Combine Rewind: 9 Takeaways from Week in Indianapolis

For the past week, the city of Indianapolis has been the center of the football world.

Coaches, general managers, scouts and other front-office executives from all 32 NFL teams were all in the same place for perhaps the only time all year, as they looked to evaluate more than 330 potential college draft prospects.

The days are grueling for everyone involved.

Players undergo lengthy medical evaluations upon arriving before settling in for nightly, 15-minute interviews with various teams. They then face the spotlight of the media before turning their attention to on-field drills, all with the hopes that they can improve their draft stock before the seven-round show in late April.

Teams spend their time extensive amounts of time on the medical evaluations, physical and psychological tests, formal interviews and on-field performances as they confirm or reshape their draft boards.

There is plenty of work to be done for the media, too, as eight podiums and six tables are set up inside an exhibit hall at the Indiana Convention Center for head coach, general manager and player interviews throughout the week.

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray drew the largest crowd of the week, as the recent Heisman Trophy winner is projected to be a first-round pick in a variety of mock drafts.

The photo shows a glimpse of how much the event has grown.

Here are eight other takeaways from an action-packed week in Indianapolis:

1. Zimmer’s contract news

Perhaps the biggest piece of Vikings news that came down at the combine was that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s contract has been extended through the 2020 season, something Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman revealed Wednesday morning during a sit-down session with the Twin Cities media.

The move keeps Zimmer under contract for the next two seasons in Minnesota. He is 47-32-1 in five seasons with the Vikings and has led Minnesota to a pair of NFC North titles and an NFC Championship appearance in that time.

Zimmer reflected last week on his time in Minnesota.

“First of all, I mean, I love this football team. I’ve given them almost two eyes, now,” Zimmer quipped. “The organization, the owners, you know – working with this group – the fans have been outstanding.

“I never wanted to go anywhere. I’ll be here for 10 more years, I don’t care. I love this situation that we’re in. I never wanted to go anywhere; it was just one of those things,” Zimmer added. “But I love it here, and I hope I can stay here for eight more years. Whatever. Until they kick me out, I guess.”

2. Minnesota ties

As mentioned above, there were hundreds and hundreds of college prospects in attendance in Indianapolis. But there was also a little Minnesota flavor, as five players had ties to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Trey Pipkins went to Apple Valley High School before playing at the University of Sioux Falls, while Gophers offensive tackle Donnell Greene has spent the past few seasons in the Twin Cities. The offensive linemen chatted with Vikings.com about their journey to the Combine.

There were also two linebackers with ties to Eden Prairie — where the Vikings former headquarters was listed — as Minnesota’s Blake Cashman and Wisconsin’s Ryan Connelly were proud of their hometown roots.

And lastly, Iowa safety Amani Hooker, had an impressive day with his on-field workouts on Monday. The Park Center High School alum, who won the Big Ten’s Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award in 2018, spoke about his versatility on the field over the weekend.

3. Spielman, Zimmer highlight offensive coaching hires

On Wednesday and Thursday in Indianapolis, Spielman and Zimmer spoke with members of the media.

Among the variety of questions thrown their way, Minnesota’s new offensive coaching hires – primarily Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak – was a hot topic.

Spielman and Zimmer each spoke highly of Kubiak’s pedigree and the priority placed on bringing him in as a resource and mentor for Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski.

Zimmer highlighted the smooth communication – “It’s almost romantic for me” – that he’s observed in the Vikings offensive meetings despite the addition of new faces.

“It has been outstanding, unbelievable,” Zimmer KFAN’s Paul Allen during an interview on 9 to Noon.

4. Competing at the Combine for a cause

The NFL Scouting Combine is an event that focuses on the performances of draft-eligible athletes, but it also has come to benefit various charities and nonprofits.

NFL Combine co-host Rich Eisen once again wrapped up the week by running the 40-yard dash in his suit and tie for the #RunRichRun campaign that raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Eisen wasn’t the only one competing for a cause, however.

Minneapolis native Amani Hooker coordinated a PledgeIt campaign for his vertical jump that encouraged fans to pledge a donation amount per inch. Hooker jumped 37 inches at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday, which raised $1,193 for his alma mater, Park Center High School.

According to PledgeIt, 53 athletes at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine set up fundraising campaigns for causes close to their hearts.

An image from September 9, 2018 regular season home game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Vikings won 24-16.

Vikings Draft Party

April 25 at U.S. Bank Stadium

5. Combine continues to showcase athleticism

Every year, it seems the athleticism showcased at the Combine continues to increase.

The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine was no exception. From Mississippi safety Zedrick Woods setting a new position record in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.29, TCU’s Ben Banogu setting a new record among edge rushers in the vertical jump (40 inches), players impressed in each event.

Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat showed off his athleticism in multiple drills. He was a top performer in the 40-yard dash (4.41 seconds), vertical jump and 3-cone drill.

6. Defensive linemen didn’t disappoint

A defensive line group that was highly touted for its talent and depth didn’t disappoint when it came time to show its athleticism in on-field timing and testing drills.

Sweat’s time of 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash was the fastest time ever by a defensive lineman. The 260-pounder’s wingspan was measured at 7 feet, 1 inch.

Five defensive ends/edge rushers ran the 40 in 4.60 seconds or less.

In addition to excelling in the vertical, Banogu set a new combine record in the broad jump with a mark of 11-2.

Defensive tackles also brought the heat. Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, who tipped the scales at 303 pounds, clocked a time of 4.83 seconds in the 40.

It’s not often that a defensive tackle is asked to run 40 yards — Linval Joseph made it all 64 to the end zone at Philadelphia last season — so the personnel departments also pay close attention to 10-yard splits.

As you can see from that comparison, Williams’ time topped some elite company.

7. Vikings Medical Staff Members Honored

Vikings Coordinator of Rehabilitation/Assistant Athletic Trainer Tom Hunkele and Dr. Sheldon Burns, the team’s longtime physician, were presented awards in Indianapolis.

Hunkele was named the 2019 Tim Davey Assistant Athletic Trainer of the Year by the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) on Feb. 26.

Hunkele completed his 13th season with the Vikings in 2018. He assists in the evaluation and care of all injuries sustained and helps implement proactive treatment and rehabilitation programs.

He is a native of Reading, Pennsylvania.

Burns was presented the 2019 Jerry “Hawk” Rhea Award for Outstanding NFL Team Physician by PFATS.

Burns majored in chemistry and played football at Hamline University (Class of 1971). He completed medical school at the University of Minnesota in 1974. He has practiced in the Twin Cities for more than 40 years.

8. The torch was passed smoothly

For years, Mike Mayock served as the voice of the combine, helping NFL Network catapult the event that began as a resource for teams to gather intel on prospects into a multiday televised extravaganza.

Mayock became the general manager of the Raiders on Dec. 31, 2018, and NFL Network turned to another former scout, Daniel Jeremiah, to provide lead analysis this year.

Jeremiah demonstrated that he put in the necessary work, participating smoothly in a two-hour conference call before the event and leading the coverage. It is a labor of love to do prep work on 337 prospects, but Jeremiah delivered.

He also got in a fun parting shot when Mayock visited the NFL Network booth for a segment on Sunday.

The visit was yet another example of the camaraderie in the NFL.

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