In just a few hours, the wheels will be up for the ESPN Boston team on our way to Indianapolis, marking this scribe's first forage to the NFL's scouting combine as a member of the media.
But it won't be my first time at the combine. I was last in Indianapolis in 2010 while working for the Kansas City Chiefs' scouting department.
The event was an important part of our pre-draft evaluations, but it extended beyond the aspects that have become popularized (and televised). While a day at the combine involves attending the various on-field and weight room workouts of the players, it is often at night when the most impactful evaluations are made in interviewing the players, both in an individual and group manner.
There are two separate venues where player interviews take place and two entirely different formats.
Inside of the hotel, teams meet with players they specifically requested for 15 minutes at a time (no longer), and players have an itinerary that lays out which team they will be meeting with and when. The process begins with a fog horn going off to start the initial 15 minute window, and every 15 minutes it is blown again so as to signal it is time for the team to let the player they were interviewing continue on his way.
The interviews take place within the team's suites, often involving the position coach of that player's position, and also the coordinators (plus the head coach and personnel brass). The conversation can be casual just to get a feel for the player, or technical, with questions about coverages, reads, schemes, etc. Anything a team feels it needs to cover with a player to better gauge him is addressed.
The organization and precision of this interviewing process stands in stark contrast to another interview setting in an old train station turned ball room, located just across the street from the hotel.
The format inside of the old train station is this: A position group or groups is designated to enter the room at a given time, and upon their arrival teams scramble to try to bring a player to a respective table to spend time with them (the team representation is usually members of both the coaching and scouting departments, but not head coaches or GMs). There is no rhyme or reason to where the players end up first -- just whichever scout or coach can convince them to come talk.
The amount of time a player speaks with a team is also not fixed, which creates an at-times tricky reality: Other teams will huddle near or around that player and wait until he is finished with his interview in an attempt to lure him to them next.
It came as little surprise that players such as Ndamukong Suh, Eric Berry, Russell Okung, and, most especially, Tim Tebow, were sought after by many teams to speak with back in 2010. (I recall then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis being a particular persuasive influence in the interview room, as quarterbacks were interested in picking his brain and chatting).
The entire process is something of a free-for-all, and there are plenty of times when a team is unable to connect with a player due to time constraints.
While the two interview room atmospheres are different, both are critical parts of the process, and help teams in their assessment of the hundreds of prospects gathered in Indianapolis.