NFL’s beauty pageant convening in Indy


NFL’s beauty pageant convening in Indy

The NFL doesn’t have a swimsuit competition but it comes pretty close this time of year when the annual Scouting Combine convenes this week in Indianapolis, the next phase in football player evaluations (after in-season scouting and bowl games) on the way to the draft in Chicago during the last weekend in April.

For the next week, teams’ extended staffs (coaches, scouts, general managers, player personnel execs, medical evaluators) will subject the more than 300 invited college players to a football beauty pageant, complete with drills and exams measuring those players on times in the 40-yard dash, cone drills, shuttle drills, some position-specific work and more, in addition to private interviews with teams back in the team’s hotel rooms.

(Beauty pageants don’t give a definitive read on how each contestant will work out as a life fit for someone, but it’s one element, right? No? Hopefully for their sakes, the players all have their prepared remarks ready for individual-team interviews, when the question of personal goals may come up and the right answer, of course, is, “World peace.”)

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An athletic-wear company will have players shrink-wrapped in logo’d shorts and shirts, which put that logo front and center every televised stride of every 40. By informal consensus, Cam Newton won the equivalent of his year’s swimsuit competition, looking just terrific in his Under Armour ensemble as he charmed the mass interview on his way to becoming the No. 1-overall pick in the 2011 draft. (Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers probably didn’t base their Newton pick on the shrink-wrap competition, but Newton DID look the part, for those who are into that sort of thing.)

“That sort of thing” has been the way less and less, however, ever since Mike Mamula stunned the Combine with his ’95 performance in the various competitions, prompting the Philadelphia Eagles to invest the No. 7 pick overall, apparently figuring that anybody who looks that good in the NFL’s equivalent of a decathlon had to be at least pretty good at pro football, which Mamula really wasn’t.

Rondel Melendez showed up in Indy in ’99 out of Eastern Kentucky and ran a 40 in 4.24 seconds, still tied for the fastest official time ever at the Combine. But all that speed didn’t impress the way Mamula’s results did several years earlier, earning Melendez just a seventh-round call that draft from the Atlanta Falcons. A knee injury that preseason didn’t do Melendez, already a marginal player, any favors, and he wound up the subject of a Deadspin “where are they now?” piece last February.

Of course, legend has it that Bo Jackson ran an unofficial, i.e. hand-timed, 4.12 in ’86 and Deion Sanders a hand-timed 4.19, and they weren’t bad.

[MORE: Bears still facing three major, difficult roster decisions]

The evaluation process typically includes players taking the Wonderlic test, the NFL’s attempt at some sort of intelligence testing, although’s Mike Florio makes an excellent case for players declining that test for reasons of confidentiality. And frankly, if teams have a problem with a test not taken, then teams and the NFL need to do a better job of keeping the results in-house, particularly given that correlations between the Wonderlic and NFL success are questionable at best.

Increasing numbers of players have taken to attending special training operations designed to improve something as specific as time in the “40” or vertical jump, about the way high school students queue up for short-term courses to improve SAT or ACT scores.

Watching players settle into sprinter’s stances and blocks at the start line for the 40, you do almost wonder why the teams don’t ask players to run their 40’s out of three- or four-point stances, but again, at least it’s apples-to-apples if everybody does it.

The NFL doesn’t refer to the 40 track as the “runway.” But it could.

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context


Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:


On the Bears’ season as a whole:


“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”


On Mitch Trubisky:


“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”


On Tarik Cohen’s usage:


“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.


“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”


On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:


“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”


On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:


“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.


“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”


On Matt Nagy:


“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.


“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.


“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”


While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:


“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”


One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.


The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.


But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: