MADISON - The NFL Combine is big business. The week long event in Indianapolis serves as one of the biggest evaluation tools teams use when determining who they’ll pick in May’s draft. So it’s no surprise that the time and money spent in getting guys ready for the grandest of all job interviews has sky rocketed as the combine has gotten more attention from the mainstream media.
At these combine prep locations players get the full treatment. In addition to training for combine specific drills, prospects are taught how to improve their eating habits, take part in extensive film study and learn how to deal with the intense interview process they’ll go through with NFL teams.
Six former players for the University of Wisconsin will be in attendance this week and most took full advantage of the combine prep. Tight end Jacob Pedersen was playing in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, and within days, he was training in South Florida. Another former Badger, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, spent the past few months working out in California. But it’s not for everybody. Linebacker Chris Borland – who is projected to be the first former Badgers player off the board – didn’t even leave town to get ready.
“I know in the past 10, 20 years these (combine prep) places have blown up,” Borland said Thursday night when he joined In the Trenches on 100.5 ESPN. “But I felt like all I needed was the familiarity of Madison, (UW Director of Strength and Conditioning John) Dettman’s guidance for the physical part and everything else would take care of itself.”
Instead of heading to a warm desitnation like his teammates, Borland watched film on his own, talked some with UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and decided his vast experience in dealing with the media would shine through in the interviews.
"I just need to run well and test well," Borland said of his focus. "So that’s what I’ve been up to. I feel like I’m prepared. I know they throw a lot at you at the combine and they want to see how you function underneath stress, but I’m confident in that area, too."
The fact Borland didn’t approach training for the combine the traditional way isn’t a surprise. He’s not a traditional player. The Ohio-native will measure at less than 6-feet tall and the length of his arms has been brought up by draft experts for much of the past two months.
“I think size is a big question mark but a lot of guys have gotten it done being smaller,” Borland said, noting that one of the guys conducting Thursday’s interview – former Badgers safety Jim Leonhard – stayed in the league for nearly a decade despite his small stature. “There’s a lot of ways to accomplish being an NFL football player. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a prototypical path.”
Borland was able to show that during last month’s Senior Bowl. Nearly every day after practice scouts gushed about the former Badgers linebacker and he left Mobile, Ala., on the rise up draft boards.
“The Senior Bowl was a good opportunity for me to address that,” Borland said about his size. “I could play with the best. I got MVP of my position group for the week so clearly size wasn’t an issue there and I don’t think it should be in my NFL career.”
It’s not just size limitations he’ll have to answer for. Durability may also be a concern. He was forced to redshirt his sophomore season of 2010 due to shoulder surgery. And he missed a pair of games in 2012 and 2013 because of a hamstring injury. But he’s ready to answer those questions and anything else thrown at him.
“I’m trying to approach it (with) a workman-like mindset,” he said. “I understand how big of moment this is and how important it is but I’ve just been training hard. I think Wisconsin prepared me to play in big moments and the combine is a big moment. So I focus on my preparation like that, but I also keep in mind the bigger picture. I’d love to be drafted as high as possible because I’m a competitive guy, and honestly, there is more money the higher you go. But at the end of the day I understand I’ve got some limitations that might drop me and if so, so be it. My focus, in the big picture, is making a team better, not just making a team.
“I’m going to pour everything into these next few weeks with the combine and pro day and hopefully I get drafted as highly as I can, but what I’m really relishing is the opportunity to be playing between July and February, not necessarily April.”