Ravens descend on scouting combine

OWINGS MILLS – Equipped with stopwatches, scouts and doctors, the Baltimore Ravens have descended upon the league's annual decathlon for college prospects. Baltimore's delegation of scouts, executives and coaches are attending the NFL scouting combine this week at Indianapolis' RCA Dome.<br><br> It's essentially a meat market, a mass job interview conducted underneath a microscope.

Many of the top prospects opt to not run or take part in individual drills at the combine, preferring to work out for NFL teams on their respective campuses.

While the Ravens are as curious as any other franchise to gain as much information as possible about the 335 assembled job candidates' speed, agility, strength, versatility and sound health, they also try to gauge athletes' character and personality.

"The most I get out of the combine is the chance to interact with the young men," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Working them out, you're certainly going to get to know a little bit about their ability. 

"You have to be careful that you don't let that override what you see on tape. The best part for me is meeting the athletes."

Many of those prospects, though, prepare as rigorously for the interview process as they do the 40-yard dash, bench press, broad jump, vertical leap and pro agility tests.

It's the NFL equivalent to SAT prep.

Athletes try to anticipate teams' questions and are drilled beforehand on what to expect from their agents.

"Most of the players are if not well-rehearsed, at the very least, we all ask the same questions," Billick said. "You're not going to come away feeling like you absolutely know someone after a 15-minute conversation.

"At least you get that initial feel and look in their eye to see how they carry themselves. It's just one piece of the puzzle."

Many agents obtain copies of the league's 50-question Wonderlic personnel test, which evaluates intelligence and logic. 

Some of the questions for the 12-minute exam are as simple as: "Papers sell for 21 cents per pad. What will four pads cost?" 

Some are much more difficult, including this one: 

"Three individuals form a partnership and agree to divide the profits equally. X invests $9,000, Y invests $7,000, Z invests $4,000. If the profits are $4,800, how much less does X receive than if the profits were divided in proportion to the amount invested?"

The New York Giants' test is 400 questions long and includes queries such as: "Would you return a wallet with money in it?"

Prospects spend most of their first day at the combine at an Indianapolis hospital for intensive medical exams. 

There's mandatory drug testing, just like most job interviews.

The NFL also has access to background checks that includes arrest reports and traffic incidents.

Players are advised not to lie about off-field episodes because, in most cases, NFL personnel tends to already know the details of what happened.

Teams are allowed to interview 60 prospects.

Past interviews have included inquiries about whether the player smokes marijuana or if his parents are divorced.

Being invited to the combine indicates a strong chance of being drafted.

Over the past 11 years, 3,576 players have been invited, 2,269 have been drafted, and 437 players not invited have still been drafted.

Fifty wide receivers were invited to this combine. The Ravens' first pick is 51st overall in the second round having traded their first-round pick to New England last year to obtain starting quarterback Kyle Boller.

"This is a strong wide receiver draft," said NFL analyst Gil Brandt, a former Dallas Cowboys personnel executive. "There's a lot of depth and quality at that position."

Last year, some clubs downgraded Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs when he covered 40 yards in 4.8 seconds at his campus workout. 

Baltimore drafted him 10th overall. Suggs collected a dozen sacks and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

"I'm not going to say it doesn't mean a lot to me, but I don't particularly care as much about the 40," Billick said. "You're either fast enough or you're not. I like to watch them run to get a feel for how explosive and smooth an athlete they are.

"If a guy doesn't run a good 40, it's amazing how much a guy's stock will drop. Terrell Suggs, case in point."

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin clocked a 4.72, emerged as an instant success as a second-round pick and was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"That's why we caution ourselves to not get too enamored by speed," Billick said. "You can see the look in people's eye if it's not a good time. Even though we say one thing, we don't always live up to it."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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