The NFL combine is the ultimate opportunity for athletes to showcase themselves in front of NFL personnel, and earn a shot at a professional career playing football. The majority of those players are performing drills they have practiced thousands of times in the previous 8 to 10 years.
The reason for such a long training period can be accredited to preparation for High School and college football. Depending on the regional culture, many young football players will begin learning combine drills in middle school. This same age group typically attends college camps throughout the summer season. Some athletes won't start this process until High School, but anyone who wants to play college football must learn about combines and camps.
WHY COMBINES & CAMPS?
Football Combines & Camps are the best way for college coaches to evaluate recruits outside of watching highlights & game film. Since the college season is played simultaneously with High School football, combines & camps are relied upon heavily to recruit prospects. Knowing which combines & camps to attend, as well as how to perform competitively, can be a difficult process to figure out. The information in this article will help any student-athlete improve their recruiting process in regards to training for football combines & camps.
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As previously mentioned, some athletes spend years learning how to perform in combine & camp settings. If you plan to compete with these more experienced athletes, you must be properly prepared.
Understand Your Skills
Combine drills are very specific measurements of athletic ability. Participating in these drills without training beforehand (anything less than a month of practice is NOT training) can only be detrimental to an athlete’s performance, and consequently their recruiting process. The same can be said for position & group drills performed at these events. Before deciding to attend a combine or camp, an athlete must complete an honest self-evaluation to decide if the event will improve or worsen their recruitment efforts.
*It can be more beneficial for an athlete to continue to practice combine & camp drills, instead of hastily attending an event that could negatively impact the athlete's chances to be recruited at the collegiate level.
Do Your Research
Not all events are created the same, so an athlete must know what kind of event they are attending. Some combine events are strictly combine drills, requiring heavy focus on performance and measurement accuracy. Others will include individual drills or even a competition portion for the event. There are tons of variations involved in camps & showcases, from doing 1-on-1s to very specific position & agility drills. Whichever type of event an athlete decides to attend, they should thoroughly research what will be expected of them during the combine or camp.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
It’s the simplest of things that are oftentimes overlooked. No matter what the level of skill or experience, an athlete can always make improvements. This certainly applies to combine & camp training. Learning how to do a drill well is a process that is constantly evolving. No one is the same physically as they were the day before, meaning no athlete can do a drill exactly the same as yesterday either. This bit of common knowledge is why athletes must always continue to practice the drills and exercises necessary to excel in combine & camp environments.
*Suggestion: Athletes should be able to do something everyday to improve some aspect of their skills in regards to combines & camps.
A normal combine will consist of the basic six drills to measure athletic ability. Most athletes will experience these drills at some point during their career, whether they are training specifically for a combine or not. This experience will create a decent base to begin focused training for the combine drills. Once an athlete decides to pursue a football career (college or professional), these drills should become a part of a continual training regiment throughout their career.
Know the Drills
40 YARD DASH - The 40-yard dash is a sprint that covers 40 yards (36.58m). This sprint is used to evaluate player speed and acceleration. For skilled positions, tenths of a second in this run are used to distinguish “fast” from “average” speed. Linemen are also evaluated heavily in this run, with the emergence of up-tempo offenses affecting both sides of the ball. In more advanced settings, 10-yard increments are also measured for greater accuracy on player acceleration. Some scouts & coaches also use the first 10 yards to evaluate linemen's ability to get off the ball.
PRO AGILITY / 5-10-5 SHUTTLE - The pro agility is a run that covers 10 yards, using lateral movement. This drill is used to evaluate an athlete’s quickness and ability to change direction. This drill is a point of emphasis for all positions, as it is the most realistic to movement on a football field. The technique to perform well in this drill often translates to more overall athletic ability.
3-CONE / L-DRILL - The 3-cone drill is a run that requires three cones placed five yards from each other creating a right angle. The athlete must use a combination of agility, quickness, and fluid body movement to perform this drill. Evaluation of this drill is more emphasized with defensive lineman & pass-rushing linebackers, but the movements force all players to display their level of athleticism.
VERTICAL JUMP - The vertical jump is a simple motion of jumping upwards in the air. This movement is utilized to determine the explosive power of an athlete. Athletes are not allowed a gather step when performing an official combine vertical jump.
BROAD JUMP - Also known as a standing long jump, the broad jump is done by jumping horizontally. Evaluation of this drill is emphasized on lower body strength and explosiveness. The landing portion of this movement is also critical to determining the level of balance an athlete possesses.
BENCH PRESS - The bench press tests an athlete's muscle strength and stamina, by lifting 225 pounds (102 kg) as many times as possible. Some combine events allow 185 pounds (84 kg) to be used in place of the standard 225 pounds (these combines normally aren’t official measurement events). Because of the various body types & lifting styles, the bench press serves a unique purpose depending on a scout’s preference.
Perfect the Drills
There are many different ways for an athlete to prepare for combine drills, but the universally accepted philosophy is that an athlete MUST practice them to perfection. Since perfection is impossible, this really means that an athlete must always strive to improve their performance before the next combine or camp event.
The best way to improve drills is through repetition and feedback. An athlete should always have a spotter or coach available who can not only measure results but also give constructive criticism and feedback. Some camps and combines will also be able to give an athlete feedback for improvement.
Football camps are an excellent way for athletes to showcase their skills in front of coaches and improve their recruitment process. Camps differ from combines in flexibility and the uniqueness of the events. Camps can include some combine drills, or none at all. This means an athlete must be prepared in knowing what kind of camp they are attending.
Different Types of Camps
ONE DAY EVALUATION
These camps are typically reserved for top recruits and usually invite only. An athlete can expect to participate in combine drills, 1-on-1s or 7-on-7 competitions, and football-specific challenges (varies depending on coaches' preferences).
The best players around the country attend these events. In addition to competing against the top recruits in the nation, athletes in attendance gain media exposure and improve their online recruiting status.
Colleges will host 7-on-7 camps to evaluate recruits in a highly competitive setting. The emphasis will be on a player’s ability to learn a playbook & system in a short period. Coaches will also use these types of camps to assess an athlete’s technique and ability to compete against their college-bound peers. 7-on-7 camps are great for athletes who want to improve their in-game skills outside of the normal football season.
DEVELOPMENT / SKILLS
These camps are typically reserved for underclassmen, as an introduction to varsity and college football preparation. Position drills, 1-on-1s, and sometimes combine drills will be performed at these camps. Competition is always encouraged, but there is a bigger emphasis on learning & player development. These camps usually are smaller-sized & have more hands-on instruction from college coaches in attendance. Young athletes wanting to be exposed to a higher level of football activity should attend these types of camps as soon as possible.
Kickers, Punters, and Long Snappers should attend specialist camps to improve their skills and showcase their current level. These camps allow athletes to learn and improve specific techniques geared toward their specialties. Some colleges host these types of camps, but normally they are held by individual specialist coaches.
Different than combines, camps can be very unique to the host, confusing an unprepared athlete. To avoid this, athletes should be aware of the typical drills and activities performed at most camps.
As mentioned previously, knowing how to perform the six combine drills is a must for all athletes. In the camp setting, the combine portion is normally scaled back to the more generally exciting & faster events: 40 yard dash, Pro Agility, and Broad Jump. Occasionally, the 3-Cone drill and the Vertical Jump will be included as well. It is rare for camps to include the Bench Press, unless the camp is combined with an official combine event.
Competition is a cornerstone in football, so an athlete must be ready for individual drills that exemplify that aspect of the sport. Depending on an athlete's position, 1-on-1s can vary from camp to camp. In general, skill players compete in route running drills, and lineman compete in pass rush drills.
A growing trend in football, 7-on-7 is the new standard for skill player competition & quarterback development. Most players will understand how to perform this drill, as it is a normal practice segment in most football practices. This allows players to focus on showing their skills in a game-like environment without having to perform an individualized drill.
Similar to 7-on-7 for the skill players, this drill is how offensive & defensive lineman can compete in a game-like situation. Different from the 1-on-1 pass rush drills, 3-on-3 usually involves 3 offensive lineman and 3 defenders, using a combination of lineman and linebackers.
Each football position has its own unique drills that can be performed at camps. Athletes should find out exactly which ones are normally performed for their position and become familiar with those drills.
All the previously mentioned activities could be performed in competition format at camps. At the camp’s discretion, there will be competitions that athletes can’t prepare for without having attended the camp previously. Athletes should consider any drill or football activity they have ever performed, possibly a competition event in the future.
How to Excel at Camps
Athletes can attend camps to gain experience, exposure, and ultimately a scholarship opportunity. At any level of an athlete’s recruiting process, an impressive camp performance will improve their recruitment efforts. Making it a priority to excel at these events should be a top priority for any athlete with hopes of playing football at the next level, whether college or professionally.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE - Combine events, position drills, competitions, and any other football related activities need to be practiced continuously throughout an athlete’s career. This constant practice will help an athlete separate themselves from others at camp events.
STAND OUT - Athletes should try to make an impression at every camp they attend. There are three simple ways for an athlete to ensure they are remembered at a camp. First, having a great performance will set an athlete apart from their peers. Secondly, athletes should be willing to talk to coaches and ask for feedback throughout the camp. Building a relationship with the coaches will keep an athlete on the coaches radar during and after the event. Lastly, an athlete should be a leader during the camp. Volunteering to be an example, or to perform first in drills, will stand out to any coaches in attendance.
By Vincent Pervis, Podyum Preps - Edited by Mathias Torp