ON THE WAY TO INDIANAPOLIS Most of the NFL’s decision makers are on their way to Indiana, too, for Wednesday’s start of the league’s annual scouting combine in advance of April’s draft.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider is scheduled to speak publicly on Wednesday to the media at noon Indiana time (9 a.m. Pacific Time) for the first time since a satellite-radio interview from the Senior Bowl in January. I intend to ask the GM about his thoughts on Richard Sherman (who continues to make or fake news, if you didn’t hear or see his latest from Monday). I intend to also ask Schneider about his offensive line and the prospects there at this combine, about signing free-agent kicker Blair Walsh to a prove-it, one-year contract and what that means for free agent Steven Hauschka, and more.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll is scheduled to speak to the media at the combine on Thursday at noon Indy time. He hasn’t spoken publicly since Jan. 16, two days after the team’s playoff loss at Atlanta ended the Seahawks’ season two games short of the Super Bowl.
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The college prospects begin taking medical tests and meeting with teams for interviews on Wednesday; offensive linemen, running backs, kickers and special-teams players are first. The media interviews with the players begin on Thursday, with on-field workouts starting with that first group on Friday inside the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium.
Former Seahawks All-Pro fullback Mack Strong and former Jacksonville Jaguars and University of Washington quarterback Mark Brunell are among 13 former NFL players mentoring the participants by position group at this combine. That’s a first, a formal program for legends to meet with draft prospects on transitioning-the-league issues at the combine.
The popularity of and attention on what used to be just a medical clearinghouse for prospects before the draft has reached the point that this year there is another first: the first time fans can secure tickets to watch the players’ interviews with the media inside the Indiana Convention Center across the street from the stadium. It’s the NFL’s way of making the combine something like the newer, “opening-night” media interviews in an arena days before the Super Bowl.
“I think what it is is kind of the age-old conversation inside the NFL, where the competition committee and football guys would like to keep it as private as possible,” NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said Monday. “It was difficult to open it up years ago for television. As you guys know, there is no media allowed inside (to view workouts, except a few selected each day by something of a lottery). They have very few fans allowed inside. And I think the football guys like it that way.
“Now, I think the other side of the NFL looks at it as a huge media opportunity. The ratings are good. The interest is high. Just how far do we go with pushing the, quote, ‘Underwear Olympics’ out there as a massive event for fans, and I think the recent legitimate conversation internally about how it should be treated.”
As I wrote a couple weeks ago here, the combine means only so much to the Seahawks. Carroll and Schneider have in their first seven drafts selected 17 players who did not even get invited by the league to the combine.
So this week in Indiana is a midpoint far more than a capstone for Seattle’s and most other teams’ pre-draft process. No matter what the hype and talking heads on TV offer as conclusive.