The 2014 CFL Combine wrapped up on Sunday afternoon on the University of Toronto grounds, as prospects were given one final chance to make an impression in advance of May’s Draft.
Adam Thibault (13), the second-highest ranked defensive back in the country by the CIS Scouting Bureau was the day’s shining star, despite being unable to participate in drills and one-on-ones after pulling his hamstring.
The injury happened near the end of his 40-yard dash, but despite having to finish with mostly one leg his time of 4.454 gave him the honours of fastest runner – this after he was forced to re-try his initial run following a timing error.
“Unfortunately when we do the 40 most of the time we have five minutes of rest, but after my first run the machine was broken or something like that so I just ran right after,” said Thibault.
“I don’t like to have a reason or anything like that but it was too close, and there were like five yards left and I pulled my hamstring, and I finished leaping on one leg.”
Adding to a strong day from the Laval product was his performance in the shuttle, which he topped with a time of 4.03. The only thing he didn’t get to do this weekend was exactly what his university preaches, which is ‘finish’.
“Back in Laval ‘finish’ is our key word, I just wanted to finish strong but unfortunately I couldn’t because of my hamstring,” Thibault said. “I truly wanted to do the one-on-ones for my football skills obviously, but the tests went well.”
“They saw me back in East-West and everything went really well, they have a lot of tape to watch as well so I will stay positive, I don’t like to be negative in my life.”
Thibault was followed closely behind in the 40 by Montreal defensive back Antoine Pruneau with a time of 4.487, while Simon Fraser’s Derek Jones rounded out the top three with a run of 4.511. Behind Thibault in the shuttle meanwhile was Pruneau and top-ranked running back Anthony Coombs (9), posting times of 4.05 and 4.15.
Receiver Tore Corrado claimed the best score in the 3-cone drill with a 7.03, followed by Andrew Lue’s (8) 7.07 and Jones’ 7.21.
The day was broken down by position, as offensive and defensive linemen first took part in the 40 yard dash, the 3-cone, and the shuttle, followed by drills and one-on-ones. Running backs and linebackers went next, while defensive backs and receivers finished off the day with quarterbacks and Tyler Crapigna, the weekend’s only kicker, mixed in.
While much of the attention was on skill position players like Lue and Thibault, some of the big men showed off their fleet-footedness in this final opportunity to turn heads.
Defensive lineman Dylan Ainsworth (15), who only recently worked his way into the top-15, capped off a stellar camp with a 4.697 in the 40 to top all linemen and even many receivers and defensive backs.
Add to that a 7.50 in the 3-cone (second among linemen) and a 4.50 shuttle (fourth) on top of an impressive Saturday, and it’s apparent that the athletic defensive end’s stock is on the rise.
“That was a personal best,” Ainsworth said. “I ran a 4.71 at the East-West last year, so it was good to get out here and run a 4.6 – it looks good on the board.”
His most impressive effort though may have come after all the testing, when he found himself one on one with some of the country’s top offensive linemen, surrounded by virtually every scout, coach, and General Manager in the CFL.
“I thought I’d be nervous, but I guess when you get up there you just put everything out of your head it’s just football, it’s everything you’ve been doing for years,” he said. “So I just did what felt natural to me, used the moves I’ve been learning over the past four, five years of university and again through my career. “
“It was just natural, doing what I do.”
On his final rep, he lined up on the right end up against David Foucault (3), one of the highest-touted players entering the draft. And to the delight of the crowd, he caught Foucault up high in his stance and powered the Montreal mammoth to the turf with a bull rush.
“It was a great exclamation mark at the end of the day,” Ainsworth concluded. “I definitely feel like I proved myself there.”
Another player who didn’t post a top time but turned heads for the second straight day was linebacker Jesse Briggs, considered a major sleeper entering the combine. He may have vaulted himself into the discussion as an elite prospect, posting a 4.574 in the 40 and also showing well in the 3-cone and shuttle.
“I’m real happy with it, I came in and did personal bests in bench, vertical, and the 40, and if there’s a weekend to do it, it’d be this one so I’m happy,” Briggs said following Sunday’s work. “It was a really interesting and fun experience, but it’s definitely a relief that it’s over now and it’s done.”
Coming into the weekend he felt he had a message to send to scouts and GMs across the league, which he managed to get across quite well.
“I expressed to them in interviews that I’m athletic and I’m going to show that to them this weekend, and I think everything that I did this weekend really showcased that.”
While both defensive heavyweights performed well in the tests, what may convince scouts the most was the result of the one-on-ones.
After a strong performance on Saturday, Laval defensive back Adam Thibault saw his Combine cut short due to a pulled hamstring, suffered at the tail-end of his 2014-best 40-Yard Dash, one that kept him out of the all-important one-on-ones.
Tim Burke, entering his first season with the Toronto Argonauts as the Defensive Coordinator, wasn’t going to divulge any information on those two in particular – but pointed out that one-on-ones are the only chance evaluators have to see these players in game situations.
“The testing is really great because you get to find out what kind of talent they have from a basic point of view,” said Burke of tests such as the 40, 3-cone, and shuttle.
“Actually watching them perform – in the CFL the passing game is the most important thing really, so you’re watching how guys can protect and guys who can pass rush and I think that’s the biggest part of it.”
While plenty of film is available on each individual player, another thing the one-on-ones offer is a chance to see each prospect go up against other elite prospects.
“I think they’re going against the very best guys coming out of the CIS and so you get to see them against the very best, and they’ve had a chance to perfect their skills a little bit more so I think that’s probably the number one thing.”
Another big day for Coombs
Coombs, the ninth-ranked player in the country and top-ranked running back, solidified his status as an elite draft prospect with a second dominant day at the combine. He was the top running back in the 40 by a mile with a time of 4.522 (fourth overall), while his 4.15 shuttle marked the third quickest time out of all participants.
“There were definitely some ups and downs as expected,” said Coombs, a product of Manitoba. “Sometimes you get a personal best, sometimes you perform under what you thought you’d get, but overall it was a great experience.”
“It’ll make me mentally stronger and I’m happy it’s all over.”
While being interviewed afterwards, Dave Dickenson even dropped by to say he wanted Coombs to also go up against defensive backs in one-on-ones, giving the runner two sets in front of scouts.
“I saved a little left in the tank and we’ll see what else we’ve got left this afternoon.”
Dadzie makes the most of late invite
Regina defensive lineman Michael Dadzie was one of a handful of late invites to this weekend’s combine, after going through one of three regional combines. He competed in Edmonton in the West Regional Combine early in the week, and after performing well enough to move on there he also put on a good showing in Toronto.
“I think I accomplished a lot, especially with my 40,” said Dadzie. “I dropped it, it was a little bit faster and I think I opened some eyes, and I definitely opened some eyes in the one-on-ones so I feel good.”
“I feel more optimistic about draft day.”
The speedy defensive linemen said competing in regionals several days before was an advantage rather than a detriment, because it helped him stay loose heading into the weekend.
“The first combine is different because everything is on the line,” Dadzie said. “I had to make a name for myself to earn an invitation to come here”.
“But the second one I was more relaxed because I had already been through the drills, so it felt a lot better this time, more relaxed and my 40 was a lot better.”
His 4.778 gave him the third-fastest 40, while onlookers seemed impressed with his athletic ability in one-on-ones.
A dual-threat lineman
Quinn Smith wasn’t exactly a hot topic entering the weekend, but on Sunday he proved his worth by means of his durability. As a pass-rusher in one-on-ones he was both strong and shifty and difficult to stop.
Meanwhile, team personnel also requested he take a go as a guard, a position he also played during his career at Concordia.
“We had a couple of O-linemen go down and get injured, they needed a guy to step in and I put my hand up and said I’ll play both ways because we need to win some games,” Smith said when asked how he wound up playing on both sides of the ball.
“It shows my versatility,” he continued. “I like to think I’m pretty athletic for my size and being able to play both sides of the ball like that helps.”
Just playing both positions doesn’t say a lot, but for Smith to play both rather well on a big stage should do a lot for his worth. He said in conclusion that he’s quite happy with how the final day of the combine unfolded.
“I felt like I put it all on the table and did my best, and it showed.”
Flu bug slows top prospect
A lot of the pre-combine hype was in the direction of Montreal offensive lineman David Foucault (3), the mammoth six-foot-eight, 320-pound offensive tackle. He was the third-ranked lineman and third-ranked overall entering the combine, and through his tests seemingly justified the position.
Considering he’s been battling a flu big, those results are impressive, however the same couldn’t be said for his one-on-ones – particularly after being manhandled by Western’s Ainsworth.
“He just played my weakness and I was too high in my stance,” said Foucault. “He tried the bull-rush and he kicked my ass.”
“It’s okay, I just need to step up.”
Foucault should still get full marks for his toughness, battling through the virus and also enduring some intense physical battles. He was, after all, called to the table multiple times to go against the country’s top pass-rushing prospects.
“I think my results today were very good, just the one-on-ones I’m a little sad about them because the guys in front of me, some of them were strong and I took a lot of reps with those guys and I’ll need to step up,” he said.
While Sunday was the last day prospects could make an impression in person, GMs and team personnel still have plenty of work to do before the 2014 CFL Draft, which will be held on May 13th, as they’ll continue evaluating players on film both from the games and the combine.