KU duo head to NFL Combine

Senior offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson leads his squad through warmups during a morning practice on Thursday, April 19, 2012 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Senior offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson leads his squad through warmups during a morning practice on Thursday, April 19, 2012 at Memorial Stadium. Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo

Saturday, February 23, 2013

For the third time in the past four years, the Kansas University football team will be represented at the NFL Combine, which starts today in Indianapolis.

Offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson and safety Bradley McDougald will be among the more than 300 NFL hopefuls timed, tested and talked to by potential employers. Coaches, scouts and team doctors from all 32 NFL teams all will be on hand for the event, which is spread out over the course of four days and includes everything from physical and mental tests to background checks and in-person interviews.

While Hawkinson and McDougald view the opportunity as the chance of a lifetime and a great way to put their best foot forward, one NFL scout who spoke with the Journal-World for this article offered some insight into how they will be judged.

“The purpose of the combine is you’re trying to find out as much as you can about a guy,” said the scout, who is preparing for his 28th combine. “So you don’t want to get hung up on the physical or the mental side of it.”

In reality, both aspects of the showcase carry equal importance. Sure, the bench press tests, 10-, 20- and 40-yard dashes, vertical jump tests, broad jump tests and agility drills that measure lateral quickness and body control are the most talked about elements of the combine. But the scout said the mental side of it is huge for evaluators and can make or break a player’s chances.

“I need to know all about your family, let’s hear it,” the scout began. “Tell me about your high school, college. You played for Charlie Weis, OK, get up on the board and show me his top two plays. What’s his favorite pass play? How did he coach ya? If I called him up right now on this cell phone, what’s he gonna tell me about you?”

Although the questions often have the sound and feel of an interrogation, the scout said the Q&A session is a necessary part of putting together a complete bio on each player.

“Who are we buying here?” he said of a team’s thought process. “What kind of individual, what kind of person?”

Although the event is old hat these days, the scout said he still encounters surprises every year. One such surprise, from 2000, stands above all of the others.

“It happens every single year — good and bad,” the scout said. “Sometimes it’s the quarterback, who, when he takes his shirt off and steps up on the scale, he’s got a flat chest and he looks puny and everybody’s giggling and he winds up maybe being the greatest of all-time.”

That’s the scout’s memory of Tom Brady’s combine experience and a good example, he said, of why all elements of the four-day affair are important.

“The biggest way a kid can help himself is show up, give it his best, have a great attitude and go back to what the junior high coach always told you: Listen, learn and give me great effort,” the scout said.

And the worst?

“The worst thing you can do is not show up or show up out of shape.”

That last part is not a concern for KU’s duo. Hawkinson, who graduated in December, has spent the past several weeks training in San Diego and plans to take full advantage of his moment in the spotlight.

“A lot of the tests kind of play to my forte,” he said. “I can go out there and show my athleticism in the majority of the drills and I think that’ll benefit me.”

As for McDougald, he’s been training in Kansas City, Mo., and plans to head home to Ohio on Feb. 18 for one final week of workouts before heading to Indianapolis.

“It’s definitely mind-blowing to think it’s here,” McDougald said. “I remember last year, I was watching it and I was saying how bad I wanted to be there and now it’s my turn.”

Many of the physical drills will be televised by the NFL Network. Hawkinson and the rest of the offensive linemen will kick off the action today while McDougald and the defensive backs will close things out on Tuesday (Feb. 26).

Both have legitimate shots to be drafted during April’s NFL Draft, and their performances in Indianapolis will go a long way toward determining when and where.

“I think we both understand that this is a great opportunity for us,” Hawkinson said. “And I know we’ve both been working hard.”