MIAMI – Fifteen years ago, Brandon Marshall barely made the cut for the NFL's Indianapolis combine.
A receiver from Central Florida, Marshall was eager to improve his stock with pro scouts in the winter before the draft. The challenge was finding a chance to do so.
“Not everyone makes it to Indy,” said Marshall, a retired six-time Pro Bowler. “I was the last person in 2006 to get invited. I had to politick until the last week. They finally let me in, but not everybody can get that opportunity.”
This year, nobody got that opportunity — because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the combine was canceled. As a substitute, mini combines not sanctioned by the NFL have been organized, including this week's three-day event that concluded Friday in South Florida.
It was hosted by House of Athlete, Marshall's boutique fitness chain. He didn't want a repeat of a year ago, when pro days for draft prospects were canceled at the outset of the pandemic.
“The hardest thing I had to do was walk into our building last year and tell the 12 guys I was training for the draft that they had to go home at the start of the pandemic,” Marshall said. “We started hearing rumblings at the beginning of January — ‘It sounds like the Indy combine won’t happen.' That’s when we started putting our plan in place.”
Although NFL teams weren't allowed to attend this week's mini combine, but measurements were recorded for them, and drills were livestreamed.
More than a dozen players participated after training for weeks at House of Athlete in South Florida. Marshall extended invitations to others and had hoped for a bigger turnout, but pandemic risks may have deterred some prospects.
Among those on hand was former Illinois and Pittsburgh quarterback Jeff George Jr., whose father was the first overall pick in the 1990 draft. The younger George's scheduled pro day tryout in 2020 was canceled three days beforehand because of the pandemic, and it has been 2 1/2 years since he threw his final collegiate pass.
“It feels good to be back to somewhat normal and have a combine situation,” George said. “I'm going through the whole process again, working out and trying to get bigger, faster, stronger, and keeping my arm ready to go, so hopefully I can impress that one person that is in need of somebody.”
Less of a long shot in the draft is former Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. He believes he helped his stock with an MVP performance at the Senior Bowl, and also by spending the past two months training at House of Athlete.
“It has been tremendous,” Mond said. "Everybody is just phenomenal at what they do. You even have your own chef getting three meals a day. It's only going to make my game even better.”
Mond showcased his skills in throwing drills during Friday's event at the Miami MLS team’s stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
“Kellen Mond -- he can hold the whole show himself,” Marshall said. “This is a dude who probably is going to be the sleeper in the draft.”
Other drills included the 40-yard dash, shuttles, and broad and long jumps. Players' weight, height, wingspan, reach and hand size were measured earlier, and they performed the 225-pound bench press.
Among the highlights: Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes ran a 4.24 in the 40; North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt did 27 reps in the bench press; Iowa receiver Brandon Smith leapt 136 inches in the broad jump; and Clemson receiver Amari Rodgers showed great hands in passing drills.
It was all a substitute for what didn't happen in Indy.
“I couldn’t imagine not having it,” Marshall said. “I was lucky to get in there, and the combine is a big deal. The guys are just going to have to do the best they can with these opportunities. They’ve got to take advantage. That’s what everybody is doing in every industry.”
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