Doctor, doctor, give me the news

A massive contingent of Vikings team personnel, coaches and scouts will descend on Indianapolis for the annual Scouting Combine of college talent preparing for April's NFL draft. But perhaps the people most important to the Combine week are those who are the least known.

For the most part, representatives of the 32 NFL teams at the annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis are easily recognizable. Like rival gangs, most coaches and team personnel don their home-turf colors to make them readily identifiable to the players as to who they represent. Brad Childress always cuts a dashing figure in the stands or on the sidelines in his black and purple ensemble. The same is true for the coaches and scouting staff. But there are a few in the group who may be the most vital component of the Vikings contingent, but are also the most anonymous.

For the most part, the scouts have already done the primary focus of their jobs – evaluating player talent for use by the coaching staff. The coaches, who missed the college all-star games because the Vikings advanced so deep into the playoffs, are seeing some of the college game's top players for the first time, which makes the Combine experience so important. But the key players for the organization during their time at the Combine are the medical staff, trainers and two psychological evaluators the team is sending to be part of the annual rookie cattle call.

One might think the Vikings would send a dozen or so people to the Combine, but the actual number is far greater than that – like five times larger.

"You're talking roughly 60 people," Vice President of Player Personnel Rick Spielman said Thursday. "Basically, everybody has a role and a responsibility. You try to have all the people have a function – position coaches, the scouts, the medical staff, the people who are doing the psychological testing. It is a pretty big project as far as organizing and making sure everyone is on the same page and when everyone gets (to Indianapolis), know what we have to get done and what we have to get answered – all of those aspects."

While most in the media at the Combine focus on Wonderlic scores, 40-yard dash times and how many repetitions of 225 pounds a player can do in the bench press, Spielman said the best information gleaned during Combine week is done so by the medical staff. He said two prospects can be viewed as essentially equal, until the medical results come in and unsettling information comes out on one of the players – information the player himself might not even have been aware of.

"Medical is huge because if our doctors say ‘this is a no-touch guy' we're not going to draft him regardless of how good he is," Spielman said. "You find out some things on these kids that they don't even know they have – even from an internal standpoint - like if they have a heart condition. There are things you discover down there that you don't discover before you go in there at times."

In the "leave-no-stone-unturned" world of draft preparation, the interpretation of psychological testing has become more important. At this year's Combine, the Vikings have added a second consultant to review the psychological tests administered during the process. Just as a player doesn't vault up or down the draft board too high based solely on a 40 time, Spielman said the psychological tests are just one spoke in the bigger wheel to weighing the draft board.

"I think it's a tool, just like everything else is a tool," Spielman said. "It's always going to come down to what they are on the football field. You tie all that into our system on whether you're boxing them or not boxing them or red-dotting them or not red-dotting them. It's just another tool that we use, because it so subjective. You're projecting what these guys are going to be in the NFL. Some guys are easier to project than others, but if you can take some objective information to shrink the subjective decision, that's what you try to do."

Spielman is something of a mad scientist/savant when it comes to evaluating players – he has nearly three dozen individual red flags that can lower a player's draft stock and eliminates more players from consideration pre-draft than are actually drafted. He has always been intrigued by the psychological testing aspect of the draft process.

"I'm a big proponent of it," he said. "I got very interested in it going through the years, because I think sometimes the success of a player may not always have to do with just his physical ability, but his mental makeup. You can have a guy with great physical ability, but he doesn't have the heart or the ‘want-to' or the passion. Sometimes those guys aren't successful. Hopefully, that's the kind of stuff that will be identified through the psychological testing."

Spielman concedes that some may look at the testing as voodoo science because each individual player is wired differently. When screamed at by a coach, some respond favorably and improve, while others get in a funk. Spielman said the Vikings have tried to focus trigger questions that pertain differently by different players and be interpreted differently for players with different responsibilities.

"I don't want to call him a soothsayer, but there are questions in there that are specific to positions," Spielman said. "The mental makeup of a (cornerback) should be different than the mental makeup of a quarterback – or an offensive lineman compared to a linebacker. There are questions in there about how combative they are and how competitive they are.

"Some guys you can maybe pull that out in the psychological testing that he's hard on himself or gets down on himself. Some guys it's just like water off a duck's back. They just keep rolling. Those are some of the things you try to pull up. How does he fit with the chemistry we've tried to build here in the locker room? Is that part of his makeup? How does he handle pressure situations? I try to make it working with the people we work with (to make the testing) position specific."

Spielman said that determining a player's NFL future through a written test has its share of critics and isn't completely infallible. He said he understands that no system is perfect, but the testing can be something that will get the team to do more exploration on the player before investing a draft pick in him. He said the information is valuable, but not a lead-pipe lock to equate to all players the same.

"There are some misses," Spielman said. "If there was anything (that is) 100 percent (accurate) on this side of the business, I'd like to see it. I don't think there's anything that has been invented yet that is 100 percent, because it's so subjective. It's just a tool that alerts you to that and, if there is an alert, you want to address it to say ‘(either) the psychological test is wrong or I can see where he's coming from.'

As the Vikings contingent invades Indianapolis next week, there will be a lot of familiar faces in the stands and on the sidelines. But perhaps the ones who will be ultimately be the most important to the Vikings draft effort will be the guys in suits and ties that nobody other than Spielman will likely even recognize.

"I don't know what everybody else brings down there," Spielman said. "Some may have less scouts or less coaches or take fewer people. I know, for the most part, everybody has medical people down there. Everybody has some type of psychological testing they're doing. Everybody has coaches and everybody has scouts down there."

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