It was the end of February, and Steve Keim would normally be spending his Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, either watching players work out on the turf below or interviewing potential draftees to see what they were like as a person.
Instead, the Cardinals' general manager was watching his son play a flag football game, with the annual Scouting combine turned into something else entirely thanks to COVID-19.
"This year, it is really odd given the obstacles that are created," Keim said. "But we are doing the best we can with the technology."
Instead of wrapping up the combine over the weekend, the Cardinals are just now starting to head out to college pro days, which become much more important because the top 400 or so players won't work out at one event in Indy. The Zoom interviews with those players – normally jammed into the few days at the Crowne Plaza – will be scheduled over the next few weeks.
The draft process will unfold this season much like it did last year, given the year anniversary of pandemic-related shutdowns drawing near. But the last big event for the NFL pre-COVID was the combine, so teams – and the Cardinals – have to figure out their first draft without it.
"I don't see as many guys face to face as I would usually," Keim said. "At the same time, when you have obstacles, with the technology, you do get time on your hands, so it can be advantageous for us because you can spend more time evaluating players. Time I'd spend traveling or in interviews, I can watch more film."
Keim has long held that the combine's most important aspects aren't the on-field work but the interviews and the medical information. The latter too will be impacted greatly. The one-stop combine workups for all the teams and their hands-on evaluations will morph into telehealth appointments. Each team will be assigned 10 to 12 players based on a regional locale, evaluating the information and eventually sharing it with the rest of the league.
In April, 150 players chosen by teams and the league will go to Indianapolis for in-person follow-ups from one athletic trainer and one doctor from each team.
"We will have to use our experience and people hours to do our best to make judgment calls on medical grades for our clubs," Cardinals head athletic trainer Tom Reed said.
By next year, with the vaccines widely distributed into this summer, the Scouting combine should return to its regular place in the NFL calendar. For now, every team will have to adjust without it.
"We'll have to cast a wider net," Keim said.