Combine measures don’t always measure up

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comFebruary 22, 2014 

nfl combine

INDIANAPOLIS — The sun was out and nonsense in full swing Friday morning at the NFL combine.

Crisp-suited television reporters were discussing the most talked about quarter inch, well, ever.

Happy-footed and free-spirited Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel measured 5 feet, 113/4 inches in Indianapolis, falling just short of the 6-foot mark. Sound the alarms.

An hour later, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll stood at a podium, talking about what the past 21/2 weeks have been like since the team’s Super Bowl win.

Anyone paying attention to the assembling of the Super Bowl champions will chuckle at the quarter-inch discussion. The Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory wasn’t just historical for the

franchise. It also trampled some combine myths.

“To think there’s only certain packages and there’s only certain standards, you’re going to make mistakes that way,” Carroll said. “You’ve got to take every one of these guys as individuals and try to figure them out and see what they have.”

Carroll was asked Friday about sixth-round pick Byron Maxwell and how his emergence helped the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Numerous questions referenced the height of quarterback Russell Wilson (who was measured at 5-10 at the 2012 scouting combine).

The same place that earlier was obsessed with a quarter inch was running through the Seahawks’ grab bag of a roster filled with nonstandard players selected in later rounds or not drafted at all. Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith wasn’t invited to the combine when he came out of USC.

More and more, the combine measurements are being relied upon less. General managers say the interview portion carries weight. Coaches caution against drawing strong conclusions from drills ran in a stagnant environment.

“I think you always want to keep in mind in those drills, whichever ones of those you’re talking about — ideal conditions; ideal start; nobody lining up across from you; nobody hitting you when you try to release and run ’em; nobody hitting you at the finish line; nothing to think about; no play, no snap count, no defense, no offensive adjustments, no anything,” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

“It’s just a straight time measurement.”

Seattle will acknowledge the controlled workouts on Pro Days, plus the numbers from the combine measurements, but are more curious about hard wiring.

“That’s the great science of this draft business, trying to figure out the makeup of the athlete and what kind of a competitor you get when you draft him,” Carroll said. “There’s a long process and tremendous amount of exchange of information to try to figure the guys out. This stuff is not the hard part. It’s taking the measurements then connecting that and figuring out what that’s going to turn out.”

Essentially, the Seahawks are proof of randomness and the benefit of openness. Projecting human performance is an inexact process as much as the combine tries to turn it into hard numbers.

Even Carroll, a former coach at USC, has evolved. Pressed further on Wilson, he explained how he had to change, first in regard to quarterbacks, then overall.

“We were able at SC to pick the cream of the crop,” Carroll said about recruiting. “I think I’ve expanded in my thinking. We wanted great football players and unique football players. I would be more open to the idea. I was closed to the idea to some extent — never totally, but some.

“I think it’s proven to all of us you’ve got to be more open-minded and expand our thinking a little bit if we want to do great things.”

In what is often labeled a “copycat league,” those worried about Manziel’s missing quarter inch would do well to heed such an approach. It helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, a victory that is helping to break up the relationship between conventionality and wisdom.

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @Todd_Dybas

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