Before heading to Indianapolis for the scouting combine, several of the nation’s top prospects spent time in Atlanta getting ready for their big workouts and interview sessions.
The combine, which will move to prime-time TV on NFL Network, will start Sunday and continue through March 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Preparing for the combine is a niche market that Chip Smith helped to pioneer. Smith, founder and president of Chip Smith Performance Systems, has been in business for 32 years and has trained more than 2,000 players for the scouting combine.
He had about 30 players this offseason, including Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson and Rhode Island wide receiver Aaron Parker.
Former Falcons defensive tackle Chuck Smith, a defensive pass-rush specialist, has a thriving training business that he runs out of Goldin Athletic Training Association in Duluth.
Also, agents bring their players to prepare for team and media interviews.
Chip Smith enjoyed working with Hurts, who left Atlanta on Friday to report for the combine on Sunday.
“I don’t know that I’ve worked with anybody that has impacted so many people in such a positive way,” Chip Smith said. “Everybody is pulling for Jalen Hurts. Oklahoma people. Alabama people. SEC people. Georgia people. That kid, what he’s done and what he’s been through, man, I hope he’s the first player taken in the first round.”
Hurts plans to convince NFL teams that he can play quarterback at the next level.
“He’s endeared himself to a lot of people,” Chip Smith said. “He’s not going to harp on what has happened in the past, where a lot of kids would be bitter. He just moved on with his life.”
Smith, who trained Colin Kaepernick for four years, believes Hurts will perform well Thursday night at the quarterbacks workout.
“I’ve done over 50 quarterbacks,” Chip Smith said. “I’ve had them all. A lot of guys said, I didn’t know you worked with quarterbacks. Yeah, I worked with Tyrod Taylor, Cam Newton and Kap. I’ve had a bunch of guys. Jalen is not by any means the first quarterback that I’ve had of that magnitude.”
Smith reflected back on getting players ready for the combine.
“I was one of the guys that started this business,” Chip Smith said. “This draft will put me right at 2,000 players that I’ve trained for the NFL.”
Jackson, who played at Rutgers before transferring to Ohio State, is a strong guard-center prospect. Parker is a big receiver at 6-feet, 3-inches and 208 pounds.
“I’ve got a pretty good group of guys,” Chip Smith said. “I’ve averaged 30 to 40 guys each year. We get a bunch.”
Chuck Smith, who played for the Falcons from 1992-99 and was on the franchise’s first Super Bowl team, has several defensive linemen and linebackers heading to the combine.
“A lot of players will come to me and I will train them for their Senior Bowl,” Smith said. “Then afterwards, I’ll get guys for their Pro Day.”
Smith works on specific defensive line and pass-rush skills. On Twitter, you can find him as the “Master Pass Rush Specialist” where he is billed as the “Football’s top pass rush company” with #DrRush as his hash tag.
Mississippi’s Josiah Coatney, Michigan State’s Kenny Willekes, Penn State’s Rob Windsor, Miami’s Trevon Hill, Utah’s Leki Fotu, Nebraska’s Carlos Davis and Nebraska’s Khalil Davis are some of the defensive linemen that Smith has worked with who received combine invites.
He’s also worked with Auburn linebacker Nick Coe, Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings and Alabama’s Terrell Lewis.
“It starts with me their junior year,” Chuck Smith said. “I’m already preparing them for what to expect and how to get into the Senior Bowl ... how to become a draft-eligible prospect.”
Smith, who regularly attends the Senior Bowl, was one of the early folks on the Aaron Donald bandwagon in 2014. He kept telling teams not to look at his height and that he was a special pass-rusher.
“I’ll come up with a plan with the parents and the kids on what steps they need to take,” Smith said. “The first thing, I want everybody to try to get into the Senior Bowl or one of the All-Star games. Then the next step is that we want to have a good enough senior year or junior year to get into the combine.
“Because the percentage of you getting drafted after the Senior Bowl and combine are high.”
Smith, who had 58.5 career sacks, has a few tips for NFL teams.
“I’m looking at (Terrell) Lewis from Alabama, a true edge guy,” Smith said. “Basically, he’s Montez Sweat, but he’s had injuries over the years. My sleeper, who I’d love the Falcons to get and I watched him at the Senior Bowl, Utah’s Bradlee Anae. I love this cat. He’s one of my favorites in this thing.”
The draft is considered deep in defensive line talent.
“I like the backyard brawler, Kenny Willekes from Michigan State,” Smith said. “He’s a kid who made some noise and whipped a lot of tail. He’s to be an edge guy and inside guy.”
Gilmore, a former nose tackle on Penn State’s 1986 national championship team and owner of Day 1 Sports and Entertainment, had his prospective NFL clients in Atlanta for combine training Feb. 14-16.
Gilmore’s firm represents Tampa Bay’s Michael Evans, Dallas La’el Collins and Super Bowl-winner Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Ray Farmer, a scout with the Falcons (2002-06) and former general manager of the Cleveland Browns, helped players know what to expect from the teams during their interviews.
Local radio personality “Hometeam” Brandon Leak, of the “Hometeam and Hamilton” show on The Sports X (1230/106.3), consulted the players on how to handle their interview with the media.
“Our players did their combine (workout) prep in Dallas and Arizona,” Gilmore said. “They came here for the business and interviewing part.”