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Regional combine offers potential alternate path to NFL


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** While the national NFL Scouting Combine took the attention of the league from Indianapolis this week, the Broncos played host for one of the NFL's regional combines held for players who are draft-eligible but didn't receive an invite to the main event.

As snow began to collect in the Denver area, prospects arrived at the Broncos' new field house facility complete with a full-length indoor field, ready to show off their skills and hoping to perform well enough to attract a bid to the Super Regional Combine held in a month in Phoenix, taking the best of the regional combines from around the country and letting them strut their stuff in front of NFL staffs.

"I think what this does, Indy has the top 325 and these young players, a lot of them come from small schools — Division-II, Division-III — didn't get invited or don't have pro timing days, so this gives them an opportunity to be seen and it gives them a certified, valid NFL experience with top staff," said John Beake, an NFL Regional Combine Consultant and one of the purveyors of the regional combines since their inception.

Beake has overseen the emergence of regional combines, which have developed greatly in the years since beginning in 2012. This year the event has been limited to 150 draft-eligible players in each regional combine, and they started testing more advanced technology at the one in Denver.

Images from Saturday morning's NFL Regional Combine in Denver's new football field house.

"This whole change of doing the draft-eligible is really paying off, and we have another one next week in Baltimore," Beake said. "Then we follow up in Chicago, then we have our Super Regional in Phoenix when the league meetings are there.

Just the like nationally televised combine in Indy, the one in Denver was run similarly with the standard timing and physical tests before doing position drills.

"And you'll see now after we do all this timing and testing, now we'll do their position drills," Beake added. "They clear the field, they do their position drills and the same guys are doing the 40. There are NFL scouts. They will now look at them and evaluate them on those position skills and then we go into a meeting and see who advances."

This year, one standout was cornerback Willie Creear of Eastern Michigan, who wowed everyone in attendance with a 47-inch vertical, better than the national combine's best jump by Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley (45 inches), and better than the national combine's record.

Creear, who said he usually only jumps around 40 or 41 inches, was surprised by his leap.

Considering he's apparently also a very gifted at dunking in basketball, able to complete windmill dunks, he knew he could jump pretty high but such a performance that he had was a bit of a deviation.

Now he hopes his performance helps propel him further on his path to the NFL and gives scouts incentive to take a look at some of his film.

"Film talks so if you see it on film then you'll see it for yourself," he said. "Hopefully it'll give me a chance to go to the Super Regional, showcase my ability again after my pro day, so I think that can really open a lot of doors, hopefully, get a couple eyes, a couple looks from a couple teams."

People might not be aware, but that's not that rare. In fact, on NFL Kickoff Weekend this past September, 55 players who had participated in regional combines were signed to roster spots with 20 on active rosters, 28 on practice squads and seven on reserve lists. Two players had been drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. Broncos kicker Brandon McManus was one of those 20 players on an active roster and one of 18 who saw game action.

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