Jan 29, 2015
Weighing in on the NFL Combine

By Kenny Berkowitz

Earlier this year, veteran athletic trainer Rex Sharp, MS, ATC, Director of Sports Medicine at the University of Missouri and member of the NATA’s District 5 College and University Athletic Trainers Committee, had the chance to attend and observe the National Football League Scouting Combine. A week before the 2007 NFL draft, Sharp talked to T&C about what he took away from the combine, lessons that included the importance of compiling accurate medical records and properly preparing student-athletes for the event.

T&C: What did you learn by attending the NFL combine? Sharp: It was a great experience. It’s very impressive to see so many athletes moving so quickly through a system that thorough. And the most valuable thing I brought back was the importance of compiling detailed, pertinent medical records. In the past, I was occasionally guilty of not sending all the information I should have for our student-athletes who attended the event–I usually just didn’t have enough time. As a result, afterwards I fielded calls from pro teams asking for updates on our draft-eligible student-athletes.

Though I’ve enjoyed those conversations and now know the majority of NFL athletic trainers, after attending the combine and seeing what it’s like to set up physical examinations for each of the 300-plus participants, I recognize the value of collegiate athletic trainers submitting all that information beforehand. From now on, I guarantee you, if I run out of time again, I’ll make sure someone on my staff takes care of it.

How are the athletes tested? When the athletes get to Indianapolis for the national scouting combine, one of the first things they do is take an extensive physical examination, much like the one we do here at Missouri. In fact, it was reassuring to me that the things we do here for our physical examinations are nearly identical to what the NFL does. At the combine, they have about six rooms that are divided among the NFL teams. They’ll have four or five teams per room, with another room dedicated to general medical examinations for height, weight, and blood pressure. And they have a room for assessing body composition with the Bod Pod.

Student-athletes go through each of these rooms, where there’s a team physician and/or an athletic trainer from every team who examines them. If someone feels the athlete needs further medical diagnostic testing, like an MRI or X-ray, they get it taken care of right there in Indianapolis. Then, when the players are finished with the physical exams, they go across the hall and do a bench press rep test, a 40-yard dash, broad jump, and a vertical jump. They also go through some position-specific agility work, like a three-cone test and a 60-yard shuttle run–the same things we do in our physicals here at Missouri.

Are there other lessons you brought back to Missouri? When I came back, our team physicians asked, “Did you pick up anything we might incorporate into our physical exam procedure here?” I told them that we already do all the things they do at the combine, which was very satisfying.

Did you have any responsibilities while you were there? Just show up on time. That’s one of the great things about the combine. There were three collegiate athletic trainers there–myself, Barney Graff from Oregon State, and Dwayne Treolo from Louisville–and we were all given free rein to go wherever we wanted to.

Most of the time, I was stationed with the Dallas Cowboys, because [Head Athletic Trainer] Jim Maurer and his staff were the ones who originally invited me to attend the event. I also have good relationships with the Rams, the Chiefs, and the Colts, so I spent some time with them, too.

It’s interesting to see the nuances between each staff and the ways the different physicians go about examining the athletes. In the room where I spent the majority of my time, there were two physicians from the Cowboys examining two athletes at a time while the rest of the staff took notes.

How different is each team’s approach? At the end of the day, I doubt there’s a heck of a lot of difference in terms of the doctors’ findings. But each team uses its own scale to rate players, and they all have different priorities.

What did you learn by watching Jim Maurer? First of all, Jim was very well prepared. He’s been through the combine any number of times, so he’s very quick at assimilating the information his team physicians are giving him and then relaying it all back to headquarters.

What’s the best way for athletes to prepare for the combine? Our strength and conditioning staff here at Missouri is very good, very thorough, and our athletic trainers work hand in hand with Pat Ivey, the Director of Strength and Conditioning. It’s important for athletes to train doing the same exercises they’re tested on in the combine. The more they practice those tests, particularly the three-cone test, the better they’ll be.

You had one athlete participate in the combine. What advice did you give him before the event? I told Xavier Jackson, who’s a defensive end, that this was the most important interview of his life. I said, “Be respectful, answer questions as thoroughly as you can, and above all, be honest. Because there’s a lot more to the combine than just physical findings.”

Kenny Berkowitz is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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