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Hang Time
Tim Layden
April 30, 2001
With his future up in the air, Purdue's DREW BREES, like many top prospects, lived in a maddening limbo from New Year's to draft day: working out for NFL teams, watching his I draft status rise and fall, never knowing which pro jersey he'd wear
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April 30, 2001

Hang Time

With his future up in the air, Purdue's DREW BREES, like many top prospects, lived in a maddening limbo from New Year's to draft day: working out for NFL teams, watching his I draft status rise and fall, never knowing which pro jersey he'd wear

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"L" shuttle: 7.05 seconds. (Actual time: 7.09. Also acceptable.)

Vertical jump: Low 30s. (Actual height: 32 inches. Right on.)

Bottom line: Brees proved himself a good enough athlete to satisfy most doubters, and he delivered under pressure. He even measured a hair taller, 6'1/4". That's the good news. The bad news: Brees had one other goal for Indianapolis—"I don't want any incompletes in the passing drills"—but he didn't come close.

SI was allowed to watch a day of drills at the five-day combine, which is usually off-limits to journalists. The scene inside the RCA Dome was surreal as several hundred NFL scouts, executives and coaches were scattered among the 56,127 seats. The hum of the fans that keep the dome inflated was punctuated only by a buzz from onlookers when something significant happened, as when Nebraska defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch ran a scorching 4.68-second 40. The atmosphere was that of an SAT exam rather than a football game. "It's totally disorienting," said Weinke.

The heart of the quarterbacks' workout was a series of 20 throws: two pass attempts on each of 10 patterns. Brees was prepared to work at full speed, taking a hard drop and throwing on rhythm, before the receiver broke. However, Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, who ran the session, told the passers, "Just ease up and complete balls. Don't worry about anything else."

Brees was confused. Some quarterbacks took Zorn's advice and threw three-quarter-speed spirals to wideouts long after the receivers came out of their breaks. Balls like those would get picked off in a game, but they were safe passes in this arena. Brees stuck with his game plan and threw on rhythm. Some wideouts made sharp breaks, others didn't. Of Brees's 20 balls, 11 were solid throws and nine were poor. He one-hopped a simple out-cut and overthrew another. His long throws—the post-corner and the streak—were wobbly, setting off alarms throughout the league.

Hours later, Brees sits in the Tahoe, idling in the parking lot of a West Lafayette hotel. During his three days in Indianapolis, almost all teams in the league interviewed him. The Bengals, the Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills, the Oakland Raiders and the Washington Redskins, most of whom are unsettled at quarterback, had long sessions with him. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren interviewed Brees for more than an hour. The two men seemed to connect. "I'd love to play for Coach Holmgren," Brees says. He is silent for a long time. This is familiar territory for him. He was lightly recruited in high school and had to establish himself at Purdue. "Now," he says, "I have to prove myself all over again."

FEBRUARY 27, KANSAS CITY, MO.

At IMG football headquarters, reaction to Brees's combine performance is swift. "He took a step back, no question," says Condon. "I don't think he hurt his status as the Number 2 quarterback in the draft, but he didn't have a good day." If Brees held his draft position, it's because there is little else to choose from at quarterback after the presumed No. 1, Michael Vick. Mel Kiper Jr., who ranked Brees No. 16 before the combine, drops him out of his top 25 prospects.

Brees wants to audition again soon. Purdue seniors will work out for NFL scouts on March 8, and Brees wants to throw on that day, as well as in a private workout on March 21. Condon puts his foot down and tells Brees to channel all his energy into preparing for the March 21 session. They also make plans to get Brees to Bradenton during his spring break to work with Kennan. "I wish it were tomorrow," says Brees.

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