For the countless hours of television time the NFL Combine occupies, there are certain idiosyncrasies that can only be translated first hand.
After watching so many players grind through a dizzying run of exams, meetings, interviews, and drills, Boston College strength and conditioning coach Phil Matusz realized the best way to prepare college players for the combine was to replicate it for them.
Matusz first hatched the idea for a team-centered combine during one of his two stints at Villanova at the start of the 2010s. When he moved on to Ohio State in 2014, he implemented a more group-based combine day for the Buckeyes. Those experiments evolved into the fully formed idea he brought with him to BC and implemented last week before the Eagles started spring practice — a complete BC combine.
“It’s going to look very similar to the NFL combine except there’s going to be a BC backdrop instead of an NFL Combine backdrop,” Matusz said.
The idea fits hand-in-glove with the philosophies of Eagles new head coach Jeff Hafley, who comes from an NFL background.
“I think it gives them an example of what it’s going to be like,” Jeff Hafley said. “How hard it is, the pressure of it and it just kind of trains them in a different light. That’s our job is we train these guys in all different phases and we get them ready for stuff like that.”
Matusz sets up the schedule so that it mirrors the NFL combine almost down to the minute.
The day starts at 6 a.m. and runs to 10:20 a.m. The first group is offensive linemen. The youngest linemen are the first to run through the gauntlet. The veterans take their turns 20 minutes later. Every 20 minutes a new group cycles in.
The idling and downtime? That’s a part of the process, too.
“Very similar to the NFL Combine, you’re going to see guys put their hoods up and their earbuds in and they go warm up how they want to warm up and all of a sudden they go through these drills,” Matusz said.
The drills are identical from the 40-yard days timed in 10- and 20-second intervals to the bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill, shuttle run, and position drills.
“They’ve got to be confident in their abilities because we’ve done every single combine drill dozens of times,” Matusz said. “So when you go out there, it’s a simple mental approach. Your mental reps, you’ve already done those. It’s you closing your eyes and picturing yourself doing the pro agility and three-cone. It’s no different than you closing your eyes and mentally preparing yourself on the field and doing that rep.”
Perhaps the most valuable part of the simulation is the part that doesn’t show up on the television broadcast. Before any of the on-field work starts, players go through a carwash of meetings. Prepping for the mental tests is just as important as nailing the physicals.
“Their arrival date looks like this: the interviews, the screenings, then more interviews and then what Day 2 looks like and then Day 3,” Matusz said. “You don’t do physical activity at the combine until the last two days there.”
Having the timing lineup just ahead of the NFL Combine couldn’t have worked out any better.
“Allowing us to do it now before it even hits, that’s even better because our players can literally sit there on [their] couch — hopefully not with a bag of Doritos or anything — and watch the combine and review what we taught him,” Matusz said.
The Eagles have a reason to keep their eyes on the NFL combine this year with former star running back AJ Dillon going through the process now after declaring for the draft at the end of last season.
His former handcuff in the backfield, David Bailey, kept close tabs on him to learn as much as he could.
“I’m going to be watching him to see how everything goes because that’s everybody’s dream to be there one day,” Bailey said.
Quarterback Dennis Grosel reached out to Dillon as well.
“He was super excited for it,” Grosel said. “He was kind of giving me some tidbits about what it’s like because seeing it on TV is nothing like it is in person. The meetings and the medical stuff go on all day and that’s stuff that they don’t show on TV. They just show the bench and the 40.”
At the same time, getting to go through their own version allowed the Eagles to get a true sense of the ins and outs of the day.
“It was a neat combine we had,” Bailey said. “That was my first time doing it, actually getting a feel for the combine.”
Grosel said he realized how critical each individual drill actually was.
“You get your one shot,” Grosel said. “That’s something that coach ‘Tusz said earlier that week was you’ve been building your entire college career for that one shot and you better not let it slip.”
The Eagles will have another combine day at the end of spring ball to measure their gains over the course of the month. Matusz’s goal is to make sure each player is ready should their day at the combine come.
“I’m a firm believer that as soon as you step on campus, you’re preparing for that day, preparing for that moment,” Matusz said. “So for us as a strength staff, if we don’t integrate that, if we don’t prepare for that, what are you really preparing for? You’re not really setting this kid up for success.”Julian Benbow can be reached at [email protected].