have to catch up with them at their pro day next week in Madison.

As soon as the defensive backs are done with field testing, our scouting department will meet as a group. We will come back to the hotel to rehash the workouts and discuss some of the guys we may need to look at a little more closely. Then we'll decide where we need to go exactly this spring to confirm any questions we might have or get missing times on players.

Essentially, every school that has a senior with even the faintest hope of signing a free agent contract will hold a pro day for him. There are around 330 guys here at the Combine and obviously a lot more than that will sign contracts. We will attend the pro day not only to fill in the gaps on the players that attended the Combine, but also to get the full run down on the prospects that were not invited.
In recent years, the NFL has changed the rules about pro timing days – now, a player that does not attend a Division I school can be timed at any Division I school in his home area or in the state where he attends school. However, whether or not he is allowed to participate is up to the discretion of the host school. Many schools want to have the scouts focus strictly on their own players and not allow others to workout – I certainly understand that position. However, some schools will run their own players in the morning and let the smaller school players run in the afternoon. This is a great idea and really allows us to be more efficient with our time.

The defensive backs workout on Tuesday and I am looking forward to watching Vontae Davis – Vernon's brother. He is a very talented early entry to the draft. We obviously know a lot about him, but are looking forward to see how well he performs in the drills.

Louis Delmas, a safety at Western Michigan who I've mentioned in my blog before, really had a nice year and I am really looking forward to seeing him run. Cincinnati also has three intriguing defensive backs, each possessing cornerback skills. It is a rarity for one school to have three talented defensive backs like that.

Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State will be the focus of many eyes on Tuesday - I have written about him in some earlier blogs. He's played corner and safety and he has a great deal of ability. Donald Washington, a junior defensive back for the Buckeyes, will also be working out. He has started in the past and is a very talented guy. It is really going to be interesting to see how well those guys perform on the various tests.

I think at this time of the year we always talk about how some guys train for these tests better than others. We have to remember that they do not wear helmets and shoulder pads at the Combine and that football is not played in shorts and t-shirts. We obviously want the fastest and most athletic players, but they must be able to handle the physicality of the game as well – and that is something that is better understood through game film than Combine drills.

The physicals given by our medical staff are probably the most important aspect of the Combine. Our head athletic trainer, Jeff Ferguson (a.k.a. "Fergie") and our team doctors are incredibly thorough in their examinations of each player. They can let us know if a player has a condition that could shorten his career, or if he needs corrective surgery prior to participating at the NFL level. They will give each player a medical grade – if he falls above the line, we can select a player with little worry that his career will be shortened by preexisting injuries, but if he falls below the line, we will most likely not select him because the chance that he will not be consistently healthy is too great.

Todd Brunner will be checking in with one more blog as the Combine comes to a close. I'll check in next time when I'm on the road at pro days.

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