While Mike Shanahan and his coaching staff prepare the South team for Saturday’s Senior Bowl here in Mobile, Ala., Scott Campbell, the Washington Redskins director of player personnel, and the team’s scouts continue the work they began at the start of the college season.
Campbell and his college scouts have compiled reports on the nation’s top prospects, and this week, they are watching those players and continuing to grade them.
Campbell, who just completed his 10th season with the Redskins and his 24th in the NFL, and scouts also sit in on this week’s game-planning meetings to see how players pick up the coaching they receive. They are in the stands while observing practice, taking notes on many of the prospects..
I sat down with Campbell today to discuss what he and his staff are looking for:
How would you describe this time of year? You’ve been watching college games and game film all season long, and now you get to see these players up close for a week and assess them.
“At this point, the scouting department’s been out on the road, watching all these players at their colleges. It’s always exciting in the All-Star season – which is basically what I call Phase II of the process -- because we actually get our hands on the players, get to sit down, interview and get to know them as people, and with us coaching this year, normally we don’t get that time and insight. But we’re still doing like we would, talking to them, interviewing. That’s the fun part when you finally get to meet them, shake their hands, look them in the eye.”
The week starts off with all the measurements. How much stock do you put into those, and how does it impact your perception of a player when you find out he’s shorter or lighter than you thought he was?
“It makes a big impact. We joined the BLESTO Scouting Service when Bruce [Allen] and Mike [Shanahan] came. It was one of the first steps we took in trying to improve the department. We get verified measurables in the spring when schools do pro days. But not all of them do that. The ones that don’t, all you have is the press book estimates. I’ve never been good at the carnival guessing game. ‘Oh, that guy’s 6-3,’ no, it’s hard to tell when a guy’s got shoulder pads and a helmet and cleats. It’s hard to get a really good feel for it, so it’s very important. Especially on some of the positions that have a deficit in some areas, like defensive line where in the 3-4, we need them to have a certain bulk and size. It’s good to get those measurables.”
How much of your perception on a guy changes after seeing him this week in practices as opposed to what you knew based on game-film?
“Things will change. An old adage that I was told 25 years ago when I first started as a scout was, ‘Don’t ever let an All-Star game kill a player.’ They can help themselves. You have their grade from the fall, and if a guy shines, you can bump him up. But don’t kill him. The reason for that is, LSU and Alabama just finished playing a few weeks ago. Those kids are in great shape. They’re in football shape. Some kids haven’t played a game since Thanksgiving. To say they are rusty is an accurate description. So you can’t go off of two days, learning a new scheme and new coaching staff. You’ve got to factor all that in.”
So, you might get more positive affirmation on a player than you would negative impressions?
“Right. The advantage we’re getting from getting to coach, is we’re in the meeting rooms with them, we’re installing the schemes. We’re finding out who’s picking it up and who isn’t. When you’re just watching the tape of the game and practices, it’s hard to tell what they’re trying to teach him to do, where he’s supposed to go. So that’s a unique advantage we’re getting this week.”
Does it help seeing how a player might project into your schemes even though it’s a very watered down version?
“It’s really they limit you from what you can do here, so it’s really a watered down version of the playbook. They’ve taken a handful of plays – runs, passes – and there are some certain concepts, schemes Kyle [Shanahan] likes to run, so it’s neat to see who can pick that up. But on defense, you’ve got to play a 4-3, so it’s not even the scheme we run. It’s very similar [to Pro Bowl rules].”
Which will teach you more, the things you see them do this week, or the drills they r un through in their Pro Days, or the events of the combine?
“The unique thing about the Senior Bowl is it’s coached by NFL coaching staffs and we’ll gain a tremendous amount from that. But everyone isn’t here. There might be some guys who elected not to play, wasn’t selected, or was injured and couldn’t play. At the combine or pro days, you get to see them work out, but you still go back to the fall, you still go back to the tape. How they play football games, that’s the priority. We go back to that to get the true evaluation of the player. These are just pieces of the puzzle that help you build the resume of the player. You always have to go back to how they played in those games at their school. It’s documented at the combine, how guys test, but as Jerry Glanville used to say, ‘They’re running around out there in their pajamas, but here they’re playing football.’ So when guys stand out and make plays, it really helps their stock because they rise to the competition, and you are watching to see who rises to the top. That makes you go back and study them harder.”
Of the players here, how many of them will you sit down with for interviews?
“We’ll get the majority of the players here on both rosters, which is what we always try to do. This year we had access to everybody on our squad, and the North squad, really because we’re all eating at the same place and all that, and we could grab guys. We only get about 15 minutes with them, and you like to sit down and chat about their backgrounds, their families, dig into any offseason trouble or backgrounds. You may not be getting the straight scoring from the school, so you really get to go to the source. ‘You were arrested two years ago for this or for that. What was the story? You were suspended for the first game of the year. Why’d you miss that game? What was the story?’ We got the majority of these guys when they got here Sunday. We hit the ground running. But all the teams try to do the same thing.”
Then there are the interviews at the combine. Are they just followup?
“Yeah. You can talk to Coach [Shanahan], and he feels the same way as I do. At the combine, it’s so scripted. They’ve had several months to prepare. Here, they’ve started to prepare a little for it, but they’re not fully coached up. You can’t fake it for a week of being around somebody. If a guy’s an idiot, it’s going to show up. You can hide it for 15 minutes. But for a whole week, it’s hard.”
What’s the next step from here for you and your assistants?
“The next step, we have my scouts all come into Ashburn and meet for a couple of weeks and put together reports and we get an initial list ready for the coaches when they come back to Ashburn and they finish up with the pro stuff that we start first – free agency and all that – and once we’re all done with all that, we head to the combine, which is the next big event. But for me, I’m real excited about getting all my college scouts together and getting everything ready.”
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