Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Draft Diary: Combine secrets and the 40

The "measurement" portion of the NFL combine is the league's version of a meat market. At 8:30 a.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium, South Florida wide receiver Carlton Mitchell and other prospects hit the floor for some push-ups and crunches.

Draft Diary: Combine secrets and the 40

South Florida WR Carlton Mitchell runs through a drill at the combine. (AP photo / Darron Cummings)
South Florida WR Carlton Mitchell runs through a drill at the combine. (AP photo / Darron Cummings)

Draft Diary: South Florida wide receiver Carlton Mitchell will give us weekly detailed insights into the life of an NFL draft prospect in this special series. Click here for the first part of his take on the combine.


Friday

The "measurement" portion of the NFL combine is the league's version of a meat market.

At 8:30 a.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium, South Florida wide receiver Carlton Mitchell and other prospects hit the floor for some push-ups and crunches. In the minutes that followed, they would be appearing in front of coaches, scouts and front-office representatives, wearing tights that would make Kim Kardashian blush.

It was all part of the process as officials would measure them in several different areas - height, weight, wingspan and more.

When it was Mitchell’s turn, he did everything in his power to make sure his numbers stacked up favorably.

“I tried to poke my head up, but he pushed it back down,” Mitchell said with a laugh, describing the process of having his height measured.

The number was 6 feet 2 and 7/8 of an inch. Mitchell was listed at 6-foot-4 during his junior season at South Florida, but like most of the other prospects, came up a little bit short.

His weight measured up more favorably though. By the time Mitchell was set to step on the scale, he had already been to the bathroom five or six times - the result of pounding water from the moment he woke up at 4:45 a.m. The number announced was 215 pounds, just the mark Mitchell had hoped for.

Once the measurements were completed, it was time for medical testing. Mitchell and the other prospects could finally put some clothes on over the tights they were relegated to during the weigh-in.

Except they couldn’t.

At least not Mitchell and Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley. During the hectic morning, both forgot their shorts in their hotel rooms. So it would be a few more hours of discomfort.

There were more questions about his medical history. Poking and pulling of his arms and legs. A heart machine. An eye test. Flexibility. And so on.

An exhausting four hours, but even during this time, Mitchell was focused on enjoying the process.

“I was meeting and greeting a lot of people, just trying to keep a smile on my face and have fun with it,” he said. “I was smiling so much my cheeks hurt. I had a pep in my step the whole time, just seeing where people were from and how everything was going.”

Later in the day, Mitchell met with the media and then more interviews with teams after dinner.

The night ended around 11 p.m. when Mitchell retired to bed. Two full days in the books and still no on-the-field testing. But that was about to change.

Saturday

The Wonderlic test. It’s a part of the combine that makes headlines every year - most commonly in regards to the scores of quarterbacks.

Like the other parts of the combine, Mitchell made sure through his preparations that he would not be surprised. He had taken the Wonderlic three or four times in the months leading up to the combine.

Twelve minutes and 50 questions. Mitchell made sure he answered them all. Word problems like:

A train is traveling at 20 MPH. How far does it go in four hours?

Math and logic. Progressively more difficult. But nothing Mitchell was surprised by.

There were also three different psychological tests. A questioner would hold up a card that had the word “GREEN” written on it. The catch? The text was written in the color red. The three tests lasted nearly three hours, and Mitchell estimated he was asked nearly 350 questions.

“My brain was fried by the end,” he admitted.

Later in the day, the time came to release some of the energy that had built up during the mental and psychological testing.

The bench-press test. 225 pounds. Maxmum reps.

Before going up, Mitchell and the other prospects got a talk from Cardinals strength and conditioning coach John Lott. If you’ve watched the bench-press test on TV, you know who Lott is. He’s the one yelling at the prospects to get that one extra rep, and the guy who gives them a big hug of encouragement at the end.

"He was telling us ‘This is not just for show. This is who you are,'" Mitchell said.

Before it was his turn to go, Mitchell went through his usual warm-up routine: the bar for 10 reps, 135 pounds for eight and 185 pounds for five. As he got ready for the real thing, Mitchell told Lott he would aim for 20 but would hopefully get to 16.

After 14 reps, Mitchell was feeling good, but that’s when he hit the bar to his chest pretty hard and lost a couple breaths. All things considered, reaching 16 was a pretty good accomplishment.

Even though all the receivers are essentially competing with each other for draft position, roster spots and money, Mitchell said that’s not how they approached tests like the bench press.

“Everyone’s competing, but everyone’s encouraging each other,” he said. “It’s a positive situation, a positive crowd.”

For the third day in a row, Mitchell went through the interview process with more teams. At this point, it would seem reasonable to think that things could get a little confusing, but Mitchell said he even prepared for that.

“My agent tested me on all 32 coaches and GMs,” he said. “I learned them all before going into the interviews.”

Only one more day remained.

Sunday

The last day begin at 7 a.m. Strangely enough, that’s considered a late start by combine standards.

The day he’d leave Indy was also considered the most important day, specifically for wide receivers, because it was heavy on physical testing and drills.

The reach. The vertical jump. The broad jump.

And then, of course, the 40. The one test that can really help or hurt prospects, regardless of what they do the rest of the weekend.

Lasers are used for the official 40 times. That's why you sometimes see unofficial times announced and then adjusted. But when it was Mitchell’s turn to run, there was a technical glitch.

"They apologized, but it wasn’t their fault. Just technical difficulties," he explained, making clear that he didn’t intend to use the malfunction as an excuse.

Mitchell ended up running a 4.49, 10th-best among wide receiver prospects. He said that when he practiced the 40 during “mock combine” sessions at his training facility in North Miami, he ran a 4.40 flat. It was clear that he'd like to improve his time during his Pro Day.

After the 40 came the gauntlet. A drill involving catching the football. What a novel concept, huh?

This was a big one for Mitchell. Critics have called him a “body-catcher” meaning he doesn’t use his hands enough to gain control of the ball. He thought he performed well, but definitely felt the attention on him during this drill.

“All the coaches in the stands are watching every drill,” Mitchell said. “All eyes are on you, and you gotta block everything out, just go with basic reaction.”

After running different routes and getting timed in the cone drills, it was time for one final test: the 60-yard shuttle.

It had been a long day and a long four-day stretch for Mitchell and the other prospects. Would the 60-yard shuttle really be a determining factor in where they got drafted? Probably not.

Many prospects in Mitchell’s group opted to call it a day. But not him.

“The main thing why we were there was so coaches could see us compete,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t hurt. I still had energy. You only get the opportunity once. So I just wanted to stay true to my word and do the best I could.”

He did just that. And at about 2:30 p.m., it was over.

For Mitchell, that meant celebrating with a bacon cheeseburger and fries - a nice reward after spending the majority of the weekend chomping on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, corn and chocolate nutrition shakes.

He called his mom, said goodbye to the other prospects and boarded the plane back to Fort Lauderdale. Mitchell's friend and workout partner, Jared Cook, who went through the entire process last year before getting drafted by the Tennessee Titans, was there to pick him up.

They got back to Miami and talked about the combine. Before falling asleep, Mitchell spent another two or three hours replaying everything in his head, already coming up with ways he could improve at his Pro Day on March 30th.

“It’s a long process - the interviews, staying on point,” Mitchell said. “There are times when you want to sleep more, but you just have to remember why you’re there. It’s a business trip, for something I love to do and have a passion for – play football.”


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Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
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