2020 NFL Draft

Browns players relive their rewarding, nerve-wracking NFL Combine experience


INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was stressful. It was eye-opening. It was exhausting.

It was the NFL Scouting Combine.

To a number of Browns, who shared their Combine memories during exit interviews in December, it was experience they'll never forget, but it's also one they'd be reluctant to relive.

"You're nervous, you're excited for being there because you've been thinking about it since you were a kid," said linebacker Chris Kirksey, who began his experience one year ago today. "Just meeting a lot of coaches and seeing all 32 teams there and you're just like 'Wow, I'm really here at the Combine.'

"You kind of get lost in the maze but then you got to realize I'm here for a job and I got to show my best."

As tight end Gary Barnidge described it, the Combine's schedule is unforgiving and leaves little room for rest. Though there's no official score or time attached to a prospect's ability to maintain stamina throughout the four-day process, it's essentially the biggest test of them all.

The players arrive in Indianapolis in waves based on their position group. For example, specialists, offensive linemen and tight ends went through Day 1 on Tuesday while defensive backs won't get into town until Friday. The fourth day for each position group is what fans can watch on NFL Network, as nearly all of the physical drills are scheduled for the final day. (Bench press is at the end of Day 3).

"I didn't get to do anything running-wise because I pulled my hamstring a couple weeks before, so I did the interview process and medical stuff and bench press," defensive lineman John Hughes said. "It was still strenuous because all the stuff you've got to do, you're up from 5 in the morning to 12 at night for three days straight. I couldn't even imagine working out at the Combine."

The medical examinations are notoriously thorough and time-consuming. For some players, they drag on long enough to eliminate their media responsibilities, which take place on Day 2.

"It was a lot of sitting around, just waiting," cornerback Justin Gilbert said. "Not really what most people see on TV when you're out there running 40s and doing drills. There's a lot of stuff behind the scenes, visiting hospitals and getting physicals done, having doctors poke on you all day."

Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden would have preferred the order of events to be reversed.

His Combine experienced was temporarily tarnished when he strained his back while bench pressing. As a result, Haden's 40-yard dash time wasn't ideal (4.52 seconds), and, for a few weeks at least, Haden was forced to deal with question marks surrounding his draft status.

"You know how that is in the combine running the 40. If you can't run the 40 you don't know how to play football," Haden said. "But the Combine is a really good experience to get to know the other players, all the college dudes, because when I was playing college ball, same thing as NFL, you watch everybody else, you see those players, you know who the guys are and who is supposed to be drafted. You want to go see if you can out-jump them, do the shuttle better."

Cornerback Buster Skrine used his Combine experience as a confidence booster and a platform to prove to scouts, coaches and general managers that he was ready for the NFL. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound University of Tennessee-Chattanooga product ran a solid 40-yard dash and flashed some surprising strength on the bench press with 20 repetitions of 225 pounds.

"I was one of the only players from a smaller school there," Skrine said. "I got there and we're all the same, so I know what I can do and I can put it up front for these coaches and GMs to see. I had one of the better performances of the week."

Offensive guard Joel Bitonio's last name got the best of him during the physical drills. Because the offensive lineman alphabetically ahead of Bitonio sat out the drills with an injury, Bitonio was the first to perform each test.

Bitonio held his own, but it wreaked havoc on his nerves. It's safe to say he wasn't the only one that felt that way.

"You're waking up early and you're like, 'Am I doing good enough in these meetings?'" Bitonio said. "You get probably five hours of sleep before you have to actually go out and run and do the events. By the time you get to that, you're running on adrenaline. I ended up doing all right at the Combine. It was still a pretty tough thing to go through."

This article is part of the Road to the Draft series, driven by Liberty Ford.

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