SN: Alabama seems to have gone with an analytical, injury-preventative approach to strength and conditioning with the hiring of Dr. David Ballou and Matt Rhea. How do you think that will impact Alabama, both in college and in the NFL?LC: I think we’ve had a really strong strength and conditioning program since Coach (Nick) Saban’s been here the last 13 years. And it’s been really one of the main reasons that we’ve been so successful, because (former strength and conditioning coach) Scott Cochran did such a great job with that system. I think in today’s world, with all the GPS systems and the analytics we have, that we follow these guys so closely all the way through the year, we can use those analytics and figure out weaknesses and strengths and how to train specific ways for specific positions. And the goal, and what I believe we’ll see, is that we can probably prevent some injuries by dealing with certain weaknesses and certain movements that certain positions have to make.And so I think the society we’re in now — this is true for medicine and sports and everything — is that we have enough data that, once we learn how to analyze that data, we can really apply it individually to the player and make them more likely to have not only a better outing in terms of their ability, but also prevent their injuries. And I think that’s really the goal. Our goal with the new sports medicine and science center is to use that data to prevent as many injuries as we can. Some injuries you can’t prevent: Some are contact injuries, some are related to collision sport. But a lot of injuries you can prevent, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.” The 2020 NFL Draft, even with the advent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is the premier event of the league’s offseason.The draft will lack the usual glitz and glamour of previous years as teams and players continue to follow social distancing guidelines, but that doesn’t mean less work went into its preparation: It will be the culmination of months’ worth of work by coaches, executives, scouts and doctors as they prepare and evaluate players transitioning from college football to the pros. MORE: SN’s three-round mock draft — Dolphins take a QB, but not TuaAs Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa can attest, the biggest talking point often boils down to a player’s health and durability, making events such as the NFL Combine of vital importance as players prepare for the draft. In that vein, Sporting News in early April spoke with Dr. Lyle Cain — sports medicine specialist at the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center and Alabama’s team orthopedic surgeon — to discuss how he helps treat and prepare players for those events.Below is the interview between Sporting News and Dr. Cain, which touches on such subjects as how players prepare for the draft, COVID-19’s impact on that preparation and the subjective nature of how teams analyze players:(This interview has been edited for length and clarity).Sporting News: How do you prepare players for the combine and draft?Dr. Lyle Cain: The first thing we do is when the season is over, we have a lot of history and information on these kids; we’ve had it for at least three years, sometimes four or five. And so the first thing we do, in January after we finish the season, we have an exit physical, where all the guys are lifting to go play in the league, whether it’s the combine or free (agency). We have them come by the office. We basically reevaluate any of their previous injuries; anything they’ve ever had treated as a player, we do repeat imaging, X-rays and/or MRI to try and get some baseline information to know kind of where they are and to make sure they’re not having any subsequent problems they’ve developed since the last treatment.And then from that we use that information to kind of help them determine how to train, what to do to get prepared for the combine and for the draft. There are some players that had injuries two or years prior, they’re completely healthy — we’re just checking them out to make sure they’re not going to show any issues when they go to the combine. Or some, they had injuries during the season; they’re not completely recovered and we’re trying to help them get prepared for the combine, but they may still have some limitations. So it’s different for each patient, different player.SN: What kinds of tests and analyses do you run to make sure a player is healthy?LC: I think it’s injury-specific. But for each injury they had, we typically do regular X-rays, and then from those we’re doing MRIs. Because they know that when they’re going to the combine, they’re going to get an MRI at the combine. So what we don’t want to do is have them show up to the combine, get an MRI for the first time and find something that nobody knows about. So we do an MRI on just about every injury that they’ve had — and that can be several from some players — and that gives us the opportunity to kind of see what NFL team physicians will see. And then we can let the agent, the player know, “This is what you need to expect. Here’s what the MRI’s going to show and here’s what they’re going to be concerned about. Here’s how we deal with it.”So it gives them kind of the jump on the process. And not only does it allow them to understand the process, we spend a lot of time talking with them about the whole medical side, where they meet with the team and get evaluated that first day of the combine, try to make sure they’re comfortable with that. Because it can be a little confusing.SN: How do teams evaluate players at the NFL Combine?LC: Everybody’s got different thought processes. Each team’s a little different. I think that if you look at some of the teams, they’re very conservative. If anybody’s had previous surgery, they’ve got any concerns about their longevity, they won’t draft them at all. And then some people will take people in the first round that they know had injuries and problems and they just count on getting them fixed once they get there and making sure they can get their four- or five-year contract fulfilled.So I think the grading system and the ranking of people at the combine is very subjective. There’s no black and white, it’s all kind of a gray area. And I think that’s the thing that makes it difficult for the athletes, is sometimes they go to the combine and they hear that they got failed for some reason that’s pretty minor. Another player gets passed through that had much more major injuries. And I think that’s very difficult to understand; I think that comes down to the risk tolerance of the team and the medical staff.SN: Is there any sort of uniform test or exercise that players are put through at the Combine?LC: The way it works is that each player goes through a series of six or seven rooms, and each room has several medical staffs from several NFL teams. And in that situation they tend to focus on joints that had previous injuries. So for some players, they’ve had two or three injuries, they focus on those joints, do complete exams, imaging, MRIs and all that of each joint. Some players are relatively clean and haven’t had much, and so they just do a general head-to-toe exam just to make sure there’s nothing missing. It’s kind of a screening exam initially for most players, but for the guys who have had injuries, it’s a very focal exam. Most of those team physicians know the things that tend to get players in trouble. We’re really trying to rule out the things that we know are going to hurt our player. And that’s kind of a focal thing that we do for each joint.SN: What does communication look like once players aren’t all on campus anymore?LC: It depends on the player and the agent. Most of the players … before the COVID thing hit, were in Tuscaloosa training. A lot of players were going to outside facilities. Some were going to Phoenix, to Arizona, some went down to Pensacola. It depends on the particular player; the ones that have had issues or have some kind of injury that we’re dealing with, we’re keeping up with them pretty closely. The ones that are healthy, we kind of see them during that checkout. We don’t talk with them unless something comes up at the combine that somebody’s concerned with.SN: How has COVID-19 affected the way you normally go through this process?LC: It’s been really interesting. Typically at this point we’d be going through the NFL combine medical re-checks, where anybody who at the combine was thought to have any issues, whether it’s healing or recovering, would go back around mid-April and have another series of studies, MRIs, X-rays, CT, whatever they needed. And then we’d be getting prepared for that. The way that’s set up this year, with COVID-19, most of the players are having the imaging done locally. So either here or where they live or are training.So we’re just trying to help them get through the process to make sure they understand the results, to make sure that the teams know what’s going on. We do a lot of individual players for players, kind of outlining their situations to teams. We’re trying to help them negotiate the medical situations since it’s so different this year.SN: Specifically, how has that affected the way you would communicate with a specific NFL team?LC: I think it’s really helpful that I’m very connected with a lot of those guys. So most NFL physicians I know pretty well from outside the business. I think that helps just in the fact that they generally will trust what we tell them. If there’s an issue where they can’t see a player, we can examine them. We’re doing independent medical exams for a lot of the players that are free agents now, even if they’re not from Alabama. If they live close by, we’re doing those exams for free agency or for teams. So I think most of the relationships we have a good relationship with, and it makes it easier really than if we didn’t know each other; there might be a lack of trust, in some ways.