Michigan football players continue to go through voluntary practices despite the Big Ten canceling the fall season, but there’s a twist.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is keeping his players engaged by having them train for what essentially will be an NFL combine. It’s scheduled to be held in Michigan Stadium on Oct. 24, the day Michigan was to have played Ohio State in the restructured 10-game Big Ten schedule that was scrapped last week.
The players will practice combine-specific drills these next nine weeks, four days a week, to prepare for the event that expects to draw NFL scouts and the players’ families. Michigan players returned for voluntary practices Aug. 10.
Holding a scouting combine at the stadium is an effort to allow NFL scouts an opportunity watch and test the players, who will not have an opportunity to play football this fall. In the event of a spring season, which the Big Ten currently is exploring, this could give players who are considering their next step, whether to remain at Michigan or head to the NFL, an opportunity to play a spring season and still pursue the NFL because NFL teams will already have their measurables.
One player told The Detroit News this format is keeping the players “interested, for sure.” Quarterback Dylan McCaffrey is completely focused on these practices and the Michigan NFL Combine.
“He’s real positive about that,” his mother, Lisa, said on The News’ “View from the Press Box” podcast this week.
Junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who was looking forward to having a strong season this fall that may have led to an early departure for the NFL, is one of those players in limbo, not sure if he should gamble on a spring season, that may or may not happen, or consider heading to the NFL. Michigan right tackle Jalen Mayfield, a starter last season, announced this week his Michigan career is over and is preparing for the draft.
Hutchinson has been focused on the Michigan combine and telling family and friends he is determined to run the fastest 40-yard dash the day the Wolverines were supposed to play arch-rival Ohio State.
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren announced last week the cancellation of the season, less than a week after the schedule was released. Last month the Big Ten announced it would play a conference-only schedule in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without a football season, Michigan decided to give the players a renewed goal – the combine. The players can practice four days a week, helmets only, with days off on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. They will work on the combine-specific drills like the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, three-cone drill, vertical jump and bench press, among others, along with Michigan-specific field drills and agility work.
The players’ performances in each of the combine events will be recorded so the players can have a resume for NFL teams to watch, since the players won’t have any game film from the season.
Tight end Nick Eubanks, in a video conference with reporters on Wednesday, did not speak specifically about the combine but said practices are going well.
“Coach Harbaugh told me at this point right now, we’re just getting better at football,” Eubanks said. “Doing things that are helping us in the long run … like getting cuts into the playbook or just being better as a football player. Right now, guys coming in and training just trying to get better as a football player. Doing position work with the coaches just doing those things to keep them up. Schembechler Hall is a place we can go to get your mind on football, so that’s how we’ve been handling coming in every other day and doing that.”
Eubanks said maintaining focus on practice has been good for the players.
“The goal is just to get everybody in there and be able to practice or to work out,” he said. “I think everybody has been going in there and doing everything they could to just keep accustomed to football, keeping their heads up. It’s up to older guys, some of the juniors and seniors, to keep guys’ heads up in terms of not feeling bad about themselves or anything like that.
“I think, personally, it’s better for us to keep doing as we’re doing right now, in terms of just being accustomed to football and getting better as a football player.”