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Combine gives vets last shot at dream

TEMPE, Ariz. – The first NFL Veteran Combine was made for guys like Torell Troup.

You remember Troup, don’t you? Second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills from Central Florida in 2010. The guy the Bills selected instead of Rob Gronkowski, the All-World tight end who was taken by New England one spot later. Missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing back surgery. Cut by the Bills in 2013. Spent part of last summer with the Oakland Raiders before being cut again.

The idea in putting together the Veteran Combine’s invitation list was to mostly find players who, like Troup, were still fairly young and dealt with injuries or other circumstances that might have caused them to receive something less than the fullest opportunity to make an NFL roster. That’s the common thread among the 105 players selected from nearly 2,000 applicants to participate Sunday in what amounts to a last chance at fulfilling a dream.

“The biggest thing is trying to prove to people that I’m actually healthy,” Troup said.

For that privilege, he, along with the other 104 participants, had to pay a $400 registration fee and his own way here; Troup said that cost him about another $600.

In return, Troup was able to run the 40-yard dash and go through drills related to his position under the same basic conditions that players do at the NFL Scouting Combine for college prospects – wearing T-shirts and shorts – all while about 100 scouts and general managers from the league’s 32 teams looked on from the bleachers along a practice field at the Arizona Cardinals’ training facility.

The reason for the location and timing of the event was that it is near Scottsdale, where the league is holding its annual meeting. The Veteran Combine gave GMs and coaches who were already in the area a chance to see if there might be a reason to make any additions to the offseason shopping they’ve done so far.

The most notable names taking part were four players who entered the NFL as first-round draft picks – defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson (2009, Atlanta) and Adam Carriker (2007, St. Louis), running back Felix Jones (2008, Dallas), and quarterback Brady Quinn (2007, Cleveland) – and defensive end Michael Sam, a seventh-round pick of the Rams last year and the league’s first openly gay player.

“They’ve been with a team and it didn’t work out,” said NFL director of football development Matt Birk, a former center in the league. “Was it because they’re just not good enough? Was it because they just weren’t a fit on that roster, in that scheme? So, for the last year, these guys have been training, developing themselves. And it’s not that our teams don’t know who they are, but it might have been one or two years since you’ve written them up” in a scouting report “and they might have fallen off your radar; they might not have.

“But we can bring a hundred guys in here at once that you can evaluate, that you can compare, and as you’re trying to fill out your 90-man roster, your team’s circumstances might be different today than they were two years ago and there might be someone here that catches your eye. Not to say you missed them, but their resumes are so incomplete because they haven’t played a lot of football.”

Which was the driving force behind Troup’s decision to make the $1,000 investment that the odds suggest won’t pay off. His 40-yard dash timings of 5.56 and 5.48 seconds were discouragingly slow – even for someone with a 6-foot-3, 327-pound frame – although he didn’t seem to have problems moving in drills.

Troup feels he became a victim of the “business” of the NFL when he suffered a broken back during the 2011 preseason, yet pushed his way through.

“The coaching staff” headed by Chan Gailey “wanted me to stick it out and play, so I did,” Troup said. “I had a couple of epidurals, played all the way until the final game and went out to warm-ups and couldn’t even walk anymore. They finally told me to shut it down, which I did. They told me to have surgery, I did. I had a lower disc fusion.

“It took me eight months to start feeling like myself, even to get off pain medicine. And the coaching staff that drafted me understood because I put everything on the line for them. I played hurt, I did what they asked me to do with surgery. And that coaching staff got out of there” after the 2012 season “and a new coaching staff” headed by Doug Marrone “and a new general manager” in Doug Whaley “came in and you know how things go. They replaced me before I even came back. I felt like they didn’t even really give me a chance to show.”

A year after his back surgery, Troup received a call from an NFL representative asking him if he wanted to retire and start the process of “going on with his life.” Troup never hesitated with his response: No!

“You know, I put so much work into my physical therapy and I’ve been through so much pain, I can’t hang it up,” Troup said. “But if I was still hurt, I would hang it up. If I felt like I was going to hurt myself, I would definitely hang it up.

“Thankfully, I made a good amount of money while I was in Buffalo, so I’ve been able to work with my financial advisor and preserve and live comfortably and still be able to chase my dreams. Now, I understand it might not happen for me. Nobody might want to take a chance on my back, and I understand that.

“All I can do out is put out my best effort, and if they don’t take a chance on me, I’ll move on.”

email: vcarucci@buffnews.com

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