April 24th, 2024

CFL officials take different philosophies into league’s national combine

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on March 19, 2024.

The bench press and 40-yard dash might be the glamour events of any football combine but they're not the points of emphasis in Chris Jones' overall evaluation of a CFL prospect. Japanese running back Taku Lee, seen in a handout photo during a CFL combine in Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CFL, Megumi Sugita, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

They’re the glamour events of any football combine but neither the bench press nor the 40-yard dash are major points of emphasis in Chris Jones’s evaluation of a pro prospect.

The Edmonton Elks head coach/GM feels the vertical and broad jumps provide more telling measurables.

“I think those are two real big indicators of explosiveness and flexibility,” Jones said. “Many other events – the three-cone, five-10-five – are technique events where you can beat the test with technique while the ones that are harder to beat are the vertical and broad jump.

“It’s true, you’ve got to be able to run and be strong in the game of football but we’re not putting together a track team or a weightlifting team. Track guys, many times, don’t translate into football players “¦ I’ve seen guys who are really strong on the bench press that weren’t great football players.”

Jones and other CFL officials will get to evaluate 84 national and global prospects at the league’s national combine this week in Winnipeg. The 2024 global and Canadian drafts will both be held April 30.

“With a lot of it, you can see how much they’ve worked and how much football means to them,” Jones said. “If they show up in great shape and kill these (tests/drills) then they had to have gone and put in the work to make themselves look good.

“If football matters that much to them “¦ then many times that translates into what we’re going to look for in a player.”

Among the combine participants will be linebacker Joel Dublanko and quarterback Casey Bauman, both Americans who are draft-eligible because of a Canadian parent. The six-foot-three, 240-pound Dublanko is an intriguing prospect because he already has pro experience – Dublanko played for the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars last season and spent time with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks following his college career at Cincinnati.

At six foot seven and 225 pounds, Bauman will have no difficulty standing out. He threw for 4,160 yards, 43 touchdowns and 19 interceptions over two seasons at Augustana University.

Ottawa’s DK Bonhomme will also attend. The six-foot-three, 237-pound South Alabama linebacker was invited to last week’s invitational combine in Waterloo, Ont., but couldn’t make it.

Bonhomme began his college career at Indiana before transferring to South Alabama. Gifted athletically, Bonhomme has battled injuries throughout his NCAA tenure.

But only seven of the top-20 players on the CFL Winter Scouting Bureau will be in Winnipeg. Among those not attending are offensive linemen Isaiah Adams (No. 1, Illinois), Theo Benedet (No. 2, UBC) and Anim Dankwah (No. 8, Howard) along with tight ends Theo Johnson (No. 3, Penn State) and Tanner McLachlan (No. 4, Arizona), who have all drawn NFL interest.

Three of the four ranked receivers – Bemidji State’s Dhel Duncan-Busby (No. 13), Garden City’s Ajou Ajou (No. 17) and Laval’s Kevin Mital (No. 20) – will test. Auburn’s Nick Mardner (No. 11) won’t.

For many CFL officials, combine results are a piece of the evaluation process pie. Game film often carries significant weight along with how prospects react to competing against other top-graded players before pro personnel.

“You see who competes, who takes charge, who leads,” Ottawa Redblacks GM Shawn Burke said. “It’s a job interview and there’s some added pressure with that and you want to see them perform.

“If they struggle you want to see how they react and respond “¦ because adversity will happen in a game. You want to see guys who can respond to adversity.”

Should players not do well, Montreal Alouettes GM Danny Maciocia doesn’t hold it against them.

“There’s a body of work there, usually three or four years,” he said. “For someone like myself, it’s more, ‘Is this guy going to be good fit for who we are,’ just with how he handles himself, his body language, how he takes to coaching and interacts with teammates on the field.

“The rest, we’ve got sufficient information that I don’t think it’s going to alter our decision process moving forward.”

Maciocia’s approach mirrors that of Kyle Walters, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers veteran GM.

“We want to make sure the kids love football and are going to fit into the Blue Bomber way of doing things,” Walters said. “That’s probably more important to us than most organizations versus height, weight, speed.

“There are so many little pieces that go into the final evaluation “¦ but they must be good football players, they must love playing and athletically meet the standard. You want to put it all together and kind of place a final draft grade on these guys.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2024.

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