Minus NFL Combine, Steelers preparing for draft process that relies on college pro days

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Joe Rutter, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·4 min read
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Feb. 27—The only sound emanating from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis next month will be basketballs bouncing off a hardwood surface.

There will be no clicking of stopwatches as scouts time players running the 40-yard dash. No barbells clanging from 300-pound linemen trying to eke out another rep in the bench press. No 3-cone drills, vertical jumps or quarterbacks throwing to an array of wide receivers and tight ends.

For the first time since 1987, Indianapolis will not host the annual NFL Scouting Combine — at least not in its typical format. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL decided to scrap the combine this year, although some medical testing of select prospects will be permitted.

Instead, most of the 330 prospects that usually are invited to attend the event will work out at their respective college campuses throughout a five-week period that begins March 5.

The combine originally was scheduled for March 8-11, a later-than-usual start time given the event usually starts in late February and concludes in early March. The decision to cancel the combine means the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament will be the only major sporting event taking place in Indiana's capital city in March.

Kevin Colbert of the Pittsburgh Steelers is one of two general managers on a special NFL committee that came to the reluctant decision in January to move the combine workouts to college pro days.

"The pro days will again, like the combine, be different," Colbert said early this month in a video conference call with Steelers beat reporters. "We will focus on whatever the schools mandate and how they are mandated by their own states. We will attend as many of those as we possibly can in preparation for the draft.

"But, again, like the combine, the pro days will be judged and worked from a safer manner as we possibly can."

The first pro day will be March 5 at Kansas. Pitt will conduct its pro day March 17 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. West Virginia's workout is scheduled for the following day. Penn State will hold its pro day March 25.

Like last year, when the pandemic hit in the middle of the pro day schedule, interviews with prospects will be done virtually.

NFL teams will be permitted no more than three representatives at a pro day this year. In prior years, teams could have an unlimited number of scouts, coaches and front-office personnel attend a session.

"Some states may restrict that, some colleges may restrict that," Colbert said. "The NFL already put in place that only three representatives from each team can attend a given pro day, albeit under the restrictions that the college will place on it. There will be some schools that say even though the league allows three, you can only have one."

The limited number of pro days will make it more difficult for smaller-school prospects to get noticed by scouts. Such prospects may need to rely on 2020 game tape — provided their school played a schedule during the pandemic — as the bulk of their resume.

In lieu of the combine, the training company EXOS held a two-day workout that concluded Saturday for 133 draft clients at its locations in Dallas and Phoenix. EXOS is among several outfits that specializes in preparing prospects for the combine and NFL Draft. The results from these workouts will be sent to all 32 NFL teams because personnel are not permitted to attend third-party events.

Colbert said he and coach Mike Tomlin usually attend 15-20 pro days after the conclusion of the combine.

"I don't anticipate us being able to do as many this year," Colbert said. "But coach and I will be very selective on when and where we can get out and, hopefully, we can still get to the premium ones where there are as many good players as possible on a given team, and we try to cover that as best we can.

"We will get it covered comprehensively with all the scouts and some of the assistant coaches. But as far as coach and I, we will be more select this year, but only because we have to."

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at jrutter@triblive.com or via Twitter .