Seattle Seahawks

Boling: NFL Regional Combine gives long shots their shot

As 350 or so athletes spent Saturday at the Seahawks’ training facility – chasing their dreams in sprints and leaps – it was probably more about aspiration than perspiration.

But, as they all would tell you, long shots sometimes win the race.

Those taking part in the NFL Regional Combine tend to be those whose plans somehow went slightly off track.

They were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. Some haven’t played in a while. Some got injured in college, some were just late-bloomers.

It makes for an interesting collection, with players from colleges not always known for production of NFL talents. One prospect was a 5-foot-8 linebacker giving it a shot at age 38.

Another was a cornerback who attended The Art Institute of Seattle. What are they, the Fighting Impressionists?

The NFL makes it clear this is not some kind of fantasy camp; it is intended for those with serious intent. And it also cost $250 for the opportunity.

Recognizable names made the list, such as former Seahawks receiver Alex Bannister, now 34. As did a number of former Washington Huskies and players from Eastern Washington and Central Washington.

An eye-catching effort Saturday might earn hopefuls an invitation to the Super Regional Combine on April 12-13 at Ford Field in Detroit.

And surprisingly it often works.

As of Feb. 8, 76 players active on NFL rosters had experience in regional combines. The Seahawks have three such players: defensive end Benson Mayowa, quarterback B.J. Daniels and offensive lineman Caylin Hauptmann.

The Hawks, at the last combine, also noticed and signed Idaho receiver Justin Veltung, from Puyallup High School, but he ended up on the Rams’ roster.

So, although it’s a bit of a cattle-call audition, guys get seen. And Mayowa is the perfect example.

He came out of Idaho with some modest career numbers. But from the regional combine last spring, he earned an invitation to the rookie minicamp, which got him a shot at training camp. With injuries to Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril opening the way, Mayowa got an opportunity during the exhibition season and led the team with 3.5 sacks.

He landed a spot on the 53-man roster.

That’s what the players are shooting for. And for the teams?

Tag Ribary, Seahawks director of team operations, explained how NFL personnel staff can benefit from these endeavors.

“It’s an extra look,” he said Saturday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “There’s people that maybe have been out of the game a little bit, but they’re still keeping in shape and they’re still eligible to compete at a certain level whether it’s the NFL, CFL, Arena League. And there’s all kinds of body types and skill levels at these things.”

Inside the cold practice facility, the players went through the same tests and measurements conducted at the featured combine in Indianapolis. They then were taped running through specific “position skills.”

The results from the 10 regional combines get registered with the league, where scouts can access numbers that are uniform and reliable.

The Seahawks had already scouted Mayowa and graded his performance while he was at Idaho. But he got noticed at the combine.

“We got that extra look at him,” Ribary said. “He ran well, he jumped well. His numbers were really good, and he took it from there.”

In the case of Air Force linebacker Alex Means, he has had some more pressing obligations – serving the United States of America. He won’t be able to play until 2015 even if the NFL wanted him now.

At 6-foot-5, 240 with impressive agility, Means looked like one of those likely to earn an invitation to the next combine.

A logistics officer, Means has been “deployed” to the Air Force football team, serving as a graduate assistant. He last played in the 2012 season.

“I didn’t go to college expecting to go to the NFL,” Means said. “I wanted to get a great education and serve my country. The opportunity (to try the NFL) presented itself at the end of my career. The military commitment kind of hinders that a little, but that’s what we were in school for anyway.”

So it’s worth it for the players if they get to keep the T-shirt and shorts with the NFL logo on them. And there’s always that chance.

“You never know,” Ribary said. “We’re always looking for that next guy.”