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NFL teams should put more stock in player visits than pro days

The 2009 NFL Draft is exactly one month away and the final information gathering process for teams involves two distinct events: pro days and the visit to team headquarters. In my opinion, the latter is much more important than the former.

My feelings concerning the NFL Scouting Combine and the virtual irrelevance of the physical testing numbers gathered therein are well-known. The pro days currently taking part on college campuses across the country are even more pointless if you ask me. I do believe knowledge is power and you can never have enough objective data. That said, the information gained from these physical testing sessions should be a very minor part of the overall evaluation.

At least at the combine the testing is uniform and the surface on which the testing takes place is standard across the board so that the teams can compare apples to apples. Pro-day performances can be so different than the numbers generated at the combine that it begs an explanation. Take Penn State for example, where wide receiver Derrick Williams improved his time from a 4.65 at the combine to somewhere around the mid-4.4 range. To be fair, Williams had the flu at the combine and probably should not have run. But pass-rusher Aaron Maybin wasn't sick, and he improved his time from a 4.78 in Indy to somewhere between 4.59 and 4.64.

And it is not just Penn State. Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells cut his time from a 4.53 to a 4.38 in less than a month. How is that possible? Players point to the home-field advantage.

"There is something about going back to your home turf," said Missouri defensive tackle Ziggy Hood. "The excitement, your family and friends are there, and you are so much more relaxed after the combine because there is not as much pressure."

"The atmosphere is magnificent. It is like a mini-Indianapolis," added USC linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. when asked about the perennially well-attended Trojans' pro day coming up next week.

But is it possible there is more to it than that?

Former long-time Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, a noted pro day and combine guru, says scouts take into consideration the surface and how it has typically fared over the years. "The guys at Ohio State run on a fast track and Penn State is slightly downhill," Brandt said. "The scouts want to take a golf ball to the turf at Penn State and see if it rolls that direction to prove it to [coach Joe] Paterno."

Clearly there is a good possibility the extra weeks of prep time and training between the combine and pro day can help, but that much? It is hard to fathom that much improvement in such a short for Maybin and Wells. The funny thing is, the numbers generated at the combine this year were, for the most part, good. In fact, Buckeyes like Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis and Nittany Lion Lydell Sargeant all failed to really improve their times, and so the question about the improvement for the other guys remains.

"A lot of guys have chosen not to run at their pro day and they are standing on their numbers from the combine," said Brandt. All of which is fine except the numbers shouldn't be that important anyway. It is much more valuable to see how fast and explosive a player is on the field during actual action from his football position, not coming out of a sprinter's stance.

Take Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno for example. He ran disappointing times of 4.58 and 4.59 at the combine and his pro day, respectively, and some are now questioning his speed. They've got to be kidding. Have they ever watched him play? Moreno can run with the best of them when he has a ball in his hands.

The second part of the final evaluations taking place across the league, the team visit, is much more important if you ask me. Teams are able to bring up to 30 players into their facility in an effort to get to know them better before making a decision. The premium during these encounters is placed upon trying to get to know the prospect's character, passion for the game and football intelligence.

Read Aaron Curry's first-hand account of his visit to the Detroit Lions.

"We had dinner the night I got there and just talked for a while," said Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith when asked about his recent visit to Detroit. "The next day I met with everyone, we watched film and then did some board work."

Unlike the combine, when teams are limited to 15-minute interviews with the prospects, teams have a greater opportunity to get to know an individual during team visits. What will he be like after he gets all that guaranteed money? Will he work as hard? Will he still play through an injury? Is he ready mentally for the pro game?

The last question is vitally important because the NFL is so complicated that players have to be able to keep up mentally or else they will fall by the wayside. Missed assignments are devastating at any level, but in the NFL they can often be the difference between wins and losses. If you aren't ready for the complex schemes that are a big part of being an NFL player, these visits can expose you.

"I heard about a guy who was asked to draw up a couple of things and it was obvious that he didn't really know his college's defensive system at all after four years," said Brandt.

I would like to think that guy won't be among the players to get the really big money come late April ... no matter how fast he ran at his combine and pro day.

I read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback and MMQB Mailbag like I do every week and it seems everyone is throwing in their two cents about this overtime thing. Here's mine.

The current OT format is perfectly fine. Overtime is by definition extra time. I don't feel bad about the team that loses the coin toss and then fails to stop the other team from getting in scoring position. The losing team had an equitable chance during 60 minutes of action to win the game. It didn't get it done. Overtime is in place in an attempt to prevent a tie. Period.

More importantly, every additional play represents an increased risk for a serious or potentially career-ending injury for the players, especially in an extra period. That's not even taking into account more wear and tear on bodies that are already beaten down. You may not care about that, but the players and their families do. And oh yeah, extending overtime would represent more work for the same money, and nobody is really all that interested in that either.

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