FLORHAM PARK, NJ — While players like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III showcased their first-round pedigree in Indianapolis in front of the bright lights and NFL evaluators, players at the Atlantic Health Jets practice facility on Saturday were just looking to get noticed in a lot quieter setting.
Over 225 entrants, each from different backgrounds, gathered at the Jets practice facility in Florham Park, NJ with hope of igniting a spark to their hopeful pro careers at the NFL Regional Combine.
Florham Park was just one of the many regional combines that will be held before the Super Regional Combine in Detroit on March 30-31. Regional Combine director, Stephen Austin, said the event combines “on-field scouting and cutting edge technology to produce an amazingly effective prospect evaluation tool for the benefit of our clubs and aspiring players.”
“We have these regional combines that serve as qualifiers that might be from small schools or might have been injured. Guys that might have fallen through the cracks,” Austin said. “So we hold all these regional combines and take the best of the best and invite them out to the Super Regional Combine in Detroit. That’s where all the team’s come to evaluate them and see if they’d like to sign them.”
With over 750 collegiate programs in the country and $2-3 million dedicated to each pro team’s personnel budget, there’s only so much time and money that can be spread out. The beauty of the regional combine, Austin says, is the freedom it gives NFL teams to focus on the top talent while professional evaluators sort through the “best of the rest”.
Most were from smaller FBS schools like Stony Brook University and UMass-Amherst. Others were formerly employed by NFL teams before suffering injuries and getting cut, like former Jets players Shawn Crable and Kenwin Cummings.
For players like Cummings and Crable, it’s one more shot at their dream job.
Cummings, an inside linebacker, was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Wingate in 2008. A practice squad player for the majority of his time with the team, Cummings was activated in November 2009. He made his debut in the NFL as a special teams player in the team’s Wildcard playoff match-up with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Jets waived him on October 22, 2010 and was later signed to the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad on December 10, 2010 before eventually getting released.
Crable has an even more interesting story. As an outside linebacker for Michigan, being named to two All-Big Ten teams, he was drafted 78th overall by the New England Patriots in 2008 after a solid showing in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. He was up and down from the team’s practice squad and injured reserve list, suffering from a groin injury, before being waived by the Patriots on November 16, 2010. The Jets signed Crable to their practice squad just three days later only to be cut later in the season.
Now after being out of the NFL for two full seasons, Crable is humbled by the layoff from the league and hungry for another opportunity.
“I’m trying to get back to the NFL. I spent a lot of time on the couch the last year,” Crable said. “I’m trying to show them I’m not injured. I got older, but I didn’t get slower or anything. I think the best thing about it is I’m still here. I’m still kicking. And I can still play football with the best.”
Having the experience of the Pro Combine in Indianapolis in 2008 and the regional Combine in Baltimore on Febuary 11, Crable seemed at ease going through the drills — one of the few in a building filled the to brim with a feeling of mounting pressure. He could be seen laughing with current Jets defensive end, Marcus Dixon, who came out to show support to his former teammates and Hampton peers, and helping youngsters on the proper form for each drill.
But behind his jovial aura lied a quiet confidence with a greater understanding of what it means to be an NFL player.
“[The time off] shows you the values in life. It tells you about what’s important in life and what your priorities are. It told me how to conduct myself once you get the opportunity. How to handle finances. The time off got me more spiritually and Godly. I got to spend a lot more time with my kids. I learned a lot about myself as a man. With the time off I understand that this is more than just being a 23-year-old with money,” he said.
Want to hear more from Wesley about the NFL? Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/Wesley_Sykes.
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