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Carmody's Corner: On the NFL Combine

The following was written by former Louisville kicker and 2006 Lou Groza Award winner Art Carmody

The NFL Combine gets underway this weekend and I guess since I don’t really have anything else to write about I will take you through what the NFL Combine experience was like through the eyes of a kicker.  I am sure it is completely different for a position player, but the process kickers go through is pretty much the same for everyone. 

Kickers are exempt from any physical drills; all we are supposed to do physically is kick.  The 2008 NFL Combine was the last one held at the old RCA Dome.  You are constantly being evaluated, especially if you are somebody who is considered to be a top pick. 

I arrived on the first day players start arriving in Indianapolis.  The first group that arrives are the specialists, tight ends, and the offensive linemen. The combine was held at the Crowne Plaza Union Station downtown.  The NFL books this hotel and has it on lockdown.  You cannot get in unless you have a special badge that you have to wear at all times.  When you arrive at the combine you check in with a scout, get your room, and are immediately told that you have to wear the NFL issued combine gear.  This gear has your name on the back, a long with your position and number.  For example, since I was the 2nd kicker alphabetically, instead of being known as Art Carmody, I was pretty much known as PK2.  It did make it easier to see who was around you or to know whom you were talking to.  We were then shuttled off to the local hospital for a basic physical and any X-rays or MRIs that were needed based on your medical file.  For a kicker it is a pretty quick process as long as you don’t get behind a player that has had a ton of injuries in the past. 

The first night you get a quick dinner and then there are meetings where they go over the itinerary for the few days you are at the combine.  Starting that night is the first round of interviews.  Teams at the combine can have 60 official interviews with players.   These are where you go into a room and get grilled by coaches, general mangers, etc.  They can be intense as there is a small amount of time (if I remember correctly it is 15 minutes) and they want to get as much information as possible.  At the end of each 15-minute session an air horn blows to let you know to move on to the next spot.  Same concept as speed dating.  None of the specialists had any of the 60 interview spots, as teams use these on positions of need or who they think they might end up drafting.  If you do not have a scheduled time then you sit in this large room with position coaches, scouts, etc. 

The interviews for the kickers consisted of us one at a time sitting at large round tables surrounded by six to eight special teams coaches.  They fired question after question asking about my college career, academics, family life, strengths, weaknesses, etc.  Tom McMahon, who was my special teams coach at Louisville in 2006, was at one of the tables (he was the assistant special teams coach for the Falcons) and one of the other coaches asked, "Who was the best coach you ever had in college?"  I answered "Tom McMahon," and the coach responded "Good Answer," as he looked over at Coach McMahon. 

After I finished with those tables some of the special teams coaches would grab you for a quick one on one interview.  This is where I learned if a team was going to be looking at a kicker or not, and where I found out about the new roster limit rule that was going into effect that year.  In short, teams could bring in ten players less for their initial training camp roster since there was no more NFL Europe.  If you weren’t being interviewed there was a place to sit where you could watch TV, but the one channel they had it on was The NFL Network.  There was no escaping.  The first night is pretty hectic because all of the coaches are working to fill their reports because the next night there would be a whole new crop of QB’s, RB’s, and WR’s coming in for their first night interviews. 

The next morning starts with a drug test, followed by breakfast, and then onto the RCA dome for the meat market.  This is where you have to strip down and walk across the stage in your underwear in front of all of the coaches, scouts, general managers, etc.  The specialists went first and I noticed that as we walked on stage one by one nobody in the audience seemed to really care.  As the offensive lineman started their turns the audience’s attention sparked. 

After you finish that awkward process you get to go sit in the "bod pod" as it is called. This is where you sit in the egg shaped contraption that measures your body fat percentage. All I remember about that is that it smelled bad in the one I was in. You are given a folder with your medical info and ushered into rooms with four or five other players. This is where you are poked and prodded, especially if you have a history of injuries, had any surgeries, or the medical staff has questions. I thought I was in the clear until one of the teams noticed I had reported some pain in my left knee my sophomore year that had stayed on my file. It didn't bother me one bit but I was still forced to go to the mobile MRI truck to have my knee checked out. I was tired from getting up at 4 am so I just slept in the machine until they told me I was done.

Some players would have to be shuttled back to the hospital for more X-Rays and would not get back until that evening and wouldn't finish their medical meetings with the teams until later that night. One of the kickers that was in our group had broken his shoulder in the 8th grade and was sent to the hospital to have it X-Rayed. As a group we found this hilarious because why would they be so concerned with a shoulder that was inured almost eight years earlier. This just shows you how in-depth they go at the combine. When NFL organizations are willing to invest a lot of money, they want to be sure their investment is rock solid.

After going back and finishing the meetings with the team doctors, you head down to get your official interview on camera. This interview is pretty in-depth and is sent to any team that requests it. For players that have any issues or red flags this can be a very important interview. At this point it feels like the day is over but really it is just the early afternoon because you have been up all day. The night consisted of more meetings with coaches but not as many as the night before because a lot of the special teams coaches are interviewing wide receivers that they project as kick/punt returners. The second day is probably the most mentally taxing day. I saw Harry Douglas and Brian Brohm that night when they were heading to their interviews, and Harry said "man Artie you look tired."

The third day for the specialists was important because it was the day that we got to kick in front of everyone.  At 4 am I could hear all of the next group of players stumbling down the hall to go to their drug tests.  After breakfast we basically just sat around and waited until we were to go to the RCA Dome to kick.  During this time other players were taking some of the mental tests that you hear about, the ones where they ask you if would you rather be a dog or a cat.  I had taken most of these at the Hula Bowl, but it was fun to hear other player’s reactions to taking these tests. 

After getting dressed and getting loose, we were given 5 minutes to warm up for kickoffs.  We then kicked off fifteen times, five to the middle, five to the left, and five to the right.  My goal was to put the five middle kicks as deep as I could, then have the directional kicks hang up high and in the corners.  I had a few kicks go in the end zone but not as many as I would have liked.  I had to dispel the rumor that I couldn’t kick off.  Even though I put a few in the end zone I did not do enough to prove that I could be an elite kickoff guy in the NFL.  I was happy with my kicks that went to the left, but didn’t have as good of hang time on my kicks to the right.  I was accurate on the directional kicks, but the coaches expected me to be.   

After kickoffs we then watched the punters do their thing. When they finished we then had five minutes to warm up for field goals.  This was a crucial five minutes because we tried to get acclimated to working with a snapper and holder we had never worked with before.  Kudos to Mike Dragosavich, a punter from North Dakota State, who held for me during my kicks.  You had fifteen field goal attempts rotating from hash to hash until you finished with three in a row from 50 yards out.  I was lucky enough to make every field goal, finishing 15/15.  I was the only kicker to not miss.  I was pleased with the way that I had kicked field goals, but then again, I did what was expected of me. 

The key with the combine is to impress a team with your skills, to do what you are supposed to do.  If you are supposed to run in the 4.4 range, then you better run in the 4.4 range.  You don’t want to give teams any reasons to knock you down any.  I felt I did what was expected.  I didn’t do anything to hurt me, but felt I didn’t do anything to really impress regarding my kickoffs. 

After we finished kicking, all of the players congratulated each other on their performances.  It was at this point that I realized that Rich Eisen and his NFL Network crew were hanging out on the turf.  They were getting ready for their live coverage that started the next morning.  I had read Rich Eisen’s book "Total Access" a few months before and figured I would go and tell him that I enjoyed it.  When I introduced myself and told him I enjoyed his book, Mike Mayock turned to Rich and said, "we found him, we found the one guy that has read your book." He then turned to me and said "are you sure you don’t want your money back."  Rich Eisen appreciated the comments and we had nice brief conversation.  He couldn’t be a nicer guy and Mayock was cool as well.  Later that night I got some good feedback from some special teams coaches and some constructive criticism on how to improve my kickoffs.  

After the kicking we were taken into a room to take the Wonderlic test.  The interesting part about this 50 question, 12-minute test was that it was in a room right next to the room where the tight ends and offensive linemen were doing the bench press.  We could hear them lifting the entire time we were taking the test.  The only thing I could think about before the test was Brian Brohm.  We had some bantering back and forth before the combine about who could get the higher score on the Wonderlic.  Brian and I had the same major in college, took almost every class with each other, and would constantly compete on tests, papers, etc.  We are both very competitive and I did not want to get outscored on the Wonderlic.  I finished roughly 38 of the questions in the 12 minutes and would finish in the 32-34 range (I can’t quite remember).  You don’t get the results right away though, but what I do remember is that when I looked at the results, I had the same exact score as Brian did.  I was hoping to have the bragging rights for the Wonderlic (Brian finished with a higher GPA, so I needed this), but I guess settling for a tie was the next best thing. 

After the test we then went into the weight room.  The specialists are not required to lift so as soon as we walked in almost every scout and coach walked out of the room.  I always found that hilarious.  That pretty much ended our combine responsibilities, but we still had to be with our group until they started their position drills the next morning.  When the linemen started their drills that was our cue as specialists to head on home.  I went and got my keys (you had to check them in if you drove) and hit the road back to Louisville. 

The combine was a neat experience and a great opportunity.  It was cool to be around all of the great players and coaches.  I felt that I did the best that I could and represented my family, the University of Louisville, and myself well over my four days in Indianapolis.  Wishing Cameron, Johnny, and Bilal all the best this weekend.