While hundreds of NFL draft prospects will travel to Indianapolis for the national scouting combine in less than two weeks, the next tier of hopefuls are also chasing the dream.
For players not receiving an invitation to Indianapolis, the NFL is holding regional combines at eight different locations, with the Ravens’ Owings Mills facility having hosted one on Saturday. In addition to college seniors who have completed their eligibility, the regional combine was open to players with past collegiate experience who wanted to gauge their pro potential and even those with limited NFL experience who have been away from the game for an extended time.
While college seniors having completed their NCAA eligibility received a direct invitation if they were not offered a spot at the national combine in Indianapolis, participants had to register and be approved by the league office before paying the $195 registration fee — in addition to paying their own travel expenses. The fee was designed as a litmus test for serious candidates who weren’t simply looking for a fun experience at an NFL practice facility.
Saturday’s combine in Owings Mills didn’t include an extensive number of household names, with former Maryland running back — and Ray Lewis’ younger brother — Keon Lattimore, former Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell, and former New England Patriots linebacker Shawn Crable among the few recognizable ones present on Saturday.
Most participants on Saturday hailed from smaller schools, but some played at bigger programs including former Maryland cornerback Colin Nelson. A reserve defensive back for the 2007 Terps after transferring from McDaniel College earlier in his collegiate career, the 26-year-old Nelson now plays for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League while still dreaming about a life in the NFL.
For players like Nelson, Saturday marked an opportunity to earn an invite to the super regional combine at Ford Field in Detroit at the end of March and — if they’re lucky enough — an opportunity to land on an offseason roster with a chance to go to training camp. The process can be draining for those continuing to chase the NFL after being told over and over that they’re not good enough.
“It’s tough on your psyche, because you feel like you’re worth it,” said Nelson, who will go to training camp with the Storm this coming week. “You feel like you can do it. It’s humbling, so the biggest thing is just to stay focused. If that’s your goal, just keep going. Consistency [and] perseverance.”
While scouts from the Ravens, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, and Carolina Panthers were in attendance on Saturday, the regional combines aren’t specifically designed for teams to send representatives. Instead, the events are held to filter out individuals with no legitimate chance and identify the few who are worth evaluating at the super regional combine.
Knowing that reality, there was little margin for error in drills conducted at the Ravens’ indoor practice field on Saturday. For many, the day may have represented their last chance to fulfill long-held dreams.
No pressure, right?
“As long as you know you put the work in and you prepared yourself, it’s just like taking a test,” Lattimore said. “You know how you’re going to do on that test. You take a pretest before the real test. I’ve been timing — a lot of my times have been pretty good times. I’ve been satisfied with them. Weight-wise, I’m where I want to be. I think it’ll be a good day.”
In reality, Saturday wasn’t a good day for most players in terms of defining their potential futures in the NFL, but it did provide what they all were asking for.