2011 Free Agent Specialist's Combine
Due to the NFL Lockout, National Football League (NFL) teams were restricted from attending all Free Agent Combines, however three (3) Canadian League Football (CFL), and four (4) United Football League (UFL) teams spent the day evaluating 42 highly regarded kicking specialists from around the country competing with each other in hopes of fulfilling their dream of playing professional football.
This past week I hosted my 3rd Annual Free Agent Specialist's Combine in Phoenix, Arizona under a beautiful sunny sky and on perfect field turf conditions. The temperature was 70 degrees am / 84 in pm with slight cross breeze of 4-6 mph in the am and 7-10 mph in the pm.
These weather conditions starkly contrasted with the weather conditions we had when I hosted 61 of the college seniors kicking specialists at my College Senior Specialist's Combine in mid February. I am still getting great feedback from the NFL teams and coaches about the video I distributed at the NFL Combine of the top performers.
Even though the new NFL ruling has kick-off specialists kicking from the 35 yard line, I chose to have kickers kick from the 30 yard line during this Combine. I chose this for a few reasons. First, a number of UFL coaches were in attendance at this Combine and UFL teams still kick off from the 30 yard line, and there are seemingly no plans to change this.
Therefore it only made sense to keep it that way. Secondly, the CFL teams are often kicking off from their 25 yard line, And lastly, even though the distance a kicker kicks will be the same no matter what yard line they start from, it is more mentally challenging for the specialists to have to kick from the 30 yard line. As in previous years, we had a great showing of kicking talent at this Combine. My philosophy for the Free Agent Specialist's Combine is to make sure kickers are at their best when they perform for the coaches.
This means the kickers who I evaluate are given limited reps to show me their PRO potential. After coaching in the NFL for 13 years and working or coaching 20 NFL Pro Bowlers, it doesn’t take me very long to evaluate a kicking specialists true potential.
By limiting the reps during the evaluation it means these specialist are on a level playing field with the specialists that have been pre-qualified for the Combine. This is important to both the coaches and players. It also means I am limit the possibility a specialist will be injured because he has overworked in previous days before the event.
It’s very important to me to safeguard the health of the specialists who come to my Combine. All the attending coaches said they were impressed with the specialist's performance and potential (listen to coaches testimonials video above).
They also appreciated how efficiently the event was run and how it replicated a game like situation. In addition, they said it was great we provided them with a tent to shade them from the hot Arizona sun and that we made sure they had sunscreen and plenty of fluids to keep them from getting dehydrated.
Although I pride myself in using brand new NFL K-balls for my Combines, a few of the specialists got into my supply of balls, and over a 5-7 minutes period put a few kicks on them before the kickers kicked. Needless to say I wasn’t very happy about this, because as minor as those few kicks may seem, it tainted the final results.
To me, and to all NFL coaches I know, the only way to effectively evaluate a kicker’s ability during a private workout or in a Combine event is to have them kick with brand new NFL K-Balls. Period.
Fortunately, these were the only balls that were affected, and the balls used for snappers and punters were brand new NFL K-balls.
Because NFL coaches were not in attendance, I had a number of videographers shoot every specialist’s workout from a number of angles. These videos are now posted on my website here: 2011 Free Agent Combine Video.
I believe these videos will be useful to NFL teams as evaluation tool because of the narration, the close-up technique, and the variety of angles shot of each specialist. My guess is once the NFL coaches review the videos, they will be impressed with how the Combine was run and the specialist’s performances and potential.
The specialists who attended also said they were quite satisfied with the way the event was run, the field conditions, and with the quality of the kicking specialist’s talent they were competing against (listen to specialists testimonials above).
It’s always fascinating for me to observe how different players handle the stress of competition. Some handle it well, others not so well. And how they handle the stress of competition of my Combine, does go to how they will handle the stress of playing on a professional team. I’ve seen –and worked with- a number of players who attended the Free Agent Combine; the rest I have observed through my Combine evaluations.
What is obvious is when under stress, some players simply revert to a bad form or habit. And this impacts their performance. As a coach, it’s tempting to want to take a player who is not handling the pressure well aside and give him a few pointers to get back on track. However, it is my philosophy NOT to coach participants during a Combine. Not only would that be unfair to other participants, but I think it is irresponsible to try to coach someone who I have not worked with, under these circumstances. That would be like telling someone to change their golf swing in the middle of a tournament.
But stress in competitive situations is a reality. I know this, coaches know this. So what I did to try and address the ‘pressure’ issue was to have a Sunday night pre-Combine seminar called the ‘The Mental Side of the Kicking Game' which was presented by Deborah Dubree, from Your Clear Edge. After the Combine, a number of players said what they learned in the seminar made a difference with how they dealt with the pressure during the event.
Jose Martinez, Kenny Spencer & Andrew Ireland
IN SUMMARY: My Free Agent Specialist’s Combine is my Field of Dreams. And my dream is to connect professional coaches with kicking specialists who have the talent to be on a professional team. Once again, I was able to see my dream come to reality before this Combine was even over.
Despite the NFL Lockout, there were a number of Coaches from both the CFL and UFL in attendance. And it wasn’t long after Tom Mante -a combination punter / kick off specialist and field goal kicker from Yale- had finished his performance when two (2) CFL Coaches ‘filed a claims for the rights’ for him.
Now, this is what they do in the CFL, and whichever Coach files a claim first gets him. There was pretty close timing on this, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that turns out.
But regardless how it turns out for the Canadian teams or Tom Mante, it brings me a great deal of joy and satisfaction to see my Field of Dreams turn a specialist’s dream into reality in front of my eyes. Tom did a great job at this Combine, and I expect great things from him in the future. And Tom’s isn’t the only success story I am getting, his was just the first.
From the feedback I am already receiving, there are a number of specialists who have already been approached for invitational workouts for UFL and CFL teams (I will blog about this later this week). In addition, I have also received a number of calls from NFL teams who want to know when the Combine will be posted so they can review the specialists.
It has already been posted here at Videos for Free Agent Combine.
So go ahead all you NFL coaches and review away. I think you’re going to see a great deal of talent in these videos. So it appears that once again my Free Agent Specialist’s Combine proved to be a success for Coaches, players and me.
Finally, I want to re-state the goal for my Free Agent Combine, and all my kicking programs, is to create events that will contribute to a kicking specialist development regardless what level they are at. Simply stated, I want all Coach Zauner, LLC programs and evenst to be ‘A Specialist’s Path to Pro Football'. I think I, and the Coach Zauner, LLC team, are succeeding at this.
OUR SPECIAL THANKS GOES OUT TO:
Steve Hoppe for his tremendous organizational skills with the stats, information and Combine profiles.
Billy Khayat for his assistance throughout the day of the event; taking measurements, administrating the 225 bench press and not to mention the crucial task of running the stop watch.
Phil Grams, Digital Sports Video expert and Craig Norgren their expertise and patience in editing the Combine video. Also to Coach Zauner, LLC Intern Erik Senst for assisting Phil and Craig.
Lynsey Hoppe, Athletic Trainer on and off the field and a great help behind the scenes.
Grayson Harris (Millennium High School), his parents Tony and Connie, Jett Stratford (Horizon High School) and Zac Brown (Paradise Valley High School) for their assistance on the field.
Russell Terpening for coordinating the photography and video crew to ensure everything was running smoothly.
And last but not least, Craig Kasnoff for his photography skills and expertise with the website; www.coachzauner.com I understand the demands it takes to run a successful event and I know without Team Zauner and the support staff this would not have been accomplished!
The kickers thought having official referees' gave the Combine a game like situation. That was Michelle's idea...what a woman to enforce details!
THANK YOU...Coach Zauner and Michelle
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CFL & UFL Coaches Attended Despite NFL Lockout