Fast tracks. Fresh legs. Blistering 40 times. Ah, the comforts of home.
Welcome to the NFL pro day tour, where draft prospects work out on campus in front of league scouts, coaches and executives. Pressure? Sure. It's still there. This is a job interview. But compared to the gauntlet of testing these young players have to wade through at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, the campus workout is much less of a grind.
We've already seen top prospects at Clemson look like stars on their pro day, and on Tuesday, it's North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky's chance to shine in Chapel Hill.
Here's why these draft hopefuls should be expected to produce in front of NFL personnel.
Sleep in your own bed. Dress in your own locker room. Go through a workout led by your college strength coach. The list goes on for these draft prospects when they test on campus. At pro days, the stress level drops and the environment changes -- drastically -- compared to the combine testing. Heck, it's even easier to do the bench press test when you throw 225 pounds around in your own weight room.
You need to get stretched out and loosened up before you run? Your college trainer or strength coach is right there. They know your routine and understand what your needs are as an athlete. Tight hamstrings? Limited mobility in your ankles? They get it. And they will get you right before you put your hand on the line to run a 40 or go through positional drills.
That's quite a contrast to the combine, where you are on your own to warm up and you do it with a bunch of dudes you don't really know. It can get a little lonely out there. At your pro day, you're running alongside your college teammates. Think of it as a home game versus a road game. And it's always easier to perform at home.
Rested and ready
By the time these prospects actually run in Indianapolis, they are tired and worn down. Can you perform under adverse conditions in the biggest job interview of your life? That's what the league wants to see. And that's also why these prospects don't even see the field until their final day at the combine. Make it a challenge, right?
However, back at school, you should show up to the facility with fresh legs and a week of good sleep, nutrition and hydration. There are no early-morning wake-up calls during the week for drug testing, no late-night interviews with coaches in hotel suites, no weigh-ins on stage in your underwear, no written exams to test your personality or football IQ. That stuff is terrible, to be honest, and it also affects how you run at the combine. You are exhausted at the end of that process, ready to get the heck out of Indy. See ya.
Working out on campus? Man, that's a beautiful thing. And I can't even begin to tell you the difference your body feels when you show up for the workout. Fresh off a massage, a good night's sleep and a strength plan designed specifically for you to be at peak performance, those testing numbers from the combine are bound to improve.
Scripted throwing sessions
The top quarterbacks in the draft should put together a great pro day workout. Go out and there and sling it, right? No doubt, because these are scripted throwing sessions. And every QB has been through the dress rehearsal process.
Plus -- and this might be the most important thing -- the QBs get to throw to their own receivers. Yeah, the guys they have actually played with. That's huge for timing: The QBs can anticipate the break at the top of each route. At the combine, everything is a guessing game, and it can lead to noticeable issues.
The issue, or the concern, with pro scouts arises when QBs struggle to master the pro day throwing session. If these prospects can't rip the ball on outside cuts or show the necessary timing on a simple skinny post when throwing against air, how can you expect them to do so in an NFL game setting? If you are a top quarterback prospect, you should ace your pro day. It's a take-home test.
The 40-yard dash
The 40-yard dash is a moneymaker at the combine and that rule still applies at pro days when prospects light up the track. And some of those tracks are, well, faster than the turf inside Indy's Lucas Oil Stadium. That's understood with pro scouts.
When I ran at Iowa in 2000, the old-school AstroTurf in the indoor facility was super-quick. Why? Because a summer storm ripped the roof off the bubble and blew that thing down the road somewhere. After that turf baked in the sun, it turned into stone and provided us with a lightning-fast surface to test on. The result? My 40 time dropped a full tenth of a second -- from 4.49 at the combine to 4.39. We were flying on that stuff.
And don't forget: A lot of the 40 times you'll hear mentioned after pro days are from handheld stopwatches instead of the official electric times at the combine. So when a guy rips off a low 4.3 or even a 4.2 on campus, it doesn't always speak to his true pro speed. I mean, that's what Deion Sanders ran. And his time was legit.
Value for late-round guys
Remember, the pro day workout is still an audition, a piece of the puzzle that helps determine the final grade for draft prospects. And even if the top dogs are expected to blow the roof off these workouts, they still have to produce in front of league personnel.
However, for prospects slated as mid- to late-round guys, and for players who weren't invited to the combine, it's an opportunity to move up the board. True, testing numbers will never replace game tape in terms of grading a prospect, but if you roll out a 4.4 40, people are going to take notice. That's just how the NFL works. Guys in the league love speed, and if you play one of those "stopwatch positions" (wide receiver and defensive back), you can't run a 4.7 40 if you want to get drafted on Day 1 or 2.
Yes, these workouts lack the feel of the combine in terms of being thrown headfirst into a very awkward and adverse environment, but they still count. So take advantage of the home cooking on campus, put on a show, blaze through the 40 and go make some cash.
ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Bowen played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL.