The inside of the RCA Dome was cold. They didn't turn the heat off, but you could tell they might be trying to save some money. Of course, it was also about 30 degrees outside. The RCA Dome is on the endangered species list. After the Combine, it will be shuttered and torn down for the glistening new facility still under construction next door, Lucas Oil Stadium. In its place the city of Indianapolis will build an extension to their current convention center
Once inside the revolving doors Lipman led us around the concourse at the field level of the RCA Dome. We could see the field at times as we walked. We cruised past the NFL Network dining room and I saw NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen and analyst Steve Mariucci holding a production meeting.
After a left turn we went up the elevators to the suite level. Once off the elevator we waited for the rest of the writers. I strolled over to the window and saw Lucas Oil Stadium looming just outside. It's not finished yet, but it's a massive structure that looks like someone took a basketball fieldhouse and inflated it. It looks a lot like the Pacers' home, Conseco Fieldhouse, where I spent Wednesday watching the Pacers play the Cavaliers — before the Ben Wallace trade.
Lipman led us into a suite. Yes, one of those suites that most of us will never sit in. The suite was nicely appointed with comfortable seats, end tables to set your notebook on and a nice view of the field. There was a sign near the sink proclaiming the dates when suite holders had to move out. Are they keeping things here during the offseason?
I picked a prime location in the suite, just on the aisle splitting the two sets of seats. I had never been to the RCA Dome and two things surprised me. First the seats on the upper level are all bleacher seats. I've never seen that at a NFL stadium before. Second, some of the players they've honored in their Ring of Honor are a bit dubious. Bill Brooks? Jim Harbaugh? Harbaugh only played in Indy for four years. I have to assume that Unitas, Ameche, et al were on the façade I was sitting under.
Scouts littered the stands inside the Dome, but they weren't all bunched together. There were pockets of activity, probably scouts that knew each other or worked together in the past. Other sat by themselves taking copious notes.
As I took my seat the 40-yard dash was already underway. It would surprise you to know that this isn't like a track meet. If you were watching at home, you saw the unofficial time from the NFL Network. But inside the RCA Dome, there's no official clock to look at. As a player finished his 40, I heard one writer next to me say, "He looked fast. Sign him."
Coaches weren't just looking at the 40 times, either. There were timing stations 10 and 20 yards from the starting line. Coaches were trying to measure burst, acceleration and speed at the same time. It's rare that a player has all three. Plus, I found the worst part-time job at the Combine. One guy was designated to put the finish tape back on the finish line after EVERY run. That must be the NFL equivalent of being a ball boy at a tennis match, only I have to think being a ball boy at the U.S. Open is more exciting.
What really stood out to me was how QUIET it was. I've covered regular season, postseason and Super Bowl games and the noise can be cacophonous. But at the combine it's dead quiet. It's jarring how quiet it is. Once the NFL Network broadcast started, I could hear Eisen and Mariucci talking easily from a distance. Aside from a few rounds of applause after nice catches, I was left to my own thoughts.
Every drill at the combine is meant to measure something. The receivers ran outs, hooks, slants and streaks. Before every drill the coaches on the field made sure the players knew what they expected from them. Many of the drills featured cones. The players used those cones to measure where they were supposed to make their cuts and the scouts and coaches watched that closely.
The first drill of the session was a simple 5-yard out pattern, and the receiver didn't even have to run the pattern. The receiver started from a standing position five yards from the receiver, made his cut and made the catch on the sideline.
And then it happened — a major injury. I wasn't even looking. I was scribbling my scouting report after Douglas' first catch. When I looked up Florida State receiver De'Cody Fagg was on the ground writhing in pain. We found out later that he had a left leg injury. Unofficially, though, Fagg looked as if his prospects for this draft were over. A stretcher and a cart came out for the receiver and we never saw him again.
Ironically, I had originally been assigned to scout Fagg, but at the last minute I switched with a Chicago writer who wanted to scout Fagg because he, like Fagg, when to FSU. He spent the rest of his two hours scouting other players.
I would never expect that type of injury at an event like this. The good news, we learned later, was that Fagg's surgery and rehabilitation will be covered by the NFL because the injury happened at a NFL event.
My favorite drill, by far, was the "gauntlet." You may not know it by name but you'd know it if you saw it. It's a sideline-to-sideline drill that seems almost masochistic. I watched Douglas do it twice. He started on the sideline as quarterbacks faced him on either side. On a whistle, he turned and caught a pass. Then he turned around and caught another pass. Then Douglas sprinted out into the open field and caught five more passes from five different directions in rapid succession, with the last coming on the opposite sideline.
Douglas caught every pass both times. He used his hips well. He caught the ball away from his body. He caught each of his final passes inbounds. He drew some applause after his first gauntlet.
Douglas made some great catches, too. At one point a quarterback badly overthrew him on an out pattern, but Douglas used his long frame and great hands to pull the pass down. He had two other nifty catches like that, giving scouts an eyeful of a player that may have helped his stock.
After two hours, my time as a scout came to an end. Lipman led us out of the suite, down to the elevators and back to our world in the convention center.
But, for a couple of hours, I felt like a NFL scout. And it felt pretty good.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.