By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
MOBILE, Ala. – You see them sitting in the stands of Ladd Peebles Stadium, along with hundreds of other men who do what they do.
They’re mostly going about their business in low-tech fashion, with spiral-bound notebooks and pens rather than tablets or laptop computers. They watch each practice of the Senior Bowl, furiously taking notes on what they see from the players on the North and South squads in every drill. They’re the scouts and other player-personnel types for the NFL’s 32 teams, and this is a key part of the work that needs to be done in preparation for April’s draft. They will be doing this all over again during next month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and at on-campus workouts through March.
But what sets apart the Senior Bowl portion of their pre-draft analysis of college prospects is that the players are in full football uniforms, with pads and helmets. At the Combine and on college campuses, players are wearing shorts and tee shirts and are not involved in any contact. The emphasis in that environment is mostly on athleticism, demonstrations of strength via weight-lifting, and less-than-competitive football activity.
The emphasis here is on pure football.
Most teams give scouts a specific position to watch during practice.
For Pat Roberts, the Browns’ senior national scout, this week’s assignment is defensive backs. He works from a list of specific qualities for each position. There are general categories, such as overall athletic ability, strength, explosion, play speed (how fast a player is in football gear on the field rather than running a 40-yard dash), competitive nature, and key-and-diagnose (reading a key and determining how to react to it), and instincts.
Then, there are the areas that are specific to the position.
“For corners, I always look at how they support the run, how they play in press coverage, how they play in man coverage, how they transition out of their backpedal, how their feet and hips are, how they close, how they play the football in the air,” Roberts told me on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford.” “Some guys just can’t find it with their backs to the quarterback when they’re running down the sidelines.”
But even when his focus is on one position, Roberts invariably will pay attention to another.
“Let’s say, if I’m watching the corners, and out of the corner of my eye, I see a rep from an offensive or defensive lineman that I want to take a note of, so that when I go back and actually do the practice tape, I know, ‘Hey, this is a rep I wanted to see. I wanted to see what he did with his hands or why he got beat or why he got to the quarterback,’” Roberts said.
He will then review videotape of each practice and, after incorporating the notes he took while watching the live sessions, he will assemble a report on each defensive back and grade him accordingly.
After practice, Roberts and the rest of the scouts gather at the Senior Bowl’s headquarter hotels to conduct background interviews with players at their respective position groups.
“If they’ve been in any trouble, you want to find out exactly what happened, because there’s a lot of gray area when you go through the fall, so you give a kid a chance to tell his story,” Roberts said. “A lot of times there are two sides to every story, for good or for bad. And you’re just finding out just a little bit about the kid – what he does in his free time, what his family’s like … just try to get a feel for whether he’s going to fit into Cleveland or not.”
>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.
>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 855-363-2459.
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