March 24, 2017

Combine: Last Piece of A Key Puzzle

Regina, Saskatchewan– Talent evaluation is a 365-day per year business, but for Neil MCEvoy and the BC Lions brain trust the fun is just getting started. With Western Regional Combine all wrapped up, the focus turns to the main event, which features the best of the best amongst Canadian draft prospects for 2017. It all gets going Friday morning at Regina’s Evraz Place.

The Lions’ Director of Football Operations took some time during his Thursday lunch break to remind BCLions.com just how much he lives for this time of year and how important Combine season is for stockpiling your always important non-import talent.

“It’s always good to see guys in person to see their real height and weight along with their measurable,” McEvoy says. “Sometimes on film you can’t see that so now we get to know them a little bit better.”

 

The 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, bench press, one-on- ones each tells part of a player’s story. Although not every decision at the draft table is based on combine results, McEvoy points to recent examples of Lions’ selections that weren’t really on their radar until after the combine.

“A guy like Shaq Johnson wasn’t even invited to the main combine,” McEvoy explained when asked that very question. “He had to come to one of the regionals and then got selected to attend the main combine. He showed us he would be able to fit in and we ended up drafting him.”

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McEvoy observes times for 40-yard dashes in Regina. Courtesy/CFL

Johnson was picked in round four and spent the majority of 2016 on the practice squad. The receiver

“There’s a perfect guy that had to go through the back door to get here,” McEvoy adds. “It’s exactly why you come to this combine, to see what these guys are all about.”

The Western Regional also featured a pair of former Lions training camp attendees: Kamloops Broncos product and Manitoba Bison receiver Derek Yachison, along with Witman Tomusiak, a Calgary Dino defensive back who previously played with the Vancouver Island Raiders. Both wound up taking the University route after not making the squad as BC Juniors. However, neither is draft eligible as per their previous pro deals. Neither is advancing to the main event this weekend.

Should McEvoy and the brass view either as future free agent options, they doubt have a leg up on seeing what those two prospects are made of.

“I like them because I consider them locals,” McEvoy said. “I cheer a bit for guys we have had in the past, just because we’ve had them and I know that they are good football players.”

The work here never stops. Not even for a recent Canadian Football Hall Of Fame addition like Geroy Simon. The Lions’ Director of Canadian Scouting is in his element as this next step of draft prep rolls on.

Geroy Observe

Fresh off earning a spot in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Geroy was back in his usual perch/ Courtesy CFL

 

“As far as coaches and scouts go, this is a big part to getting everybody back into the flow of things,” Simon said.

“We’ve seen all these guys on video for the last 6-7 months, so now it’s a good chance to meet these guys in person and see how they move, all those characteristics.”

Diamonds in the rough like Johnson will certainly show up over the next two days. On the other side of the coin, Simon insists a majority of these prospects have been well scouted already.

“You’re not going to find specific football talent here,” Simon stated. “You’re going to see how big they really are, how small they really are and how they run and move. Those are the biggest things you’re going to find. I would say this is just a piece of the puzzle, almost a final piece after you get the characteristic stuff done.”

The characteristic element refers to the interview process: a chance each team gets to spend individually with all of the prospects taking part. These will be held in two three-hour sessions on Thursday night and Friday afternoon.

How important is it? Much like the combine itself it is just a small part piece to an even bigger puzzle. Simon insists not many guys have dropped off their draft list on the interview alone.

Wally and Chris Jone

“Unless a guy is just a total jerk or someone you don’t want in your locker room,” the Hall of Famer explained.

“You get to know these guys, what their personalities are, what makes them tick and that’s a big part because if a guy comes in confident and shows he could be a good part of your locker room, you’ll definitely add that to his resume.”

McEvoy views the interview process as an avenue to go outside the football box, something he views as an important part of talent evaluation.

“The interview process is something that you just want to get an in depth background on the guys, “ the Director of Football Ops. said.

“You want to see exactly what their life is like off the field. Sometimes when you have guys who are dominant on the field you want to really get to know them because you’re going to be investing in them and having them put on the BC Lions colours. You want to be sure they are going to fit into your organization. That’s what the interview process does.”

The latest mock draft from CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson had the Lions selecting SFU linebacker Jordan Herdman at number three and Laurier defensive end Kwaku Boateng at number seven.

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Plenty of eyes will be on Jordan and twin brother Justin starting at Friday’s main event. Simon scouted Jordan at the Senior Bowl and the linebacker is looking to turn heads after a less than stellar showing at Simon Fraser’s Pro Day earlier this month.

365 days indeed. All the time you need to find those next key pieces and the occasional diamond in the rough.

Two Locals Move on To Main Combine

Two of the five players selected to stay from Thursday’s Western Regional are from the Lions’ backyard. UBC receiver Alex Morrison and SFU running back Ante Milanovic-Litre impressed the scouts and GM’s more than enough to warrant an extended look. Morrison, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, admits the chance to one-day suit up for the Lions has crossed his mind.

More from  CFL.CA: Five selected to move on from Western Regional

“Definitely. Just from watching the Lions the last couple of summers and the proximity to UBC, the connections are obviously there. In 2015 I had a couple of workouts with Mr. (Manny) Arceneaux and Mr. (Shawn) Gore. They taught me a few tricks of the trade for receivers so that was a great experience. I followed them more this past year too.”

alex morrison UBC

UBC T-Bird Alex Morrison has bounced back from an up and down year to appear in National Combine/ Courtesy CFL

Morrison had the fastest 3-cone drill at 7.13 seconds ran the third-fastest 40 at 4.62. Those figures lead you to believe that speed could be one of his bigger assets.

“I describe myself as pretty complete, “Morrison added. “This is what I have been working for, just to get the recognition and prove myself again is a great feeling.”

Geroy’s Take

“I scouted him closely at the East-West shrine game so I am very familiar with his attributes,” Simon said of the fellow receiver.

“He showed well here (Thursday) and it’s good to see he got the invite to the National, just to see how he can compete against the top guys.”

The Super Scout also had a solid review for Milanovic-Litre who had the third-highest bench press total with 29 reps.

Geroy and Spencer Zimmerman

“Ante is a very good athlete. I expected him to do well and move on. He should have gone to the National from day one, but he had some injuries last year. After his pro day I knew he would test well and get invited.”

Milanovic-Litre’s SFU teammate Felix Gacusana Jr. did not advance beyond Thursday, but finished tied for fifth in the bench press with 22 reps. and turned heads of a few scouts.

Along with picks three( obtained in the Vernon Adams trade to Montreal) and seven, the Lions hold the 16th, 24th, 33rd, 42nd, 51st, 60th and 69th overall selections.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com