Beyond making the jump from college to the pros, many rookies face another challenge as they enter the NFL: re-acclimating to football.
When a player’s college career ends, he immediately begins training for the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days. There’s very little focus placed on actual football.
Instead, the emphasis is on improving their speed, agility and explosion to perform well in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, short shuttle, broad jump and vertical leap. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick went on a brief tangent in July on why he would like to see that change.
“I think that’s a huge mistake that a lot of those players make, but I’m sure they have their reasons for doing it,” Belichick said. “We’re training our players to play football, not to go through a bunch of those February drills. Yeah, our training is football intensive. We train them to get ready to play and ultimately that’s what they’re going to do. Maybe for some of those guys another activity in between or a pro day or whatever it is, but in the end, they’re going to make their career playing football. We already know that with our guys, and we don’t have to deal with any of that other stuff. We just train them for football. I think it’s huge.
“I think there are a lot of players and I think a lot of players learn from that, that they look at their rookie year and feel like, ‘I wasn’t really as physically as well prepared as maybe I was in college or what I will be in their succeeding years in the league,’ and train more for football and train less for the broad jump and three-cone drill and stuff like that. I think a lot of those guys hopefully learn that lesson and intensify their physical football training after they’ve had that year of, in a lot of cases, I would say non-football training or very limited training for actually football.”
The Patriots, like every other team, have scouts on hand to time prospects at the combine and pro days. Belichick is spotted every year in the stands at the combine doing his own observing, so it’s not as if the Patriots ignore testing numbers altogether. They also seem to put a huge emphasis on the 3-cone drill when evaluating some positions.
Former Missouri and Patriots receiver T.J. Moe made a similar point on Twitter and in a podcast with WEEI.com’s Chris Price but acknowledged he might not have caught New England’s attention without the training.
Prospects are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they don’t train specifically for the combine, they’ll likely perform better as rookies. But if they don’t train for the combine, they’ll likely appear so unathletic compared to their peers that they might not receive a chance at all.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Feb 20, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick scouts from the seats during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports