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Outside the Lines: Final Exam

Here's the transcript from Show 48 of Outside The Lines - Final Exam.

Host -Bob Ley, ESPN.
Story reported by -Melissa Stark, ESPN.
Guests -Kyle Turley, New Orleans Saints tackle; Tom Modrak, Philadelphia Eagles director of football; Gary Wichard, chairman Pro Tect Management.
Coordinating producer -Jon Ebinger, ESPN.

Bob Ley, host - They face the biggest day of their lives.

Unidentified Male - Don't raise them up high and pull them back down.

Ley - Knowing the smallest factor could mean a difference of millions of dollars.

Mark Hatley, Bears vice president of player personnel - How he deals with us we need to see because it determines how high we might take a guy.

Unidentified Male - What I saw last year, you don't stick that. They're going to make you do it again. Go again.

Ley - So there's no such thing as too much preparation, all to impress at the scouting combine and leave a lasting impression for the NFL draft.

Unidentified Male - If a player can't be prepared in two months to come here and perform, then how can he get prepared each week?

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines, cramming for the NFL's final exam.

Ley - In some respects, this resembles a debate in American education. After all, U.S. parents spend $2 billion each year preparing their kids for the SAT test.

And education activists criticize schools that teach to the test, in other words, preparing merely to meet the strict requirements of a standardized exam. Which brings us to Indianapolis this weekend and the NFL scouting combine where over 400 draft prospects are being measured, timed, inspected and interpreted in a process that invites comparisons ranging from a beauty show to a meat market.

Included in all of this is a psychological test, which includes the question, "Would you rather be a dog or a cat?" But this is very serious business for NFL teams who have no margin for personnel errors in the age of a salary cap. And it's even more serious for the Young men being measured and tested this weekend. Moving up or down in the early stages of the draft can mean a difference measured in millions of dollars.

As Melissa Stark reports, with those stakes, players have been given the most specialized of preparation for the test of their lives.

Unidentified Male - Finger on the pad, a lot of pressure.

Melissa Stark, ESPN correspondent - Kenyatta Walker is an offensive tackle from the University of Florida. As a red shirt junior this year, he declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.

Kenyatta Walker, University of Florida offensive lineman - Right after the beginning of the year, I didn't really know. It never really crossed my mind.

But during the season, I really felt pretty good. I was really having no problems with the opponents I was playing. And I wanted a challenge.

Stark - A challenge. Well, now he has one, perhaps his biggest one yet. Last week, he was on his way to the NFL scouting combine where he was going to be tested physically and psychologically and evaluated by doctors and trainers.

Like other prospective draft choices, he's prepared for these two days for almost two months at a free combine camp.

Walker - It's pretty tough. You know, you're getting up in the morning. From 7 to 5, constantly doing something every day. But you know it's all for a good goal.

Stark - Walker and nine other players, including Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke and Senior Bowl MVP Ladanian Tomlinson, all under contract with International Marketing Group, are being trained at an IMG facility in Bradenton, Florida. Do you look at it like a crash course? How do you look at it?

Walker - I look at it as just being prepared. I want to be in the best shape, mentally, physically, as I can be. And you know, I'm always trying to increase my stock and go as high as I can in the draft.

Stark - Walker's agent Tom Condon is the mastermind behind the camp.

Tom Condon, Walker's agent - Kenyatta has probably gained around 15 pounds now. And he's worked with an NFL position coach, Tom Brejnihan, for weeks on end in terms of his technique. So he played right tackle with Florida.

And I think a lot of teams are going to project him as a left tackle. He's that gifted of an athlete.

Stark - To prepare for the drills at the combine, the players work on speed, strength and position skills with NFL assistant coaches who are either retired or between jobs.

Unidentified Male - You kind of go out ...

Stark - They even get the benefit of training with Olympic gold medalist sprinter Michael Johnson.

Condon - He said, you know, "What you do with the football players on the 40-yard dash, that's not speed." And I said, "OK, what is it?" He said, "It's technique, and it's start."

And I said, "Then how much improvement can you make?" And he said, the shorter the race, the easier it is to improve."

I said, "All right, well, how much improvement are we talking about?" And he said, "I can make a tenth of a second improvement on one of your players in a day." And I said, "Can I have you for two days?"

Stark - The psychological tests at the combine include the Wunderlick, which measures intelligence, as well as a written exam and an interview. To prepare for those, the players meet with a staff of psychologists. They're given sample tests and clues as to how to improve their scores, much like an advanced preparatory course.

Unidentified Male - Your position has the highest average amongst all the positions. I mean, you look at the halfback average as 10 points less than you.

Condon - They were watching every part of their answer. And then we critique them afterwards.

Stark - Do you feel like this combine is the biggest test of your life so far?

Walker - Yes. The biggest in my whole life. Whatever I do in this will determine where I will be at. And it's very big.

Hatley - It's an interview for a job. And it's his first job. It's a chance for him to get into a situation where he's going to have a chance to make a lot of money.

And how he deals with us we need to see because it determines how high we might take a guy.

Stark - The combine takes place here at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Over 300 players were invited to work out this year. It's the one time when they have the opportunity to perform in front of the owners, general managers, directors of player personnel and coaches from every single team in the league.

George Young, NFL's senior vice president of football operations - I'd like to think that the final exam has really already taken place in the football season when they're playing football. That's one of the things. You get involved in these drills. Some guys do drills better. Some guys are better at workouts and aren't as good a football player.

Hatley - We don't downgrade anybody here. We won't lower somebody's rate here. We could push them up a little bit. But we won't knock them down here.

It's still what you've done. How he plays the game and what he's done as a player.

Stark - Many of the top players these days don't work out at the combine. They choose not to because they don't want to take the chance of injury or performing badly. They would rather work out in their own facilities where they feel more comfortable. It's a choice that has many teams frustrated.

Young - If they have their own workouts say on the west coast or somewhere in the middle of the country, the only ones that are there are the personnel people. So this is a time for a guy to show the decision makers because the decision makers don't go out on the road and work these guys out.

Hatley - Sometimes if it comes down to there's three guys and two of the guys worked out here and the other guy didn't, you just can't help but feel better about them because they hadn't anything to hide. You've got everybody here captured. So why wouldn't you go show what I've got?

Stark - Walker and the other players who have trained so hard for these tests are looking to do just that, show them what they've got.

But there are mixed feelings on whether the athletes really gain an advantage from all the preparation.

Hatley - We've seen some people over-train. But most of the time it's good for them. The agents or the people that are getting them ready have done a good job on these kids.

Young - What they do is they prepare them for the combine. They prepare them for Indianapolis here. They're not preparing them for the season. They're preparing them for the combine.

And sometimes they do better. And sometimes they don't do better.

Stark - Moving up or down one spot in the draft could mean millions of dollars. In your opinion, can you say where you think he would go in the draft?

Hatley - Oh, I wouldn't want to get into that. But he's going to be a very high pick. He's one of these guys that you know if you get him, he's going to play right or left tackle for you for probably 10 or 15 years.

Stark - The single goal here at the combine for players like Kenyatta Walker is to improve their standing in the upcoming April draft. Only then will they know if all the preparation for this weekend has paid off.

In Indianapolis, I'm Melissa Stark for Outside The Lines.

Ley - Next, I'll speak with an NFL player who reshaped his draft prospects at the combine, an NFL personnel director, and an agent who puts his clients through specialized preparations.

Ley - The preparation for and importance of the NFL combine. I'm joined this morning by Kyle Turley of the New Orleans Saints, the seventh player selected in the 1998 draft. He's in Anaheim, California.

Tom Modrak is director of football for the Philadelphia Eagles. He's at ground zero in Indianapolis.

And Gary Wichard is a player agent joining us from Westlake Village, California.

Kyle, how did preparing for the combine and then doing very well at the combine change your professional life?

Kyle Turley, New Orleans Saints offensive lineman - Well, it gave me a better start than what was initially projected of me. A lot of different draft boards had me as a mid- to late-first-round pick where I was able to go down and train and prepare myself to do well at Indianapolis and in the Senior Bowl and things like that, and I was able to improve my draft stock to be the first lineman taken in the draft that year.

Ley - Is it fair to say you probably added $2 million to your bonus by that performance?

Turley - Oh yeah, at least. I mean, the difference between the seventh pick and the twenty-fourth pick, where I think Miami was picking that year, they flew me out for a trip prior to the draft. I think that's a lot of money.

Ley - It certainly is. And Gary Wichard, it is a lot of money. It must make it a little bit easier to sell clients on spending several weeks in specialized training for the draft and for the combine.

Gary Wichard, sports agent - Yeah, I think everybody kind of understands now that you can only elevate yourself in the draft if you prepare, as Kyle did. And a fine example, that year, Kyle was a guy who, like you said, who if it wasn't for the Senior Bowl, I think is where everybody got his attention, and then he fought up with a strong combine.

But that's where you do it. That's how you do it is just in the draft preparation.

Ley - But, Tom, you've said that you can fabricate times by over-training. You can knock number down. What do you mean by that?

Tom Modrak, Philadelphia Eagles Director of Football Operations - I think you're still -- I think 85 percent of our work is done now because we did the fall, we did the video. We have a feel for where these guys are. We're polishing up.

I mean, if we think that his playing speed is a certain number. And if he comes in with a -- if it's a big, big difference, we're going to go back and look at that tape again and kind of recheck ourselves. But certainly, you can do that.

I don't disagree, though, with the fact that the preparation is good. I think it gives guys confidence and it can help them.

The all-star games can help them. The combine can help them.

Really I think most teams -- and I know our team -- we're looking to move people up. We're not trying to get them out of there.

Ley - But you heard George Young in our piece. He's an old history professor. It sounded like he said some of these camps are teaching to the test, just teaching specialized skills, trying to impress people like you at Indianapolis.

Modrak - Well, I think that's where you have to be careful. And still, let's let the video, the work that they did during the season, be your determiner.

Right now we're in a situation where we're just polishing. We're not trying to bring a guy from fiftieth up to first. We're trying to polish the people that we have and put them in the right spots.

And I think this helps us. Certainly the interviews help us, all the things that go in up until draft day.

Ley - Kyle, what was the most important thing you were told or instructed about the combine before you got there?

Turley - Well, I, just like Kenyatta Walker and those guys, went down to that facility there in Bradenton, Tom Condon is my agent. And they have a tremendous staff down there that Tom Condon has put together that prepares each, and every one of the guys that goes down there are far and above the rest of the guys that are there.

I was very prepared, knew what was going to happen. And I think that's a big part of it.

Ley - Is the toughest part, though, mental or physical as you go into the combine? And what do they warn you about?

Turley - Well, it's a combination. But the mental side is definitely I think more important. Down there in Bradenton, I met with a sports psychologist to learn how to deal with the mental side of it, the grueling aspect of meeting with the coaches all day long and then having to go perform, being called upon to do certain things at basically all times of the day, and just being mentally prepared as to what's going to happen and no surprises. That was a big help for me.

Ley - Gary, the physical tests are rather specific. One of them, for example, is a vertical jump. And they take a baseline where a player puts his hand over his head.

And I was reading in the "Boston Globe" on Friday that at least one pre-combine coach teaches guys how to pinch their back muscles to lower the baseline. I see you laughing, Tom. Gary...

Modrak - It is funny.

Ley - ... Well, is instruction such as that given so that you can increase the number?

Wichard - Never. I mean, I have never heard that before. And it's all about being an athlete.

And Kyle's year, by the way, I had in the first round the first wide receiver pick, the first linebacker pick, and the first safety pick. All guys who jumped ahead of it was Kevin Dyson, who jumped ahead of Randy Moss and Keith Brooking, who ended up the first linebacker, and Tebucky Jones, who I think put on as good a show at the combine as anybody ever did.

And it's all about being great athletes. All we're doing is helping facilitate the process, getting them focused. And I think Kyle will attest to the fact that he was in a program for a number of weeks. And just that alone and thinking about it and being prepared, it's like getting ready for a football game. It's like getting ready for the Super Bowl.

And that's what's most important in this whole thing is let these guys start thinking about what it is to be in a business and get prepared for your job.

Ley - But, Tom, didn't one year the league change one of the drills at the last minute, I think the j-cone drill, to reverse direction just to throw a little wrinkle into people who might have been over-prepared?

Modrak - Yeah. I was laughing at the vertical because I've been doing this for back when the combine wasn't here, when we were going around the country and meeting people in different parts of the country to do it. And, sure, everybody is trying to find a way, not everybody, but often trying to find a way.

Guys that are real muscular up top, they don't get their arms up quite as much, they get a better vertical jump, that kind of thing. That kind of solidifies my thought that you can't just have one thing determine.

The biggest thing is how they play the game. And then you add some of the other stuff along the way.

But I hear -- and I heard in the piece early and I heard in an interview here, this is the biggest day of my life. Certainly very important to a guy. The medical part of it, the meeting with the coaches, the testing, that kind of thing. But really, how he played the game is still going to override everything else.

Ley - All right, we're going to step aside for just a second and talk about the interview process in Indianapolis. We'll have more with Kyle Turley, Tom Modrak and Gary Wichard in just a second as we talk about preparing for the combine where draft position can mean so much money in your pocket.

Ley - We continue on the preparation and the importance of the NFL combine.

Gary Wichard, let me continue with you. Interviews, the personal interview is so very important in Indianapolis. And you show clients tapes of prior combine interviews. What are you trying to impart when you show these tapes?

Wichard - I'm just trying to get them ready for when they walk in the room with a bunch of strangers for the first time who are going to make a decision on their future that they can go in there calmly and understand kind of where the process is.

I think we've all been, everybody out there watching, in a job interview before. And you walk in to see the boss, or whoever you're meeting with...

Ley - And these players have never really had a job interview. They've been stellar athletes since early teens, right? They've never had this situation.

Wichard - They've just been recruited their whole life. They don't know what it is to have to sell themselves a little bit. And I think it's important the way they walk in the room, the way they carry themselves and the fact that they understand what is being asked of them when they walk in just so that there's no disadvantage.

We're not trying to give them anything where it's a major corner-cutting thing. We're just trying to make it a lack of a disadvantage for them. That's all.

Ley - Tom, it's been said by I think Bill Polian that there's been so much coaching, though, of players going into some of these interviews that it's almost devalued the interviews.

Modrak - Well, I'll tell you, I think that based on our experience, particularly this combine, I think that the coaching up is working because really we've had maybe 20, 25 guys in for individual interviews, let alone all the others. And remarkably, every one of them has handled themselves well.

And it's been a pleasure conducting these interviews. Maybe that is. But still, you're on a job interview. And every one of us that's been on one has sat up straight and done it right. And I would expect them to do it too. And they have. They've come through.

Ley - Kyle, as you prepare for the combine, obviously it's all numerical, isn't it? The 40-yard time, the vertical leap. And there is a certain sexiness to getting that number to a certain point, isn't there?

Turley - Yeah, there are definitely all kinds of little tricks that you can do to prepare yourself a little bit better. And the knowledge part of it, knowing what's going to happen, knowing what's going to take place, that's a big part of it also.

And preparing, the preparation is the thing that is the priceless part about it, because if you prepare yourself going into the combine, there's nothing you should have to worry about. You should just go out, focus, and be calm and collected and just go out there and perform the duties that you're asked to do with the confidence knowing that you've trained and left no stone unturned as far as the preparation process goes.

Ley - That's if you perform at the combine. And, Gary, explain to me the logic why some top picks may not perform physically. You advise clients if they're first or second-rounders to not just interview but don't run. Don't be timed.

Wichard - Well, I don't advise them not to. I don't advise them if they're not prepared mentally to go through this process and actually then put on -- and Tom said it. And it was said before, the biggest day of their life.

They fly in. If you're a West Coast guy, you've got to get up at 4:30 in the morning and fly in the first day of the combine, do all your physicals and X-rays, and then go into an interview process that lasts till 11 at night or so. And get up the next morning at 5:30 to go submit to a urine test and continue the day...

Ley - Yeah, but can't you fly them in early? All the big agents I'm sure can go for an extra day's hotel.

Wichard - No, they don't want the big agents doing anything. We're not even allowed in there, so let alone start helping out with flight arrangements.

Modrak - I think that part has been really overdone. The league has taken great care -- I mean, for a while, it was the sybek's hurt everybody. Well, they've done studies on it. And the sybek's is done 36 hours before.

To me, I don't know why a guy wouldn't just come here, work out. He has all the decision makers. And if he wants to, set two or three days at a school, too, if he's comfortable. Work. We're not looking for average times. We're looking for the best. And you know somebody is going to come there.

Wichard - Let me just say one thing. I had a fellow there last year, Darren Howard, who had 11 sacks this season. Everybody was so jacked up about him. He was going to be a first round pick.

He had a little groin injury, didn't -- by the way, also, if you don't play in a post-season game with your university, you've got a lot of time to prepare. So the playing field is a little uneven there. Guys that come in November -- end in November and start training as opposed to January 3 or 4, there's a big difference.

Darren had a little groin injury, kind of talked into running a 40. Ran a five-zero, five-one. And all of a sudden, I talked to a general manager the next week and said, "Jeez, he just doesn't have that closing speed."

Now he goes 32nd pick instead of 15. And as Kyle can attest, as my guys keep Brooking and Tebucky Jones and Kevin Dyson are going to attest it's a big difference in money. And Darren Howard was runner up for rookie of the year. So obviously, the 40 time meant something.

Modrak - Oh, I don't disagree. If the guy is nicked up, or if he is not at full speed, he shouldn't go. But we have guys that aren't going, and they're going to have a day next Wednesday at their school.

Ley - Kyle, isn't the essence of playing football rising to the moment? And wouldn't that make all the sense for competing physically as a top pick at Indianapolis?

Turley - Well, yeah. I mean, the big part about that I think that a lot of coaches and scouts are looking at when you go to a combine is your character and how you hold yourself, how well you're prepared and dealing with situations.

And if you're not prepared, I would, like my year, Grant Wistrom trained down there with me in Florida. And he was not ready. He had an injury that he was nursing also and chose not to run the 40 time and was going to do it later at a later date, you know, a Nebraska guy, was in the bowl games post-season, but came down there with me and trained very hard with me but was not prepared to run the 40-yard dash time due to a nagging injury that he had at the end of the season there.

And he did his 40-yard dash time and the running drills at Nebraska later on down the road. And it didn't knock him at all.

But I think the character part is -- I mean, if you have a legitimate injury, everybody kind of understands that. Football is a grueling game.

Ley - That's one of the questions certainly surrounding the combine. Gentlemen all, thank you very much. Thanks to Kyle Turley and Tom Modrak and to Gary Wichard as we discuss the NFL combine.

As we continue next, details of an online chat ahead on this topic.

Ley - Our discussion last week of the franchise shifts in major league spring training brought a number of e-mail comments to our inbox. A view from St. Pete writes - "Your show missed one major, perhaps the most important aspect of financial impact of baseball in Florida. Florida is a growth state. The tax system and everything else is depended on growth. And spring training helps promote that growth.

"While there's only a set amount of money to be had and that entertainment of all sorts competes for that money, if the economic impact of any one item is diluted greatly the further away you get from the venue. Sports focused the money."

From Tennessee - "All this research about the fans coming to Florida specifically to see spring training games will be for naught if they continue building these new parks that keep the fans further from the players. The biggest reason fans come to spring training, the access and closeness to the players. In this case, build it and they may not come."

Those comments came to us online. Check the interactive Outside The Lines. Type the keyword otlweekly on the front page. Our site features complete transcripts and streaming video of all programs. We invite your e-mail feedback. Our address -

Thanks for being in touch.

Ley - Friday, Outside The Lines explores the incredible influx of international basketball players to U.S. high schools.

Unidentified Male - It's a little bit easier to recruit over there. If you can identify somebody, they might not know the difference between Duke and Drexel. Are certain people doing it to advance their program regardless of the effect it will have on the kid who's been working his rear end off for four years? Are they subverting the school's policies? I'm sure all that is going on.

Ley - Finding the best high school players in the states from outside the country. How and why they come to the U.S. Foreign imports Outside The Lines Friday directly after "SportsCenter" at 7 p.m. Eastern.

We will re-air at 12:30 Eastern today. But next up, "SportsCenter." Betsy Ross and Brian Kenny with all the latest from Rockingham.

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