The NFL combine is a unique opportunity to bring the decision-makers from all 32 teams together at once. But it isn’t just head coaches and general managers attending. It’s scouts, agents, assistant coaches, and medical personnel. The latter is where the combine’s roots stemmed from, an attempt to get accurate, shareable medical information on college prospects that are otherwise difficult to determine with confidence.
And so the combine creates the opportunity to hear from people you rarely listen to or even see. One of those is Pittsburgh Steelers’ head trainer John Norwig, who spoke to Missi Matthews on Steelers.com and gave a rundown of what the experience is like from a medical standpoint.
It isn’t just Norwig going and giving a player your routine physical. An army of medical personnel attend, as Norwig explained to Matthews.
“We take two orthopedic surgeons, two internal medicine doctors, we take a radiologist, we take four athletic trainers. We also invite other orthopedic surgeons that have worked with us in the past and have gone on to practice in other places. And we use their collective knowledge to evaluate these people and give a medical grade.”
Medical testing is the first thing players do when they arrive in Indianapolis, usually starting off with a Cybex test to measure join movement and flexibility. But it’s far from the only test they undergo and Norwig basically says the doctors can do whatever they want.
“The thing about the combine is we have the opportunity to do any test you can imagine. MRIs, X-Rays, EMG studies, cardiograms, echo-cardiograms, stress tests.”
Typically, there are six medical rooms teams split into. Players go from room to room and examined by each doctor, taking part in whatever test they are asked to do. All this information creates a “medical grade” according to Norwig that gets passed to Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert at the end of each day.
“At the end of each day of physicals, we’ll provide Kevin and Coach Tomlin with a list of athletes we feel should be medically disqualified.”
That illustrates the harsh reality of the game and reasons why some players don’t get drafted despite looking good on tape or being touted in media circles. No stone is left unturned and teams know about every injury you have, no matter how small it may be or when it happened.
Certain players dealing with severe, recent injuries, like Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith who tore his ACL in the bowl game, will head back to Indianapolis in early April for medical rechecks,. This gives the injury another month to heal to see how it is developing and allow doctors to better test it.