INDIANAPOLIS -- At the NFL Combine, there are nothing but questions.
Some come from feature-writing reporters during public media sessions seeking interesting angles. The professionally important ones primarily come from team officials during private chats.
They are football-centric and off-the-field related. They are focused on football measurements from size (Hi, Kyler Murray) to speed. They are designed to help learn more about the athletic talent and the person behind the physical gifts two months out of the 2019 NFL Draft.
They involve comparisons. Multiple NFL teams asked Oklahoma offensive lineman Cody Ford which of his Heisman Trophy-winning teammates, quarterbacks Kyler Murray or Baker Mayfield, he prefers.
“That's the main question I keep getting a lot,” the projected first-round pick said. Ford answered the teams but left reporters guessing. “I'm going to keep that (answer) to myself right now."
They involve self-evaluation. “One of the best things I do is I’m able to make plays out of the pocket,” Missouri quarterback Drew Lock said when asked about what separates him from the other standouts in his positional group. Murray, the event's headliner, was asked what parts of his game need improving. "Everything," he said modestly.
They are silly. One team asked Northern Illinois’ Max Scharping if he had to go to dinner with one person, dead or alive that he didn’t know personally know who would it be. “I said Abe Lincoln,” said the offensive lineman. “I’m kind of a history buff. I would love to sit down with him.”
Regardless of the setting, the Q&A purpose of the involves learning more about the players before those three life and franchise-altering days that comprise the annual NFL Draft.
“We ask them questions based on the history of their life,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of the team’s formal meetings with prospects. “What they (majored in), personal questions here and there, but for the most part I make a tape on each guy. Like a 25-30 play-tape and we go through about five of them, and we just talk some ball.
“I want to hear what they remember about their last season and their knowledge of the game of the football.”
Teams also want to know the last book players read.
“My dad told me somebody is going to ask me that and I said no they’re not,”The University of Washington running back and “The Alchemist” reader Myles Gaskin said. “That was one of the first questions I got.”
Questions are local like whether Ohio State quarterback and D.C. area high school product Dwayne Haskins (Bullis) would like to play for the Redskins, who certainly have a QB need.
“Actually (Redskins owner Dan) Snyder’s son went to my high school (Bullis). So I’m pretty good friends with him. … So going back home to the Redskins would be a lot of fun.”
They are relative by nature, like Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien asked how his Redskins’ Super Bowl-winning uncle, Mark, helps is development or Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield seeking a legacy separate from his Boxing Hall of Fame father, Evander.
“It just the passion that I have for football,” Holyfield said. “It just continues to drive me.”
Some are non-verbal. Despite ample game tape to analyze, running, lifting, catching are on the menu depending on the personnel group.
The 5-foot-10 Murray, who definitely stated Friday that he is choosing football over baseball, won't solidify his wildly impressive athleticism since he's passing on running or throwing at the Combine. Scouts must trek to his pro day instead. Meanwhile, chiseled Mississippi receiver DK Metcalf powered his way into recognition with 27 bench press reps.
The answers to the questions, whether carefully-planned or athletically spontaneous, are designed to show one’s nature.
“Do you love to win or hate to lose?” Washington tackle Kaleb McGary said of the most interesting question he received from a team at the Combine. “I had to think about that for a second. I chose hate to lose because my mind losing is everything bad in life. Losing is not getting the job promotion, not getting the date with the pretty girl, losing the game obviously. Losing just represents negativity. It represents failure. … It's something to avoid.”
One question McGary received from a reporter about his back-story led the projected Day 2 selection to offer a warning.
“It's basically a country song, so get ready.”
He explained that the recession earlier this century led to the foreclosure of the family farm. His father was involved in a work accident and then learned he had Multiple Sclerosis. Then Kaleb's "girlfriend broke up with me, my dog died, and then we had to move into an RV at my grandfather's front yard because we couldn't afford to rent an apartment.”
Early in 2018 a “wire combusted and the RV actually burned to the ground and caught half the house on fire,” McGary said.
“I got a phone call from my neighbor at 5:00 a.m. saying, ‘Hey, you know your house on fire?' (I said) "No, no I did not. I do now, though. … That was quite an interesting wake-up call on a Friday morning.”
Now the 6-foot-7, 317-pounder with a surprisingly upbeat nature despite those rough times is on the verge of achieving his dream of playing in the NFL.
“More than anything [those struggles] give you perspective that someone who hasn't had these experiences just doesn't or can't have. Because, experiences is experience. You have to have it to have it. It's something that I've taken from a lot of that is perspective and resilience.”
Gauging perspective and resilience along with football IQ and general personality is what the behind-closed-doors questions from teams are all about before making critical draft-day investments. Te on-field work helps shape the evaluation. Maybe teams find some good players and a book recommendation along the way.
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