TORONTO — Draft hopefuls put months of training on full display on Saturday in Toronto, as the first testing day of the 2014 CFL Combine featured the bench press, body measurements, and broad and vertical jumps.
Linebacker Jesse Briggs and defensive lineman David Menard were among unranked players who made headlines, while all eyes were on already-hyped defensive back Andrew Lue (8) and running back Anthony Coombs (9) who also tested well.
The day’s events started shortly after 9am with the all-important bench press, in a test requiring a very specific training regimen that focuses on repetition starting a long time in advance. In preparation, athletes look to build up their strength and reach their absolute peak at just the right time.
After defensive lineman Elie Ngoyi benched 40 reps at the Combine a year ago, there were no earth-shattering feats this time around – although the morning featured strong performances from across the field.
Offensive linemen Terry Hart and Pierre Lavertu (2) set the pace early with 32 reps each, leading all front-men out of the gate. Hart, a product of St. Francis Xavier, said he expected more from himself, but added he’ll have plenty of chances to make up for it.
“I’m not happy at all,” he said. “I put up 38 a week ago. I guess I wasn’t locking out, and I guess I had too much of an arch but it’s the rules and I’ll follow the rules, if I got 32 I’ll take it. I was aiming for 40, I thought that was a good goal.”
“The bench is one part of the combine,” Hart continued. “It just confirms which guys are in the weight room. It means something but it doesn’t weigh as heavily as everything else in the combine.”
Top-ranked defensive lineman Evan Gill (6) of Manitoba, meanwhile, seemingly pleased scouts with his 29 reps, placing him in a tie for fifth among all participants.
“I’m happy with it,” Gill said after. “I wish I could have gone over the 30-mark, but if the scouts are happy I’m happy.”
Stealing the show though was the unranked Menard, who attended the University of Montreal and finished atop the competition with 33 reps. His goal coming in was to reach 30, and pointed out after why he was motivated to show the scouts why he should have been ranked.
“I don’t try to think about it because I’m a perfectionist, and I hate finishing second,” started Menard. “So not being in the top-15, I’m not second, I’m not even in the top 15 so I’m a little bit pissed off about that.”
“But I try to push this away and not think about it and show all the scouts they’re wrong about me and I should be in the top prospects with the other guys.”
Montreal Alouettes Defensive Coordinator Noel Thorpe, who coached Menard during his tenure with the Montreal Carabins, said he wasn’t surprised by the result given the young lineman’s fiery disposition as well as his discipline.
“David’s a real hard worker and he’s a guy that’s gonna be in the gym and he’s gonna put in the time, and I think we saw that in the bench press,” said Thorpe.
Some players not on the offensive or defensive line also turned heads on Saturday with their bench, as linebackers Briggs and Casey Chin put up 27 and 25 reps respectively – respectable marks compared even to linemen.
“I’m pretty happy about it, I knew a lot of teams might think I’m undersized so I really wanted to show them that I’m definitely strong enough to start in this league,” said Chin, a linebacker for Simon Fraser University, measuring in at 5-foot-10, 214 pounds.
Chin grew up in BC watching some of the league’s best linebackers play for the Lions, and also went head to head once in college with current Lions’ star Adam Bighill – the kind of player he models his game after.
“I like to think that in my conference last year I was the best linebacker, so I always try and compare myself to the best,” added Chin. “Guys like Shea Emry, Solomon Elimimian, Adam Bighill – those guys are guys I really look up to and they’re the best in the league in my opinion.”
Thorpe said the results of the bench press for each linebacker only provide part of the equation, although it’s a start.
“It’s a standard measurable, some players are going to excel more than others,” he started. “It’s just one part of the evaluation process – it’s not the one and only.”
“Obviously a guy that puts up bigger numbers, you know he’s been spending time at the gym,” he continued. “But it doesn’t always transfer to the skill level on the football field as well, so we’ve got to take everything into account.”
As far as running backs go, Coombs (9) didn’t hurt his stock on the first day of testing in the combine, putting up a personal best 17 reps in the bench and placing fourth in the vertical with a jump of 37”.
Hulking running back Alexandre Dupuis topped all runners with an impressive 25 reps, while highly-touted receiver Devon Bailey (4) put up 15 reps. He was outdone however by fellow receiver Alexander Fox, whose 24 reps were disappointing only to himself.
“If I compare myself to the other receivers I could be proud of that, but I’m someone that compares myself to myself – I can never be happy with what I do,” said Fox, who makes up for his lack of height with plenty of heart.
Waiting for contact
“That’s what we’re all looking forward to. We get to finally play some football so that’s what it’s all about.”
– McGill LB Jesse Briggs on Sunday’s contact football drills
“I think I could have done 27 but I still would have been disappointed because I thought I could do more than what I already did.”
With 1,009 receiving yards in 2013, Fox led the country and is the only pass-catcher in the last three years to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
Stealing the show in the latter half of the day was Lue, a highly-touted defensive back out of Queen’s whose broad jump of 10’5” put him atop all competitors in that category. He also tied fifth in the vertical with a jump of 36.50”.
Placing first in the vertical jump meanwhile was Windsor wide receiver Evan Pszczonak, with a vertical of 40”. CFL.ca Combine Insider and current Edmonton Eskimos receiver Shamawd Chambers said these results should translate pretty well to the field.
“The broad jump is going to show your explosiveness, you’re going to see the most explosive guys – will it translate to running 40s and will it translate to the field, sometimes it does but at the end of the day it’s always good to be able to jump high and to be able to jump far,” said Chambers.
“It’s going to show your explosion and it’s going to set up for what we should see tomorrow when they get onto the field.”
The vertical on the other hand tests the athletes’ flat-footed explosion from a standstill.
“It doesn’t matter what position you are on the field, you’re going to be at a standstill position and you’re gonna have to be explosive,” Chambers continued.
“For certain guys like me at skill positions who have to use those positions to get up and catch the ball, or guys just getting off the line as defensive linemen, you have to be explosive from any position on the field.”
That will also bode well for linebacker Briggs, who Chambers said he believes gained the most from today’s events. In addition to having the top bench press for a linebacker, the McGill product had a vertical of 38.50”, ranking him second.
“He’s definitely been training for this and he’s a beast – you can tell,” Chambers said. “He stands apart from everyone else.”
“The biggest thing for him will be can he translate tomorrow when we get into the one-on-ones and running the 40 and running the short shuttles,” he continued. “Because he’s a bigger guy I’m not going to expect him to run a fast 40, but I do expect his 10 to be good because that’s important for his group.”
Briggs though, in typical linebacker fashion, is most excited to strap on the pads and get into the drills.
“That’s what we’re all looking forward to,” Briggs said. “We get to finally play some football so that’s what it’s all about.”
Sunday will be the final day for prospects to make an impression in the Combine and before May’s Draft, and it features the 40-yard dash; the shuttle; the three-cone drill; and positional drills.