INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL scouting combine has been mocked for its drills that seem antiquated and irrelevant, from the 40-yard dash to the long jump. It has earned the unflattering labels of The Underwear Olympics and, most recently, "the cattle auction."
"Sorry 2 the suckers that have to go to the cattle auction this week!" Browns tackle Joe Thomas tweeted Monday. "Don't forget to lie to teams and say how much 'fun' it is! Don't worry; the staff, coaches, and mgmt don't want to be there anymore than you do, so you're not alone. Great for fans though."
The combine is a meat market, with millions of dollars and the futures of NFL hopefuls on the line. And each year the circus expands a little more. Coverage is so saturated that attendance isn't even needed to analyze prospects, as tape of player interviews and drills as well as their medical examinations are sent to every NFL team.
But the combine still holds its value — value that, to many, will never be matched with cameras and doctors: Pure coaching.
"I'm constantly evaluating those guys and trying to stack and order them as you go," said Broncos running backs/assistant head coach Eric Studesville. "We won't get all of them done by the time we get to Indy, but by the time you get back, you'll have met and talked to them and seen them in person. That's one of the reasons I love being on the field with them in Indy because I get to coach them a little bit. I get to look at them. How do they take adjustments? Do they listen? Those are all things that are not going to change when you get here. If they don't listen in Indy, they're not going to listen when they come here."
The 2017 combine features 330 players deemed the top of their class, or close to it. The Broncos own 10 draft picks and have more than $40 million in salary cap space, giving them ample room and plenty of options to tweak the roster that failed to make the playoffs last year.
This offseason, John Elway's seventh as the Broncos' head of football operations, could be his most important yet as he determines the fate of his young quarterbacks, the direction of the offense and the sustainability of the defense.
The focus this year is on revamping both the offensive and defensive lines, to anchor Mike McCoy's new system and to plug the leaks in the run defense. It'll require the right mix of draft picks and free-agency signings.
"We have to get better offensively and we have to compete better offensively to say, 'You know what, we carry half of this load,'" Elway said.
Tuesday morning, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph and his assistants boarded a flight bound for Indianapolis, binders of information on combine participants stuffed into their bags. Awaiting them are days packed with interviews and watching drills. Awaiting Elway are discussions with agents and key decisions on roster moves.
Those binders will expand and Elway's latest plan will gain clarity by week's end. But it starts here, home to The Underwear Olympics and the cattle auction.
"Challenges excite me," Elway said. "That's what it's about. That's how we adjust. Things are going to happen, good and bad. It's all about adjusting."
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