By now even my dog has heard all about the NFL’s annual scouting combine, held each February into March in Indianapolis before the mega-popular draft.
How could she not? The event that this year runs from Feb. 28 through March 6 has become a spectacle. It is so covered, scrutinized and popular fans this year for the first time will get tickets to watch the college players get interviewed by the media.
But what about those players who are not among the 300-plus bluer-chip prospects the league invites to Indianapolis?
It used to be those left-out collegians had to market themselves or, if they had one, have their agents shop for teams individually. They had to rely on their schools’ pro-day workouts to impress whatever scouts found their ways onto often remote campuses. For sure, it was even more of a crapshoot within the draft’s usual randomness.
Now the NFL has established “regional” combines. Those are six workouts at sites across the country in front of league scouts conducted specifically for players eligible for the draft, but not participating at the national scouting combine in Indiana at the end of this month that gets all the hype.
On Saturday, the Seahawks’ indoor practice facility at team headquarters will host the first regional combine of this draft season.
Quarterback Hans Fortune of the University of Puget Sound is one of 55, under-the-radar prospects scheduled to drill in front of scouts in Renton. In November Fortune, from Kenmore and Inglemoor High School, became Puget Sound's all-time leader in passing yards (6,852), total yards (6,903), and passing touchdowns (58). My News Tribune colleague Todd Milles profiled Fortune this past season.
The regional combine is open to those who played college football in 2016, have exhausted their NCAA eligibility and have paid a $160 participation fee to participate. It is not open to players who are NFL free agents, meaning those who have been eligible for previous drafts. The league has again set up for those players a “pro player” weekend of combine workouts, separate from the exiting collegians, March 25 and 26 in suburban Phoenix.
The Seahawks have found starters from less.
As they prepared for last spring’s draft and free-agent signings, Seattle’s scouting staff had zero game tape of George Fant at Western Kentucky. That’s because he was a basketball player. Coach Pete Carroll and line coach Tom Cable later said all they saw on Fant was some grainy videotape as if shot off a Super-8 camera. Like the kind featured on America’s Funniest Home Videos or something.
The Seahawks signed him to a free-agent deal in May based off not the NFL combine in Indianapolis or even a regional combine like one Saturday in Renton, but off a pro day workout in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Fant wowed Trent Kirchner, the Seahawks’ co-director of player personnel, with his athleticism and his 6-foot-5, 296-pound body during drills on his campus at Western Kentucky. Fant worked out at linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle, tight end and tackle that day. Seattle signed him off that lone workout, intrigued by his size, athleticism — and his audacity.
Six months later, Fant was the Seahawks’ starting left tackle.
Seattle has led the league in undrafted free agents, such as Fant, making its 53-man active rosters the last couple seasons.
At least Fortune and the 54 others working out for scouts on Saturday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center have more going for them, at least formally with this regional combines, than Fant did this time last year.
There is scheduled to be a T.O. wide receiver working out Saturday at Seahawks headquarters (Terrance Owens, from Averett University in Danville, Virginia). There are expected be players from other schools rarely if ever represented at the main combine (such as Linfield, Arizona Christian, Humboldt State, Tufts, Occidental, Lindsey Wilson and Simon Fraser, in Burnaby, British Columbia).
And, in case you were wondering, there are five offensive linemen scheduled to participate Saturday inside the headquarters of the team that you may have heard needs a few. Only one is a tackle. That’s Toreyon Times from Missouri Baptist University.
And -- guess what? -- he’s got a curious, Fant-like basketball back story.
According to Webster University’s publication, The Journal, Times played basketball in the 2010-11 season for the Division-III Webster Gorloks outside St. Louis. He left school after that one hoops season because of financial and family needs. He was working at Fed Ex when he and his father drove to Columbus, Ohio, in September 2013 to be one of 60 players to participate in the International Pro Basketball Showcase. From that, he got a tryout with the NBA’s Houston Rockets; he had to finagle time off from Fed Ex to get there.
A hoped-for career in the NBA’s Developmental League never took off. By 2015 he was trying football, at NAIA Missouri Baptist near his Webster Groves High School in St. Louis. Last season’s Missouri Baptist roster listed Times as 6 feet 6 and 250 pounds, so, yes, he’s had some work to do to get NFL attention. He is No. 58 in the dark jersey in this video he posted prior to Saturday’s regional combine.
▪ Here is the full list of participants at Saturday’s regional combine in Renton. (The next one is next Saturday in Houston):
Last Name, First Name, Position, College
Butler, Dejaun, CB, Hawaii
Carter, Deion, CB, Robert Morris College
Davis Kedrick, CB, North Carolina-Charlotte
Jackson, Isaiah, CB, Western State, (Colo.)
Johnson, Kennedy, CB, Linfield
McCoy, Marcus, CB, Upper Iowa
Morgan, Wayne, CB, Syracuse
Rufus Dennis, CB, Lindenwood University
Collins, Davin, S, Becker
Rucker, Julius, S, Southern Oregon
Thompson, Jason, S, Utah
Bernard, James, ILB, Winston-Salem
Johnson William ILB, Arizona Christian
Zappone, Anthony, ILB, Slippery Rock Bush, Terrance, OLB, Bowling Green
Barksdale, Calvin, DE, Catawba
Hester, Branden, DE, Humboldt State
Chism, Daniel, DT, Benedictine
Pace, Alex, DT, Cincinnati
Hautau, Ofa, DT, Belhaven
Apodaca, Austin, QB, New Mexico
Clark, Jadrian, QB, Weber State
Fortino, Niko, QB, Lewis & Clark
Fortune, Hans, QB, Puget Sound
Kline, Zach, QB, Fresno State
Prukop, Dakota, QB, Oregon
Riddle, Sam, QB, Linfield
Snyder, Alex, QB, Tufts
Cook, Joshua, TE, Idaho State
Amis, Jalen, WR, Upper Iowa
Brown, Theodor, WR, Sterling
Chandler, Tra, WR, North Carolina-Pembroke
Doles, Troy, WR, Brown
Glover, Clifton, WR, Averett
Harris, Cordell, WR, Occidental
Honore, Keenan, WR, Central Methodist University
Kyle, Eric, WR Glenville State
Munson, Mark, WR, Angelo State
Owens, Terrance, WR, Averett
Retzlaff, Matthew, WR, Southern Oregon
Taylor, Andre, WR, Pittsburg State
Wiens, Trevin, WR, Washburn
Willingham, Darrin, WR, Southern Oregon
Anderson, Andre, RB, New Haven
Green, Ronnie, RB, Southeastern Oklahoma
Lee, Taku, RB, Keio University
Pringle, Raysean, RB, Southern Utah
Sublett, Jalen, RB, Lindsey Wilson
Litre, Ante, FB, Simon Fraser
Keys, Lawrence, C, North Carolina-Pembroke
King, Jaso, G Purdue
Osa-Mose, Philip, G, Colorado State-Pueblo
Stanton, Dustin, G, Oregon State
Times, Toreyon, T, Missouri Baptist University